What do we think of when we think of David Cronenberg? Sci-fi horror thrillers like Scanners and The Fly? Literary works like Naked Lunch and M. Butterfly? Or is he the sort of kaleidoscopic fringe director whom most people simply don't think of at all?
I've always especially admired his 1996 film Crash, a story of damaged people who engage in sado-masochistic sex in the charred remains of car wrecks. Cosmopolis may be its companion piece, although it's not as graphic or sexually charged, more of an essay than a character study, and too stylized and intellectual to have an emotional impact.
Cosmopolis revolves around Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an extremely wealthy 28-year-old currency trader who conducts all of his business — and much of his life, including his daily digital rectal exam — in his limousine. He's losing sleep over the price of the yuan after a finance minister said something that upset the markets. Well, not actually said: He paused in a sentence, and now everyone is frantic to figure out why. "It may be deeper than grammar," someone tells Eric. "It may be breathing."
In its dry, ironic way, Cosmopolis is a very black and bitter comedy, loaded with quizzical takeaway lines. "I remember what I told you once: Talent is more erotic when it's wasted," a friend (Juliette Binoche) reminds Eric. Then she adds: "What did I mean?"
This is odd, and no doubt meant to be: a cultural deconstruction that asks us to deconstruct it, a cerebral house of mirrors reflecting (on) our fast, sick, lonely, avaricious, narcissistic culture. "I think I'm ready to quit — the business," a 22-year-old whiz kid tells Eric, who responds: "Put a stick of gum in your mouth and try not to chew it."
Cosmopolis is more metaphoric than literal — in fact, it's barely literal at all — with a creepy, otherworldly tone that's typical of Cronenberg. The actors (Paul Giamatti and Samantha Morton among them) coolly or frantically act their soullessness, except for Pattinson, who merely succumbs to it, and who's too vacuous and arid, even for the role. It's compellingly written (based on a Don DeLillo novel), but it doesn't really "matter" because, as Björk has taught us, words have no meaning, especially sentences. Cosmopolis only plays at its sex and death, whereas Crash vividly embraced them. Still, given what's out there, I'll take my stimulation however I can get it.