Being the movie in which Robert Pattinson talks to an employee while receiving a rectal exam.

Cosmopolis is not really a return to form for Cronenberg. I’m not sorry to say it, though, as it represents an evolution in the style and themes and approach he has developed through films like Videodrome and Existenz. This one, perhaps more so even than the others, is concerned with the uncertainty of our civilization. It’s a rewarding film, one that doesn’t really care whether you get it or not. Most people won’t. They won’t even want to. They’ll be thrown by the talky, technical (but poetic) dialectics that make up the vast majority of the running time. Populist reviewers will say things like “where’s the story?” or “it’s just philosophy 101”. They will ignore Cosmopolis or dismiss it, and so will just about everybody else. This movie was practically made for people who like to toss around the word pretentious like they know what it means.

Also, it’s the closest thing to a proper William Gibson adaptation that I’ve ever seen. And really, if you like Gibson and Cronenberg then Cosmopolis is going to spin your fucking head like a top.

I’m no populist reviewer. I don’t rely on a paltry lexicon of tired, cliched phrases to describe movies. I generally stay away from things like “adrenaline rollercoaster thrill ride” or “uneven acting”. I want to tell you why something is exciting or uneven. I’m interested in understanding how movies do what they do and how to explain that to others in ways that are obvious once thought through. In other words, I want to present intelligible thoughts; thoughts that don’t rely on any knowledge of me or my preferences or history to understand. Cosmopolis is the kind of movie made for critical thinkers who know how to pay attention.  There’s a school of thought that goes, if it’s too complicated to understand it’s the fault of the author(s). This is the kind of creative work that turns that dumb shit on its head. The movie’s discussion of its ideas is not complicated anyhow, it’s the ideas that are and if you find ideas complicated all I can say is read more. Worked for me.

This movie will change minds about Pattinson should anyone bother to see it.

There’s a pile of concurrent thematic streams in Cosmopolis. The most omnipresent of which is that idea of order and chaos and how one must eventually give way to the other. The biological component of this is played more subtly and absurdly than in Cronenberg’s earlier films but it’s all over the place. The desires of the body, for food and sex, are treated automatically while the deeper (but still biochemical) compulsions begin to drive not only the narrative but the course of Eric Packer’s (Robert Pattinson) day. As his embodied needs are intermittently satisfied, he’s always after something more, and it’s in the search for this that he finds revelation.

My friend said that this movie is about people turning into computers. That’s not exactly right, but it’s close. Eric Packer is a high-level mogul of the youngest and fastest cybercapital firm in NYC. He’s physically living 5-10 years in our future, and mentally another 5-10 years ahead. Like a post-cyberpunk Patrick Bateman, Packer roams around without really connecting to anything. “I know this” and “I understand this” are his litanies. He’s shocked when he doesn’t foresee something and his search for novelty in the everyday routine of his life is pathological. His world is totally constructed, managed, and in control. He spends most of his time in a stretch limo with all the amenities except people, which he just goes around picking up. He’s the kind of dirty rich fuck that our generation is going to produce. He’s the Mark Zuckerberg of 2020. The trouble is, the world is never in control and will find ways to remind you.

The film follows Packer over the course of a day, wherein he drives around in a high-tech limo talking to employees and associates played by people as diverse as Jay Baruchel and Juliette Binoche. Samantha Morton also shows up as his “Head of Theory” and absolutely kills a chain of dialogue that is simultaneously nuanced, philosophically challenging, and deeply inquisitive. There’s so much brain behind the source novel and the way the script is composed that the ideas come from all sides in a steady rhythm of unfamiliar-but-fascinating conjecture, theory, and technicality. While this patter is full of difficult vocabulary and concepts both off-kilter and profoundly grounded, there’s a poetry to it that the actors absolutely nail.

Packer has a series of awkward, forced encounters with his wife-of-recently, a poet whose speech is as fascinating and precise as his. They are a highlight of the film.

Precision is everything in Packer’s world. All the people around him are completely precise. He himself is completely precise. This is because information is precise. In the film, information is capital and the man who processes information computationally has the means to surround himself with a lattice of others who facilitate the processing. It’s transhumanism without the cyborg implants, representing a bit of a departure from Cronenberg’s usual interest in the embodied implications of our merging with technology.

The film takes place a bit in the future, as I’ve said, where speculating on the Chinese Yuan is the newest big financial gamble of Packer’s superpowerful firm. It’s a world already in the midst of the hard shift into an informational paradigm, where capitalism is till in full force but people are beginning to get unhappy about it. This is all in the background, however, topical though it is. The core of the movie is in a search for the answers between precision and intuition, the pure thinking vs. the pure feeling. There’s a thematic curve in the film leading from the precise to the imprecise, from technical to philosophical. Where the movie begins very structured, almost repetitive in some ways, it eventually colours outside the lines.

Packer’s is a world on the brink, a reflection of his own mental state.

Cosmopolis is not a joyless movie. There’s a sense of the absurd running all through it, especially in Packer’s repeated attempts to connect to his wife or relate to the people around him (especially the rectal exam). His turning point comes not from the threat to himself or his company but when he learns that his favorite sufi rap star, played by K’naan, has died. After this, Packer goes right off the reservation and behaves more and more erratically until he is finally forced to confront the narcissistic truth: he’s self-destructing because he wasn’t right about the Yuan, and he wasn’t right about the Yuan because he is fixated on symmetry and order and that does not reflect life. It constructs life. It is the domain of technology, and thus information, and thus capital, to impose structure against that insistent quirkiness that pervades everything. The revelation comes from my favorite sequence in the film, wherein Packer confronts the man who is ineptly trying to kill him. Paul Giamatti brings his A+ game to a schlubby character who nontheless has the hard-won insight necessary to see what Packer’s problem is. It’s a beautiful bit of dialectic, like all the other dialectic in the film, and ends things on an impossibly strong (but somewhat ambiguous) note.

The film also spends some time meditating on violence.

I wish I could sort out some clearer, more constructive analysis than I have. It’s difficult to keep all the threads separate. This is a movie that seriously comments on too many aspects of the human condition to write about in just one review. Even though the film is still fresh in my mind, I know I’m not giving parts of it enough attention. The movie is no mystery, however. It’s not necessary to pore over dialogue or acting cues to “figure it out”. Instead, it’s a series of ambitious discussions about stuff that all ties back into the simple, but elegant central theme: it is in the conflict between extremes that truth is found. For Packer, it’s symmetry and asymmetry, or precision and disarray. But the movie is also interested in destruction and creation, wealth and poverty, opportunity and exploitation, and then it dips into the effects of mental dysfunction in society from the successful to the unsuccessful. In fact, that last scene with Giamatti may very well be two insane men whose insanities simply have different market value in a capitalist society.

I think the people who watch this, and who it will speak to, will all find threads to seize on and I think most will yield a lot of interesting thoughts, questions, and reactions. This is the kind of film that you’re supposed to sit down and talk about after. It’s not going to work if I just say, “hey I liked it, go see it” or “hey I didn’t like it, don’t go see it”. It won’t work to talk about the stories or the three-act narrative. Cosmopolis is a movie of ideas, a dynamic and compelling philosophical dialogue on celluloid. One that has real implications for civilization and our own internal struggles for meaning, just like a good philosophical dialogue should.

Plus, Metric did the music. Canada, fuck yeah!

And yes, visceral shit too.

Advertisements