Cosmopolis (Canada/France/Italy/Portugal, 2012)

cosmopolis-poster2Directed by: David Cronenberg. I made a point of reading the book before seeing the movie for a change (it’s so damn short, there’s really no excuse), and upon doing so, I’m not sure this makes a good movie. I’m not sure that these little vignettes, this guy’s inscrutable characterization, that flat, affectless tone through that terse, Hemingway-via-William Gibson dialogue sounds so distant as to nearly destroy any semblance of traditional audience identification. I definitely appreciate how bizarre this story comes across as a film, and as I learned that, contrary to my assumption that this was another major Hollywood Cronenberg vehicle (packed with a major A-list hearthrob no less), this was actually nothing but a good old Canadian art film funded by scrounging together grants from various European art-film funding bodies, this film scored some definite points in my book. In this sense, this is a return to the familiar Cronenberg who clawed his way into legitimacy via the Canadian pulp horror sci-fi underground, but I’m also interested in seeing how this film adds to the ongoing chain of increasingly bizarre and even more subtly uncanny Cronenberg films of the modern era (the last 15 years or so). With this film, he’s carrying on his method of flat, strangely explicit but utterly restrained physical violence, which has been getting more and more restrained from A History of Violence onwards. This pairing with DeLillo’s source material is perhaps perfect for this aspect of Cronenberg’s film vocabulary. As always, the ambiguity and subjective imagination-work of the source text is overexposed and altered by the inherently more detached and relatively objective distance of the cinematic apparatus, but in the gaze of Cronenberg’s camera, this film looks especially stark and naked. This story is a great fit for Cronenberg, giving him a real take-off point for his natural knack for alienating framing/editing and a look of unreal flatness. And in a way, that surreal flatness really compliments the tone of the novel, the jarring alienation of the sexual passages in the novel coming across as even more jarring and alienating when presented onscreen. The juxtaposition of the sweaty animal-ness of the human bodies onscreen with the blatant digital unreality of the green-screened background really unsettles the whole thing. The fact that the majority of the film is set in this one unreal setting—the limousine interior (a fully enclosed film set where the actors can’t even see Cronenberg) shot against a green-screened background (actual source footage from NY streets)—makes the entire thing inherently claustrophobic, and the close quarters naturally produce very tight camera angles. The whole thing is so damn intimate and so damn alienating at the same damn time, and that’s where this film, to the extent that it’s a really striking film, is a really striking film. To another extent though, I think it kind of fails for the familiar reasons. The protagonist’s inner monologue, perhaps more than in most novels, really informs a great deal of the external action, and the fact that these actions just seem flat and hollow and meaningless (if that’s a negative thing at all) can basically be traced to the way that Cronenberg wrote the script. He took the approach that I was going to take for a Catcher in the Rye script many years ago (if I had actually followed through and wrote the damn thing {And I know the world mourns each day I don’t write my amateur Catcher in the Rye film script}), wherein he starts by simply transcribing the external actions and dialogue and then just leaves it at that. It’s a really interesting idea, and it captures a lot of the alienation that usually is so appealing to me, and still is, but as a regular viewer, I’m still not sure it works. This film really confronts me with my conflicting opinions on the primacy of the artist’s impulse and free reign to create versus the needs of the audience and the ultimate “purpose” of the art, of the visceral enjoyment factor in a film viewer. That this conflict is so strongly present in the film probably accounts for how poorly it did critically and commercially. But it’s still probably the best thing Robert Pattinson will ever do.


4 responses to “Cosmopolis (Canada/France/Italy/Portugal, 2012)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2013 | Offhand Reviews·

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