I write this review in something of a haze having just downed two different color pills with a shot of scotch, the city lights blurring by in my perverted periphery and I shudder as I think of others who would attempt to write theirs under less of an influence. Admittedly the pills are just cold and flu tablets, a slight hit of sudo that takes the slow route to the sinuses, but for a square like me that is what constitutes a trip. At least it was until now. I think that’s the cause behind the chaotic lethargy that strikes me, but it could well be a contact high from the film itself; Cosmopolis is narcotic cinema, if any film could change your state it would be this one.
I say down in the cinema straight faced and slightly cranky, regretting my decision to see such a demanding film in this frame of mind. That muddled mind of mine, expecting to see a straight story akin to Cronenberg’s other modern efforts, was then surprised when what it got was both the simplest and strangest of the Man’s effort to date. There are only a few moments of bloody violence and body mutilation and these are treated in a realistic fashion – so fans of his freaky effects only should still stay away – but the insanity is still there, it’s just internalized. Many balked at the casting of Robert Pattinson as the protagonist but here he channels his best Michael Shannon and the resulting film is the kind that man is now infamous for.
Cosmopolis is seemingly a tale of contemporary corporate greed made confusing so as to mimic the path of our currency from corporeal tender to something that only computers can see but it tells this most modern story in the oldest of possible ways, by having people sit around a small set speechifying. The set in question is a vaguely pimped out Stretch Limo – cork lined, armored and filled with sci-fi-esque screens – and although Pattinson’s Mr. Packer is the only one ever seen to enter or alight the vehicle he nonetheless manages to find himself sitting across from a string of strange and subversive characters as he attempts to complete his journey across New York for a haircut.
What makes the movie so interesting however is not what they are talking about, but how they do it. At it’s core Cosmopolisis compelling, caustic nonsense. The characters speak in a language similar to but separate from our own, the words they use are our words but here they seem to mean something different. It’s almost like watching a foreign film that forgot to include subtitles for us uneducated few. They also speak of ‘we’ during certain key scenes to several different effects: Packer refers to himself in this way, labeling himself a metaphor and part of a modern multiplicity, his wife uses it to refer to them as a relationship and Giamatti’s goon uses it to refer to himself as us, the audience; all of the, connected to a corporate hive mind.
This is then, all a part of the premise; today’s world is indecipherable to man and empty to most, it’s shallow and simple and complicated beyond belief and so a film depicting it should reflect all of this. The thing is though that it has chosen to reflect it less like a mirror might and more in the way that a tinted limo window would. It is what Giamatti’s character would call a ‘slightly skewed’ look at the real world, it’s surrealism the most accurate way of depicting straight reality. If this then makes it sound like I got the film, like I understood it, then I have done you a disservice because this isn’t a film that makes sense. As Samantha Morton as head of theory would say; “I don’t understand any of it… but it’s fantastic”.
The film is entirely entrancing despite it’s dire lack of depth. The strange vibe that it has, made more voracious by my head cold and self-medicating is intense and interesting. For example, The paranoia, the desolation and the constantly devolving state of affairs outside the limo doors work better than they should given the lackluster effects and utter lack of story. The film has stuck with me even if none of its words have, the opposite of what normally occurs. I know I’m being obtuse but this is nothing compared to the film itself. I can’t recommend it on any level but boy you’ve got to see it. It’s a mess and a masterpiece, the best worst film ever to maybe be made. I say maybe because it feels like maybe I dreamt it, a fascinating aspect of the fever, and knowing Cronenberg that was his entire intention.