By Edward Davis | The Playlist May 29, 2012 at 3:49PM
An adaptation of Don DeLillo’s titular and typically provocative novel, "Cosmopolis," is the first feature-length effort filmmaker David Cronenberg wrote himself since 1999's "eXistenZ." Cronenberg penned the screenplay in six days, and literally transcribed DeLillo's dialogue word for word in many scenes. Featuring an unlikely star in the lead, "Twilight" hearthrob Robert Pattinson, and set in the not-too-distant-future of New York, "Cosmopolis" centers on a 28-year-old billionaire and uncontested Wall Street king, Eric Packer. A financial golden boy living the dream, yet bored with his effortless existence, Parker's day takes a turn for the worse when a dark shadow is cast over the firmament of the Wall Street galaxy. As his empire potentially crumbles, an eruption of wild activity unfolds in the city's streets and Packer's paranoia intensifies during the course of his 24-hour odyssey and leads him to cross paths with a cast of characters that threaten to destroy his world.
Also featuring Paul Giamatti, Samantha Morton, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon, Jay Baruchel and Kevin Durand, much of "Cosmopolis" takes place within the single setting of the stretch limousine that Pattinson's Parker rides in, making for a claustrophobic experience where Cronenberg explores society's anxieties, phobias, and the idea of letting repressed impulses and paranoia run wild. "There's a lot of dialogue that's very difficult and it's kind of extreme in its stucture, so it's not an easy sell," Cronenberg said about making the picture. Due in U.S. theaters later this summer, Playlist contributor Aaron Hillis had a quick chat with the director in Cannes this past weekend discussing the film's eerie financial prophecies, its perfectly-timed coincidence with the Occupy Wall Street themes and the concept of monetary abstractions.
You've said that the novel proved prophetic, but economies do wax and wane so there must be some room for coincidence. What is it about this 2003 book that resonates with you as both a cinematic and contemporary text?
"Cosmopolis" was never meant to be analysis of world economics situation, you know? That is almost gravy. The fact that the world suddenly seems to be caught up with Don DeLillo's book and it's as though we were making a documentary instead of a fiction film. Things were happening: Occupy Wall Street, the pie in the face of Rupert Murdoch. We had shot scenes with Rob [Pattinson] that were so similar to that it was quite bizarre. But no, it didn't need that contemporary reality to make it interesting to me because it was the characters, it was the philosophy, it was the structure of the novel itself that was really interesting to me. And I thought it would be...you know, as an artist you're always looking for universal realities, truths, not absolute truths, but something that has some universal meaning and yet, you have to deal with particular characters, particular moments in time and so on. And so you need the particular to be universal and I thought that was very strong in Don's novel and as I said, the world could have been peachy keen economically and I still think the book would have been resonant.
The novel has a device referring back to the stream-of-consciousness confessions of Benno Levin, played by Paul Giamatti as one of the many people out to get Eric Parker. As one of the most complicated characters in the story, what does Benno Levin represent to you?
Well, I don't think in terms of symbols and schematics. I think of Benno as a real person. I have to approach my characters as real people and with my actors we, as I've often said, you cannot say to an actor, "You will portray this abstract concept." I can't say to Rob Pattinson, "You are the symbol of capitalism." Because an actor doesn't know that. How do you act that? What do you do with that information? It doesn't help you. You have to say, "You're a character who has this past, who has this barbershop he goes to, who has this desire, who has this job." That's how an actor works and that's actually how I work. So I can't say, "Benno represents this or that." I can say Benno is a character who has a bizarre love for the Rob Pattinson character. He's in love with him. But he's also repelled by him and is also intimidated by him, to the extent that he actually must connect with him. Just the way some crazed fan has to connect with some celebrity -- that bizarre distant emotional connection. And that's the way I deal with it, so in essence, I can't answer your question the way you asked it.