Cosmopolis (2012): Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg's nightmarish sneak peek into the hyperreal

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Cosmopolis (2012), starring Robert Pattinson as billionaire asset manager Eric Packer, directed by David Cronenberg, movie poster
Cosmopolis (2012) - By David Cronenberg
Our Rating: 9.0
IMDb Ratings: 5.5
Genre: Drama
CastRobert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Sarah Gadon
Country: France | Canada | Portugal | Italy
Language: English
Runtime: 109 min

Cosmopolis, an adaptation of a 2003 novel of the same name by Don DeLillo, is a 2012 drama film directed by Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg. A nominee for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award, Cosmopolis premiered at the 65th annual Cannes Film Festival in May, 2012. Cosmopolis stars English actor Robert Pattinson in the lead role of Eric Packer—an emotionally detached 28-year-old multi-billionaire asset manager. Cosmopolis is an attempt to capture the abject hollowness associated with our materialistic existence through the microcosmic world of Eric Packer—a hyperrealistic manifestation of the modern man—confined to the boundaries of a stretch limousine riding across Manhattan. In other words, Cosmpolis is a tale of human decadence presented in form of a nightmarish rendezvous with the hyperreal—a glimpse of what awaits us.

Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer, savors a drink inside his uber-luxiorious, high-tech stretch Limo, Cosmopolis (2012), Directed by David Cronenberg
Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer in David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis
In a worldly sense, Eric Packer epitomizes success. At a young age of 28, he has everything that a man can dream of possessing: be it wealth, fame, power, good looks, or intelligence. His high-end clients solely rely on his business acumen to invest their billions. He has a billionaire for a wife; a penthouse for lodging that he seldom visits; an uber-luxurious, high-tech limousine for an office that he more or less treats like a home. Packer, a connoisseur by taste and a perfectionist by behavior, does everything with absolute precision. And so even on a day that’s marked by heavy traffic jams, augmented by the President’s visit to the city and the funeral of a renowned musician, Packer is keen on getting a haircut from his preferred barber. En route, Packer sees his chief-of-finance, art-advisor (Juliette Binoche), chief-of-theory, doctor, and his reclusive wife who for some reason seems averse to the idea of having sex with him. And then there is Packer’s chief-of-security who from time to time makes his presence felt on what pans out to be a day of utter chaos. Each of these meetings, most of which take place inside Packer’s limo, helps us get an insight into Packer’s opulent yet empty life.

Robbert Pattinson as Eric Packer, with his billionaire wife, played by Sarah Gadon, Cosmopolis (2012), Directed by David Cronenberg
Eric Packer with his Billionaire Wife
Eric replenishes the void created by his wife’s disinterest in him by fornicating with his female employees. During the course of the day, while encountering several anti-capitalist protestors, Packer learns from his chief-of-security that his life is under serious threat. Things gradually go from bad to worse as Packer makes terrible miscalculations. Consequently, his clients lose heaps of money mostly deployed in form of ‘cybercapital’—the electronic money generated through future market speculations that has become the greatest paradox of our time, for even though it doesn’t actually contribute to the productivity of the business cycles it drastically impacts the overall liquidity of the economy. Shattered by the totality of his failure, Packer loses his composure and ends up killing his own chief-of-security. He jeopardizes his security further by choosing to visit the house his potential killer, Richard Sheets a.k.a. Benno Levin—one of Packer’s ex-employees whose sole purpose in life is to kill Packer.

Robert Pattinson as billionaire asset manager Eric Packer, firing his revolves, Cosmopolis (2012), Directed by David Cronenberg
A Still from Cosmopolis
Packer’s sudden descent has a kind of a ritualistic feel to it that’s strongly suggestive of a man condemned to be his own instrument of destruction, something that insinuates to the self-destructive propensity of the entire human race. Cronenberg uses a wide array of characters to evoke a sense of pathos for this self-inflicted plight of humanity. While Packer’s detachment revolves around an overwhelming sense of superficiality that he encounters day in and day out, Levin’s alienation is a product of his spiteful disposition. In the same manner the reclusion that one sees in Packer’s wife has something to do with her inherent sense of apathy for the world that surrounds her. Cronenberg is a master at using sex and gore as effective tools to stimulate a sense of revulsion in the hearts of his audience, but in Cosmopolis he uses sex and gore to propagate a sense of apocalyptic fear in the minds of his viewers. In fact, the fear is all pervasive and the uncertainty associated with the movie's last act only augments it further. Cosmopolis has an element of crudity that one generally associates with art—the state of being open to interpretation.

French actress Juliette Binoche as Eric Packer's art-advisor Didi Fancher, inside the stretch limi, Cosmopolis (2012), Directed by David Cronenberg
Juliette Binoche as Didi Fancher in Cosmopolis
In Cosmpolis, Cronenberg’s meticulous direction is brilliantly backed up by some fine acting and brilliant cinematography. Robert Pattinson is a revelation as Eric Packer. And while it would be remiss of me to downplay his previous works, I think it would be safe to regard Cosmopolis as his best work yet. Pattinson portrays the part with a sense of realism that is a trademark of a seasoned actor. But, without taking anything away from him, I just can’t help but wonder what role did Cronenberg have in Pattinson's remarkable transformation as an actor? Speaking of acting, Paul Giamatti as Benno Levin is equally brilliant in a portrayal that seems to perfectly contrast Pattinson’s. Sarah Gadon is consistently glacial as Packer’s reclusive wife and the air of haughtiness that she seems to exude is in perfect harmony with her caricature. Another performance that’s worth mentioning is a cameo by Juliette Binoche. If her performance in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) was an embodiment of nymphean innocence then probably her playful portrayal in Cosmopolis is its exact antithesis. The movie’s use of dialogue is quite elaborate, but for the most part it may seem hollow with little or no meaning. In fact, Cosmopolis encourages the viewers to try and read between the lines in order develop their own understanding. 

Paul Giamatti as Richard Sheets a.k.a. Benno Levin, Cosmopolis (2012), Directed by David Cronenberg
Cosmopolis (2012): Richard Sheets a.k.a. Benno Levin
Overall, Cosmopolis is a complex work of cinema, with several interweaved layers, which requires multiple viewings for an enhanced understanding. The movie’s somber, menacing, nigh surrealistic feel makes it quite challenging for the average viewer. It is probably for this reason that the movie opened to mixed reactions from critics worldwide. In Cosmopolis, Cronenberg succeeds in creating a world of his own as he had so seamlessly done in his Sci-Fi extravaganza eXistenZ (1999). Robbie Collin of The Telegraph writes of Cosmopolis, “It's a smart inversion of Cronenberg’s 1999 film eXistenZ: rather than being umbilically connected to a virtual world, Packer is hermetically sealed off from the real one.” Cosmopolis takes a paradigm shift from the traditional style of filmmaking and transcends the viewer into the nightmarish world of the hyperreal where the characters must confront the hollowness of their existence in the manner typical of a Kafkaesque setting. Cosmopolis is a must for intelligent viewers who understand and value high quality, thought-provoking cinema. 
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  1. Sounds great. Thanks.

  2. Good work Murtaza. There are so many people who hate this movie, so it's nice to see someone defend it so well.

  3. Thanks Bonjour... I am really glad to hear that from you :-)

  4. I think a lot of what you described might've been the intent of the movie; I think a bit was redesigned that way to make up for Pattinson's lack of abilities as an actor, 'cause I don't think he was that good in it actually. I mean, there's playing emptiness but I don't- he doesn't have a character. He tends to be good, staying still, and having a camera on him; and that's about it, but the other than that, emotions is like a second language to him; I've yet to see a performance of his that I thought was good, and I usually gives benefits of a doubt to the actors, but...- It's a little Kafkaesque, but we basically, get all of this in the first ten minutes of the film. His life is a void, and it's a void for us the audience. It's not really one nightmare stop on the journey after another, it's one nothing after another. He's not even picaresque, nothing he does...- well I can end that sentence actually, he does nothing, everything enters his world and his sphere of vision, and he's not even interested in that, so I don't know why I was supposed to care. He doesn't even care about the haircut he's getting, much less the money or sex around him, or the protesters. There's symbolism and then there's just driving something into the ground. If it wasn't the last scene with Giamatti, which- and that's something that bothered me too, that sequence, alone, could've been a short film in of itself, and a decent one alone, that said more than, anything else in the rest of film, that was frustrating, 'cause as pointless as everything else seemed, that scene essentially just confirmed it. I don't know if Kafka's the right comparison actually, structurally, it reminded me of Vincent Gallo's "The Brown Bunny", which is also about a guy traveling, for most of the movie, and then there's a sequence at the end, that explains everything, a conversation between the Gallo and his ex-girlfriend played by Chloe Sevigny, but in that movie, there's a decent explanation for the hour of the film, being an existential journey, essentially to boring nothingness, but also the last scene, was a lot more full of depth. "Cosmopolis" seemed to me a simplistic allegory, basically talking about how capitalism is bad, and even the winners of the game are depressed and uncaring about it. Even works about have a driving force, and even that's literally in a traffic jam in the force-, Yeah I appreciate the thought, but I don't think a second viewing's gonna add much to it. One was plenty for me. I can stand some self-torture, but that would asking a lot.

  5. I think Cosmopolis is the turning point in not only in Pattinson's career but also his career. He was going through a very tough phase following his break up with Stewart. Also, in his own words, Twilight fame left him struggling with depression for two years... his swift rise to fame after starring in the very first Twilight movie left him feeling exiled and alone. Pattinson said in an interview that he was saved from spiraling into depression when director David Cronenberg asked him to star in Cosmopolis. He wanted a change but realized that he will have to earn it. Pattinson said: 'I thought everything was going to be served on a plate but that's not how it works". Even though the movie didn't do well at the box office, it helped Pattinson in establishing himself as someone who wants to take his acting seriously.

    Now, I can sense that you weren't impressed at all by Pattinson's acting... but, I was really please to see him finally discover the actor in him. You have written above: "His life is a void, and it's a void for us the audience." I believe it was quite deliberate on Cronenberg's part to highlight this void as an means to showcase the hollowness that is slowly becoming ubiquitous in today's world. Cronenberg wants to give us the glimpse of the hyperreal to capture the abject solitude associated with our materialistic existence. Anyway, it seems that you have already made up your mind on this... so, I won't proceed any further trying to convince you otherwise.

  6. I would've bought that it was deliberate, if I didn't think that of his other performances as well. 'Cause I thought the same things with everything else I've seen him in. In "Water for Elephants", I thought he did nothing, in an even worse movie than this one, "Bel Ami", I thought the performance was much the same, and in that one he actually he was supposed to be this libertine-type character, and it was really bad there, and "Twilight" as well, although everybody's doing their worst work in those films, so if anything, I think Cronenberg exploited that tendency of his, but I would say like a Jesse Eisenberg perhaps in that role, would've found more interesting things to do, even with emptiness as a theme, 'cause even when you're empty as a person, it's still a thing, a part of a person, it engulfs you; it's not just a passivity, so until proven otherwise, could he could always surprise me with a new film, maybe it was depression, although I always tended to think that that relationship was more publicity than anything else, even still, I've yet to be impressed by a Robert Pattinson performance.


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