David Cronenberg’s newest film advertises and makes a production of its overwhelming complexity, with dense and enigmatic dialogue lifted directly from Don DeLillo’s novel.  At its core, however, Cosmopolis is a simple story, following young financial demigod Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) and his wilfully unraveling fortunes as his futuristically hermetic limousine slowly snakes its way across Manhattan while anarchist protests explode in the streets.  Along the way the detached Packer has a series of philosophically loaded encounters with the other unusual types who people his life.  The ride is on one level a seemingly pointless jaunt to an inconveniently located barber shop; on another level the trip is a self-obsessed one-man funeral procession, with Packer undergoing sartorial as well as financial and mental downsizing and disintegration en route.

Money, the business of his life, has become an abstract thing; like art, it is no longer narrative and now talks to itself in mad senility.  Isolated from the real life concerns of common humans, Packer is anaesthetized and knows it and will go to bizarre lengths just to feel something.  “Stun me,” he dares his bodyguard (Patricia McKenzie) as she levels a taser at him.  Even his relationship with his wife is absurdly cold and emotionally constipated.  Like Cronenberg, he is an intellectual who intellectualizes everything, so that his “chief of theory” or financial oracle (Samantha Morton) occupies an important place in his life and gives him daily debriefings.  Is it possible that Packer will be able to liberate himself from his psychological sterility only by consciously dismantling everything he has built with such precision?

Cosmopolis is a triumph of visual design and a remarkable feat in remaining consistently sharp and compelling despite being an almost nonstop series of scenes of Packer in conversation.  The stylized dialogue, which lends Cosmopolis an air of being the film adaptation of a stage play, rewards multiple viewings in its clever, showboating complexity.  Also indispensible in keeping this tasteful freakshow afloat is the splendid cast, with Sarah Gadon, Jay Baruchel, George Touliatos, Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, and many others contributing brief but memorable characterizations that help to define Packer by way of relief and speculation.   Cosmopolis is also very funny and comes highly recommended to fans of black comedies.  5 stars.

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Cosmopolis is:

10. Multiculturalist.  Packer employs minorities and listens to sufi rap.

9. Faith-ambivalent.  “We don’t need God,” says the “chief of theory”.  Callous Packer’s tower has gone “unpunished by God.”  He mocks a health-conscious subordinate’s “Judeo-Christian jogging”.  He does, however, appear to long for some elusive spirituality.  He admires a sufi rapper (K’Naan) who for a time lived in a minaret, whereas Packer has lived his life in another kind of tower and in a different isolation.  He also expresses interest in buying a chapel.  The mysterious “Complex” is the closest thing to a supreme being in the film, however.

8. Pro-immigration.  Foreign cab drivers “come from horror and despair”.

7. Pro-miscegenation.  Packer avails himself of a chesty black woman.

6. Feminist.  Women are capable executives.  Packer has a female bodyguard.

5. Pro-slut.  “I am a single, struggling mother,” one mover-and-shaker pants sweatily.  Sex in this world has nearly succeeded in divorcing itself from emotion; it is now a medication, an “antidote to disillusion”.  Didi (Juliette Binoche) puts on an especially good show.

4. Anti-marriage.  In addition to Packer’s own failed union, reference is made to “some dumb wedding”.

3. Egalitarian.  Private ownership of art is questioned.  Art “belongs to the world”; and yet, “The more visionary the idea, the more people it leaves behind.”  Making money is Packer’s art.  Do his creations also belong to the people?  The precipitous crash of his portfolio makes him feel free, Packer says.

2. State-skeptical.  A financial pundit is attacked and stabbed in the eye simply for criticizing the stability of the yuan.  A finance minister’s movements are so absurdly awe-inspiring and earth-shaking that even his pauses and breaths as he speaks are studied with intense interest.

1. Anti-capitalist.  Cronenberg is reluctant to accept this label for his film, but too many elements point in this direction for Cosmopolis not to receive it.  Capitalism, not communism, is the “specter” haunting the world.  “People eat and sleep in the shadow of what we do,” Shiner (Jay Baruchel) reflects with trepidation.  “All wealth has become wealth for its own sake.”  “Foully and berserkly rich” Packer, the film’s representative magnate, is an unfeeling philanderer disrespectful of human life.  “You’re forcing me to be reasonable,” he says to a would-be assassin (Paul Giamatti).  “I don’t like that.”  “The logical extension of business is murder,” he suggests to a sexual partner; then, “Move to the left,” he instructs her, meaning physically, but unavoidably connoting the political to the viewer.

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