Tell Me What That Means
Fans of the Don DeLillo cyberpunk novel and of all-in-Toronto David Cronenberg will welcome Cosmopolis as black humor parody-prophecy. What might seem defects will to them reflect the current state of affairs in the world allowed to be made in the image of inclusive-intrusive technology that turns super movers and shakers into metero-cool zero-heart global capitalist zombies while all about them crashes.
However, nothing lies behind or within the film’s vapid non-personalities, flat acting and dull dialogue, hot-air one-liner aphorisms, mechanical couplings or ice-queen evasions of consummation. Final twenty-two minutes of a nutty alter ago (Paul Giamatti as Richard Sheets, nom de guerre Benno Levin) who cannot quite kill himself or his long-stalked target (Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer) betray the hollowness of disturbances and scab-rat symbols of the preceding eighty-six. Yet the draw-your-own-conclusion--regenerated life or death or death-in-life--cannot attract an audience into a milieu without dimension or meaning even if one player after another asks the meaning of another’s pseudo-profound remarks.
Fiction and films have long cautioned against the creations’ coming to control the creators, the first coming to mind here being title-similar but way in another league Metropolis.
The current film’s imagined Gotham may exist in the mind of twenty-eight-year old Packer, whose goal of the day is, paralleling Charles Foster Kane’s childhood Rosebud, an unneeded haircut at his late father’s friend’s shop of his own boyhood. But that, too, remains truncated, half-finished like Packer and everyone else.
With no interests, curiosity or charities, the Steve Jobs-like boy genius spends this day-in-the-life inside a stretch limousine tricked out with jukebox-like gizmos interfacing the outside from which he is physically isolated. “Insulated,” as well, by the car’s cork lining -- the director says he cannot pause to flesh out the “Prousted” reference -- on a backseat throne he confers with whiz kids, buys entire chapels to install in his apartment, watches the assassination of the IMF director, and is watched over by whispery chief of security Torval (Kevin Durand).
People are not fleshed out, either, from the substitute doctor who administers his daily in situ digital rectal exam to the female flunkies who furnish counsel and loveless joyless sex though not requested taser relief.
The white castle-home-limo is spray-painted during the course of urban mayhem that is vaguely anti-corporate Occupy but in the end amorphous because he is oblivious. Traffic gridlocked by the masses and by a visit of the U.S. president, Packer only seldom gets out. He alights at a playground where two teens play hoops, in a street where photographers snap a motor-mouth anarchist’s (Mathieu Amalric, as Andre Petrescu) Rupert Murdoch-pie in his face, and at the barbershop. And a stop at the underground bookshop of live-apart wife of three weeks, poetess Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), whom he treats to lunch at a downscale diner. More of a zero than he, she spouts nonsense non-sequiturs but is fabulously rich enough to parry his obscenely worded insistence on sex even if in a rented hotel room instead of the usual automobile.
Whether bad acting or the director’s own scripting (sticking close to the 2003 book), Pattinson’s boyish face remains impassive even while he loses gazillions on yuan fluctuations. His brow furrows once, during the digital probe which turns on one of his women, and he hides uncharacteristic tears at the death of Sufi rapper Brutha Fez (K’Naan, who also performs soundtrack lyrics coauthored with DeLillo).
It is old hat that man may profit to gain the whole world, and lose his own soul. That mega-manipulation and rampant technology enter into the equation is a newer twist that one day will be pictured on the screen. Cosmopolis is nowhere near that picture.
(Released by Entertainment One and rated “R” for some strong sexual content, including graphic nudity, violence and language.)