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The Cronenberg Chronicle-Phase Six: Cosmopolis (2012)

Wow fucking wow. This is the exclamation that silently screamed through my mind as the credits rolled after David Cronenberg’s latest work(and second film in just nine months!),”Cosmopolis”…based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo. Let me be clear…I am a strong proponent of 2011’s “A Dangerous Method”, despite the fact that I don’t feel it measures up to David’s most accomplished work. That, and the accusations by some of his fan base that he has gone too mainstream in the new century, could lead one to believe that Mr. C—at 69—was slipping somewhat. Where was the gorgeous grotesquery found in most of his work from his 1975 feature debut “Shivers” straight through the previously chronicled “eXistenZ” from 1999. Had he gone soft? Had he lost his touch? Were either of those questions even “admissible in court” when considering the incredible triptych of 2002’s “Spider”, 2005’s “A History of Violence” and 2007’s “Eastern Promises”? Some said yes, David had “sold out”. But I can assure you that you can erase that hogwash right from your cerebellum. Cronenberg has molded his most audacious, metaphorical, pretentious, fascinating, mind-blowing opus in years with this summer’s “Cosmopolis”. And the “Twilight” crowd must be scratching their teenage craniums in incomprehension. How many patrons not yet old enough to drink bought a ticket to this to see heart-throb Robert Pattinson? Half the audience? Most of them? Well, my showing boasted only about 10 attendees, including myself. I counted two walkouts, but it could have been more. And the inappropriate laughter, and stunned disbelief by film’s end was easy to discern. These people felt they had seen a bad film, while I knew I had watched a brilliant one. This is the area where I often tell folks that pure subjectivity doesn’t apply. Please don’t pull out the tired old “entitled to their opinion” crap. It’s an unaware, uneducated opinion that these kids hold! I state this up front because much of any age audience would be bewildered by this. “Cosmopolis” is for discerning viewers and Cronenberg fans alone. Looking for a simple good time at the movies? Want to relax and “turn off your brain”? There’s plenty of crap out there that will supply that. Don’t tread into my territory only to huff and demand your money back. You’ve just witnessed a masterful dissection of our current climate, politics, technology and economy and you don’t even realize it. 17 or 70, “Cosmopolis” is not here to go easy on you, so buck up. It’s a damn powerhouse.

Zillionaire Eric Packer(Mr. Pattinson)does just about everything in the insulated world of his impossibly equipped stretch limousine. He eats in the limo, he conducts business in the limo, he has sex in the limo, he pisses in the limo…he even has a prostate examination in the limo. There is always a traffic jam, made worse with the President coming to town, and he desperately wants a haircut at his preferred barbershop on the other side of town. There is chaos in the streets via an “Occupy”-type movement brewing, with men of his ilk the primary targets. He lives like a vampire in his rolling coffin, and he looks like one too(typecasting, I guess, “Twilight-ers”). He’s married to an icy blonde(Sarah Gadon)who flits in and out of his life without making too much of a connection. So, he copulates with a gorgeous older woman(Juliette Binoche)who also serves as his “art” consultant. Meanwhile, his chief advisor(Samantha Morton)supplies him with a myriad of information that she claims to not even understand…and he’s losing millions. Plus, his favorite rapper has been assassinated, and the funeral procession complicates the urban roadways even more. Gunplay soon enters the picture and eventually Eric encounters Benno Levin(the incomparable Paul Giamatti), who may hold the key to some of the evening’s embedded mysteries.

I’m on record as stating that Cronenberg is off-base when he attacks the artistic value of “The Dark Knight Rises”, but at least I understand the reason for his venom now. Christopher Nolan’s final trip with Batman indeed weighed in with some pointed financial disaster touchstones, but Cronenberg’s take on the very same subject seems more accurate and adult in every way and he does it sans an hour of the Dark Knight’s running time. The two films are the most oddball companion pieces in many a year. Some of David’s best 1990’s work is mined here, and it plays like unmistakable homage. The blending and meshing of fantasy and reality from “eXistenZ” and 1991’s “Naked Lunch”. It also plays like an unofficial sequel to 1996’s “Crash” in a multitude of ways. The zomboid cadence in much of the dialogue. The sexual endowment of an automobile, along with the tryst between Pattinson and Binoche easily recalling that of Holly Hunter and James Spader from David’s J.G. Ballard  adaptation. And if not utilizing out-and-out body-horror in “Cosmopolis”, it is still his ickiest feeling film since 1999. This is the kind of polarizing work that the uninitiated claim can’t be understood by anyone. That those who claim to understand it are just pretentious, pseudo-intellectual poseurs. I’ve heard doctors and lawyers, and those who work in high finance unleash this sort of attack. It makes them feel better to believe it’s over everyone’s head. Well, these very people are most likely smarter in ways and far more awash in advanced degrees than I…but I DO understand what Cronenberg is attempting to present here. And I think they would too if they bothered to listen. Ya gotta read between the lines sometimes. I’m always very honest about this stuff, but it still doesn’t always convince folks. When I say I knew the Bruce Willis character was dead about 10 minutes into “The Sixth Sense”, those who didn’t realize it think I’m full of shit. But when I also divulge that the Pitt/Norton duality in “Fight Club” got by me, they feel a little better. It was probably a good half hour before I could decipher where Cronenberg wanted to head with “Cosmopolis”, but once I was “in the groove”, everything seemed to fall into place. Patience and focus is a must here. Theater-goers get angry at this type of movie. On the other hand, get enraged when things are too freaking simple. I spout all of this because “Cosmopolis” appears to have lasted exactly one week at the multiplex that was still a 16 mile drive to get to. I’m on my soapbox because I continue to lament the closing of the American mind. Plus, I’m preparing myself for the inevitable astonishment expressed by those who accidentally watch this film and are befuddled by my rapturous praise. “Cosmopolis” deserves an audience and begs for multiple viewings. Don’t have patience for it? Fine. Then move it along, shut your mouth as you exit, and keep out of my way! David Cronenberg obviously still has an awful lot to say as evidenced by this release. His commentary is razor-sharp, and his usual behind-the-scenes team(Shore, Sanders, Suschitzky, sister Denise)is at the top of their game. This is a carefully modulated, courageous work of art. And the master never misses a beat.       Grade:  a no doubt solid A, with A+ aspirations pending after repeat visits

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4 comments on “The Cronenberg Chronicle-Phase Six: Cosmopolis (2012)

  1. It’s not often that I take issue with one of your reviews but I can not stand by and let this one pass without comment. I know you are a huge fan of DC and feel the need to defend him (and/or evangelize) to the great, unwashed masses, but this review feels less like a review and more like a stern scolding. I would say it’s 25% movie review and 75% “here’s why most people are idiots” speech. Now, you know me and I think many people are idiots and I gladly agree with many of your opinions on the matter, but I think you went slightly off track with this one. Perhaps you could have done a two-fer: one review of the movie and one review of stupid people. The actual film review is as solid as usual, and I look forward to more!

    • I greatly appreciate your continued and learned responses Brian—even when they are contrarian. And I think you’re right…I jumped on the lecture circuit throughout the “Cosmopolis” review. I feel the two-pronged approach for this one is an excellent idea, and one I’ll strongly consider! Remember, this is the ONLY David C film I’ll be reviewing during this 18 month planned “Cronenberg Chronicle”, that I’ll have had only ONE look at before my writing about it. It’s also the sole entry that comes after a fresh view at an actual movie theater. And I went INTO David’s latest expecting walk-outs and intrusive behavior…and it’s exactly what I got. Was it my worst experience at one of his films? No, because thankfully the crowd was light. But I felt I would be ignoring the infamous “elephant in the room” if I didn’t mention it. Their behavior was distracting and puerile. Is there the chance that my audience consisted of Cronenberg aficionados who were simply not satisfied with his most recent work? Certainly, but I highly doubt that. I think I had Robert Pattinson groupies. And they didn’t belong there. Also, I made sure to express that MANY viewers of “Cosmopolis” throughout the country are smarter and more educated than me. Maybe not more cultured in a lot of cases, but more intelligent. But I literally could WEEP at the continued acceptance of low brow entertainment. How many viewers, much brighter than I, will label something like “Cosmopolis” just plain “weird”. I don’t believe that folks are idiots as much as they are just plain lazy. Why did “Cosmopolis” last just 7 days at my local multiplex, where “The Avengers” has been playing for over FOUR MONTHS. And I love “The Avengers”! And yes, it’s populist entertainment whereas “Cosmopolis” is not. But one week. That’s it. So yes, your point is understood and well-taken that my anger bled through my review even more than I intended. I hope that most of my readers will not only understand my rage, but that they are also the types that would TRY to understand “Cosmopolis”. They may end up hating it, but they would try to “get it”. I believe you would certainly attempt to, also. And I think that your two-fer idea is superb—I may just have to visit “Cosmopolis” on the blog again. After another look or two, which will apparently have to wait for the DVD release. ML

      • I understand the need to incorporate your feelings about movie goers into a review of a film by a director who often polarizes audiences, I just thought this was more audience critique than film review. We’ve had discussions in the past about whether a film can “stand on it’s own” regardless of who the director is (I think we discussed A History of Violence in this regard) and I wonder if someone could sit down for Cosmopolis with little or no knowledge of Cronenberg and still enjoy it. Perhaps that’s not the point.

        And the fact that this film was actually screened at a multiplex AT ALL is probably some kind of victory, even if it was only for a week. I’ve seen many larger budget, limited audience films not even get a sniff of the multiplex. Who knows, there could be some future DC fan lurking in a mall, not even aware that a film like Cosmopolis is there waiting for him. In a better world there would be more opportunities like that.

        I look forward to you re-review in the future.

      • I definitely appreciate that it was at the multiplex at all…but I’m glad you brought that up. I DID have to drive 16 miles to a multiplex over the state line(into New York State)to see “Cosmopolis”. The 4, 5 or 6 multiplexes closer to home were NOT showing it at all. And your pondering of whether or not there is a neophyte Cronenbergian wandering in from the mall—man I hope so. I certainly discovered him by accident(sort of). More on that in future “Chronicle” entries. “Cosmopolis” has an EXTREMELY limited audience(“A History of Violence” is child’s play in comparison), but patient and discerning viewers can figure it out…maybe even love it. I do agree with you that I lit into the audience, but also remember that “The Cronenberg Chronicle” has always been intended to be “a little more” than just flat-out review. But maybe I took the “professorial attack” bit too far. Duly noted, my friend. ML

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