Middle Row, Centre: A Claustrophobic Ride From Cronenberg

The most recent in Landmark Cinemas’ Filmtastic Films series (formerly the Art Films series) is Canadian director David Cronenberg’s 2012 Cannes Film Festival entry, Cosmopolis. It’s a haunting, wordy-yet-prescient film, about a day in the life of a young multibillionaire.

Robert Pattinson, renowned for his role in the Twilight series, plays Eric Packer, a 28-year-old financial asset manager. His personal limousine is a wonder to behold, a long white stretched-out affair, decked out in ultra-modern, sophisticated technology. Equipped with a multitude of screens and monitors that enable Packer to monitor up-to-the-minute changes in financial transactions as he attempts for instance to corner the Thailand currency market, the vehicle has everything he needs.

We first meet Packer on the day he decides he needs a haircut. His mission is to drive halfway across New York City to his favourite barber on the other side of town. But it’s not going to be an easy mission, for downtown traffic is in total gridlock mode. This is due to tie-ups for a rap star’s funeral, a presidential visit, and anarchist demonstrations and riots protesting the financial meltdown.

It’s a situation that’s personally affecting Packer, and he experiences heavy financial losses even as he drives cross-town—losses he closely monitors from his limousine. Yet he’s coldly emotionless to it all, even as scenes of the 2008 financial crisis easily come to our minds. Packer is a pale and soulless automaton, as bereft of conscience as he is of human concern or morality. He is totally unconcerned about the effects of his kind and their empty greed upon the rest of the world, and it shows.

In his mobile cocoon, he eats, has sex, conducts meetings, and even has a prostate exam while he’s on the phone with a risqué call from a female business associate. The doctor incredibly employs the limousine’s ultra-technology to do a sonar test that determines he has an asymmetrical prostate.

Packer also uses the vehicle to have in-house sex with his randy mistress, Didi Fancher, an art dealer played by Juliette Binoche. He only leaves the vehicle as it inches along in traffic to meet with his glacial wife, Elise, who will consent to have lunch but not to have sex with him. He also has a quick hotel room hookup with his attractive female security chief, who teases him in a bizarre twist with a 100,000-volt taser, which he relishes. Packer’s only other out-of-vehicle encounter is a meeting with a disgruntled ex-employee, played by Paul Giamatti.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that Pattinson, famed for his vampire roles, plays a financial predator who is totally amoral and disinterested in his effect on the protestors, who at one point surround his car and begin rocking it back and forth.

Cosmopolis is not an easy film to watch. Much of the Cannes audience found it claustrophobic, in that so much of its action takes place within the confines of the limousine. A lot of the dialogue, some felt, goes nowhere. The film is adapted from a 2003 novel by American author Don de Lillo, who also wrote Libra, a fictional exploration inside the mind of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The overriding impulse of Cosmopolis is a similar journey into the soul and spirit of a person who is a financial powerhouse, but whose morality and social responsibility comes up empty. Ultimately, the film is well worth it, as a revealing exposition on the times we live in.

Cosmopolis plays at the Qwanlin Cinema two days only: at 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, October 14 and at 7:00 p.m. on Monday, October 15. Cosmopolis is rated R for sexuality/profanity.

Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.

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