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Review: David Cronenberg's 'Cosmopolis' Is Both An Excellent Adaptation & A Rich, Complex Character Study

Reviews
by Simon Abrams
August 15, 2012 10:05 AM
4 Comments
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Cosmopolis Robert Pattinson

"Cosmopolis," an adaptation of Don DeLillo’s typically provocative novel of the same name, is the first feature film since 1999's "eXistenZ" that filmmaker David Cronenberg has directed and scripted. This in part explains why "Cosmopolis" is such a triumph: it’s both an exceptional adaptation and a remarkable work unto itself.

Cronenberg makes slight but salient changes to DeLillo’s source narrative. These changes, which are best described by one character as “slight variation[s],” prove that Cronenberg’s given serious consideration to what should and shouldn’t be represented in his adaptation of the author’s ruminative, conversation-driven narrative. For example, in Cronenberg’s film, Eric Packer (a surprisingly adequate Robert Pattinson), an ambivalent and self-destructive power broker, does not get to have sex with his wife like he’s wanted to do throughout DeLillo’s book. Other changes, like the fact that Packer is investing and studying the steady rise in the Chinese yuan in the film and not the Japanese yen, as in the book, are equally striking. These differences noticeably enrich DeLillo’s original story, making Cronenberg’s "Cosmopolis" that much more rewarding in its own dizzying way.

Cosmopolis Robert Pattinson Sarah Gadon

It’s fitting that Pattinson, today’s It boy, plays Packer, considering who Cronenberg’s Packer is. As a former start-up wunderkind, the 28 year-old Packer is comically death-obsessed. “We die every day,” he risibly exclaims to one of his sizeable retinue of advisors. Packer gets daily check-ups from his doctors partly because he enjoys the routine of it but also because he’s looking for something to confirm his suspicions. He’s convinced he’s found that something when he’s told that his prostate is asymmetrical. It’s pretty funny to see Pattinson, being the young, pretty tabula rasa that he is, play Packer, a wheeler-dealer that used to be hot shit but is now unable to sleep because he fears that he’s no longer relevant.

Throughout both versions of "Cosmopolis," Packer searches for a break in his routine. Against the advice of his over-protective bodyguard Torval (Kevin Durand), he fights back anarcho-protestors and gridlock traffic caused by the President’s visit to another part of town so he can go get a haircut. The ritual, and also the familiarity of this ritual, is what matters to Packer. But Packer also insists on going out and getting his haircut now because, as he explains during one of many declamatory speeches, of the turbulent conditions Torval has warned of. He’s no longer waiting on his death, he’s inviting it.

Cosmopolis Juliette Binoche

Packer is in that sense, as is also later explained point-blank in a speech, a contradictory figure. For example, he allows Vija Kinski (Samantha Morton), one of the more decisively outspoken of his advisors, to tell him that the anti-capitalist protestors that are impeding his progress are actually just another part of the capitalist system. Pattinson’s Packer latently agrees with this assessment but that changes when he sees one protestor self-immolate himself. Kinski insists that the protestor’s gesture is unimportant, but Pattinson sulkily protests that it has to be. The fact that Pattinson’s practically pouting when he rejects Morton’s negative assessment is telling. His death wish is sheer petulance, something that doesn’t come across as directly in the original novel.

 Cronenberg and Pattinson’s Packer is a different kind of suicidal but their character isn’t significantly less active in constructing his own demise. In DeLillo’s "Cosmopolis," Packer knows what’s happening with the yen, whose value keeps exponentially increasing, but is keeping that knowledge close to his chest. In Cronenberg’s variation, he's less sure. Packer is thus more immediately defined by his frustration with the finite-ness of his capabilities. He looks to others for solutions to his problems and finds that his yes-team can only confirm his own impotence. He is not slyly organizing his own downfall, but frantically seeking it out, unsure of whether or not he can find what he’s looking for. Packer only succeeds by sheer dumb luck: the man and an assassin looking for him have a lot more in common than the two realize.

At the same time, Cronenberg doesn’t slim down DeLillo’s simultaneously sprawling and precisely dense narrative as much as he carves his own flourishes onto it. A couple of scenes, including Packer’s interest in bidding on a chapel full of art, and his visit to a night club full of drug-fueled ravers, are only necessary to establish a uniform pace to Cronenberg’s narrative. But in that sense, these scenes are just as essential as the ones where Kinski and Torval give Packer advice. Everything matters in Cronenberg’s "Cosmopolis," but not everything is necessarily the same as DeLillo’s book. And that makes the film, as a series of discussions about inter-related money-minded contradictions, insanely rich and maddeningly complex. We can’t wait to rewatch it. [A]

This a reprint of our review from the Cannes Film Festival.

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4 Comments

  • Mr Anonymous | August 15, 2012 12:10 PMReply

    I'm going to get slated for saying this as it has nothing to do with Rob Pattinson whatsoever, but i thought Cosmopolis was one of the most BORING films i've ever seen! It just seemed style over substance. Way too talky, lots and lots of dialogue and not much seemed to happen. Maybe i just didn't 'get it' but it went completely over my head. I struggled to get through the whole film.

  • seymourblogger | August 15, 2012 3:05 PM

    Reply to Mr. Anonymous

    It went over your head because it went way over Cronenberg's head and way way over Rob Pattinson's head and this reviewer can join them both in after school detention. Please don't blame Cronenberg though, because he read it in one sitting and did the - excuse me pasted - screenplay into software in 6 days.

    The interviewer is trying to sound intelligent and probably does to the uninformed. If you want to understand this film it is probably not possible as Cronenberg has mish-mashed it. If you want a fuller, deeper richer and fun/funny understanding of DeLillo to spark your rage at what it could have been, I invite you to my cosmopolisfilm2 blog at blogspot.

    The past 3 days I am consumed by fury that Cronenberg pimped his boy toy Rob Pattinson to ring the bell of the NYSE, thus driving a stake through DeLillo's heart.

  • caro | August 15, 2012 11:24 AMReply

    i saw it in France and i thought the movie was totally abstruse ,hermetic and Pattinson is well-casted because his character is "here" without being really there

  • seymourblogger | August 15, 2012 3:09 PM

    Well this is Cronenberg's way of creating a "floating sign mask" for the emptiness of the film and his mind in creating it. You are supposed to blame yourself for not understanding it, for being too dumb, not educated enough, so just sit back and watch pattinson's face which is used as a prop, for it is the face used as pornography. So many directors have done this to him, and he never seems to learn, that I can only say that the reason is far deeper and I don't wanna go there.

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