For a certain generation, David Cronenberg is the director of “Eastern Promises,” “A History of Violence” and “A Dangerous Method.” All good films, to be sure, but something deeper, darker and more surreal lurks in the psyche of the Canadian director. Something worthy of the 20th century’s most creative minds, such as William S. Burroughs, J. G. Ballard, Georges Bataille and Thomas Pynchon.
A brief perusal of articles covering David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” trailer indicates a relative lack of awareness about the Don DeLillo novel from which it was adapted. Descriptions have been centering on Robert Pattinson playing Eric Packer, a 28 year old billionaire assets manager on a day long trip across Manhattan for a haircut.
The haircut quest is simply a plot device for the post-modern events that unfold and, of course, a critique of upper class decadence. But, who among us doesn’t go out of our way for a good haircut?
Anyone who has read the book knows that the devil of “Cosmopolis” is in the details—DeLillo’s details. A style that inspires those readers and writers with a similar mindset, while it infuriates others with its cold, clinical and geometric purity and rhythm. Like Pynchon, Joyce, Henry Miller and David Foster Wallace, DeLillo is mesmerized by words, concepts and cinematic mis-en-scene, and seeks to mesmerize his readers in turn.
DeLillo recently wrote a novel, “Point Omega,” that begins with a screening of “24 Hour Psycho,” the film “Psycho” slowed down to play over 24 hours. As the video artist played with time and detail in “24 Hour Psycho,” so does DeLillo. While Cronenberg and DeLillo’s aesthetics are different, there exists between the two storytellers enough of an analogue for “Cosmopolis” to be a truly stunning cinematic experience.
Like DeLillo’s inspiration for “Cosmopolis,” James Joyce’s “Ulysses,” the story is not about some geographical journey, or an endpoint at all, but about how this post-modern, Baudrillardian and Ballardian modern civilization in which we live is tenuous but somehow continuously unfolding. How many of us deny that it is tenuous and actually believe that it will continue to unfold because, well, for now it does. And Packer is a stand-in for every rich and self-important man, who could hardly notice his kingdom unraveling all around.
So, don’t go see “Cosmopolis” because Robert Pattinson is attempting something quite serious and artistically challenging—even though he looks rather brilliant in the trailer. See the film because David Cronenberg is always at his best when interpreting the work of great writers, like William S. Burroughs (“Naked Lunch”) and J. G. Ballard (“Crash”).