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Cosmopolis (2012)

by on 2015/01/10

Cosmopolis (2012)

“If he was any dreamier, we’d have to put him on life support.”

* *

It’s Canadian content. It’s by David Cronenberg. It’s a microcosmic, minimalistic attempt to transcend easy craft. It has Jay Baruchel, Paul Giamatti, and a Bond villain channelling Dave Foley.

I want so much to love it, or to like it, or just to appreciate it. Heck, I’m willing to concede I simply don’t understand Cosmopolis. But even if someone could explain it to me, would my right brain follow my left?

It’s a bit like religion, I suppose, I just don’t feel it.

Eric Packer, a twenty-something financial wizard, decides to get his hair cut. He sits in a limo and is driven across Manhattan (with its very own CN Tower in the background). Along the way, he encounters others, both in and outside of the limo. Some are friends, some are foes, some are indifferent. Some are violent, some are nude, yet too few are interesting. All have elliptical near-conversations which fail to connect the speakers to each other, much less with the world around them.

I might have been able to convince myself this sort of thing was profound twenty years ago, in university, studying film, English and philosophy. Post-modern pseudo-intellectualism, pontificating about relationships, theorizing about emotion. Like an amateur theatre production, full of pompous, time-wasting pretentiousness.

Surely I’m missing something. This is David Cronenberg! His body of work, his contributions, practically unassailable. He chose to direct this piece, to script it, to invest good will and funding.

He wasn’t alone. Did the cast and crew follow him solely for his reputation, or was there something they saw (or wanted to) in the final product?

And it does feel like a product, no mistake . . . a carefully, clinically calculated product, seeded with significant touches. His convention of body horror is here, but the cold, mechanical execution of motifs, dialogue, and performances subverts any possibility of visceral involvement.

Nearly the epitome of telling over showing, this should-have-been-a-one-room-play employs language so mechanical, opaque, and Byzantine — sometimes delivered in fragments, with multiple speakers diverging simultaneously — that it squanders its means of connecting with the audience.

We’re effectively distanced from the characters, their outlooks, and their interactions which, by design or otherwise, still amounts to us being excluded. Which is not what I seek in being entertained, educated, or edified.

Point out the recurring heart motifs, painting, rats, the role of the haircut, and being a visionary. Convince me why I should care about any of this deliberate iconography. I see more poignance and beauty in a symbolic logic equation.

Maybe the parade of players are various sides of the central character, imagined or illusory, or just manifestations of concepts. It’s hard to care when none of it gives us much cause to. Perhaps it’s a perfect transfer of the source novel to the screen. I don’t know, and I no longer care. The film so soured me, I won’t be bothering to find out.

Be it art or craft, I find Cosmopolis a poor play and an even worse film.

* *

Rated 14A for language, nudity, and violence

109 minutes

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