SPOILER POST: Part 1 – “Let it express itself.” Chauffeur Deb reviews ‘Cosmopolis’

Well, go find your shocked face. I loved Cosmopolis. I’ve seen it eight times now and came away with something a little different each time. Sometimes it was a deliberate decision of mine on how to approach a specific viewing ie. looking at the background or focusing on character reactions. Sometimes it was the theatre itself. The energy of each group was unique and I actually have a favourite viewing for that very reason. (Friday’s 7:20 show at Varsity in case you were curious.)

A little background: I was lucky enough to attend an informal “Cronenberg 101” given by Tedracat one fantastic day last summer (re: I went to her house and she fed me while we watched as many movies as possible). She pointed out lots of Cronenberg film markers as well as his common themes of technology’s impact on humanity, religion and motherhood. (Please note: I’ll refrain from winking every time I mention a mother or father reference in Cosmopolis. But I’ll be winking on the inside). So a part of me really enjoyed Cosmopolis on an aesthetic level;  the form, the lines and the Cronenbergian palette of ‘all the colours of a bruise’ and punctuating red. It truly is a work of art to look at. It brings to mind Cronenberg’s quote about film being “fantastic faces saying fantastic words”. Poetic prose put to a moving painting. Not your average day at the movies.

So. Here are my main points – the things that were really stand out for me. This is my blatantly biased review of Cosmopolis.

“That’s my peanuts you smell.” Eric Packer

Humour: One of the biggest surprises was how funny the movie is. Reading the book was a more serious experience, although there were certainly moments of humour while reading too. Here in the film, DeLillo’s words sometimes contrast with the visual in a really absurd way. Shiner’s pleas that the system is secure is comical when viewed through Jay Baruchel’s performance. He’s a nervous wreck, twitchy and on edge. Eric has driven him completely crazy. The prostate exam is gloriously absurd. Poor Jane may be feeling sexual tension but the audience is squirming along with Eric while giggling (yes, I heard man giggles) at the prolonged procedure and Robert Pattinson’s subdued yet… expressive expressions.

“That was theory. I am your Chief of Theory. I deal in theory.” Vija Kinski

Vija Kinski: An absolute highlight is Eric’s time with Vija Kinski. Samantha Morton is one of those actors that I would watch in anything. You know the saying “I’d listen to them read the phone book”? That. She is just mesmerizing as Eric’s Chief of Theory. Her manner of speaking is so soothingly distinct, completely different from anyone else in the movie. After a few viewings I finally put my finger on what it reminded me of; it’s as if she’s telling a bed time story to a child. Eric is rapt and so was I. During one particularly intense exchange Vija tries to temper the theory she’s filled Eric’s head with. It’s one of my favourite scenes in the whole movie and is echoed later when Eric and Benno talk. Seriously, I could watch a full length feature of Vija and Eric sipping vodka and talking about things I’ll never understand. Fantastic faces saying fantastic words indeed.

“Report from the complex. There’s a credible threat. Not to be dismissed.” Torval

Torval: Kevin Durand is simply amazing. The shifts in his attitude toward Eric are comic relief at points. He’s all intensely concerned and frustrated one moment and then shaking his head at Eric’s antics the next. There is a definite father/son connection here; Torval literally speaks to Eric as if he’s a child a few times and Eric’s aloof evasiveness is teenagerish. Kevin Durand is just fascinating to watch, with his twitching lips, narrowed eyes and menacing voice. Besides Elise, Torval is the only character we see interacting with Eric throughout the movie; we see Eric’s slow destruction mirrored in their reactions to him.

“You saw the car. We were under attack by anarchists. Just two hours ago they were a major global protest. Now, what, forgotten.” Eric Packer

The angles: Strange but true – I loved the unique shots in Cosmopolis. Often from slightly above, there was a voyeuristic feel to the whole film. I think part of that is how removed I felt from these characters. I couldn’t relate to them but I could watch and see what they would do. It has that ‘I shouldn’t be looking but I can’t look away’ feeling. There was a fishbowl quality to it. A scene with Eric and Elise, their final scene together at dinner, was shot almost exclusively in a sharp profile. It’s gorgeous. When the shot returns to full face you feels as if you should look away. It’s almost too much.

“I gave this guy his first haircut. He wouldn’t sit in the car seat. His father tried to jam him in there. He’s going no no no no no. So I put him right where he’s sitting now. His father pinned him down.” Antony

The barber shop: After the first couple of viewings I started to dread this part because I knew it was getting close to the end. I loved this set. I loved Antony standing in his beaded curtain doorway letting us look at the old room and imagine it as it would have been back in the day. And that child’s car seat. Red. The religious symbols on the wall, the talk of Eric’s father. You can feel the whole movie, Eric’s whole day, settle in and say “this is what it’s all about. He wanted a haircut”. One of those surreal moments is here; Antony and Ibrahim, the actual chauffeur, talk about driving their cabs, eating at the wheel, their modest decorations and where they would pee. Well, we’ve just spent an hour with Eric’s tricked out limo in which he peed. Perhaps not the most significant observation but there you go.

“It’s women’s shoes. It’s all the names they have for shoes.” Benno Levin

Benno: These scenes are nothing short of brilliant. I’ve loved hearing the actors talk about the long takes and single takes at that. I’m going to take a brief detour into fangirl land, bear with me. I adored Rob’s swagger up the alley, his shaking the gun around, the quiet ‘Nancy Babich’ and kicking that door in. It made me wish we could have seen Eric on a better, normal day… just once. Do you know what I mean? Anyway, this is another amazing set which I needed many viewings to be able to focus on. Paul Giamatti and Rob demand your attention. The power shifts back and forth, the mood bounces around. Ironically Benno is one of the only characters that I really felt sorry for along the way. He’s been driven mad, partly by Eric, and I couldn’t help wonder if that’s where Shiner would have been heading had Eric gone on pushing his limits. (See what I did there? Deep thoughts by Chauffeur Deb)

Rob’s perfect here. Another favourite part is Eric chastising Benno through the blinds. Eric’s voice and delivery, the simple gun pulling down the blinds and letting them snap back up – so dismissive. So Eric. I liked hearing him seem to channel different people when he’s talking to Benno. At times I heard Vija and Elise. An echo of all the things he’s heard and taken in coming back out to deal with this madman. Something he doesn’t know.

I still think there is a good chance that this day of Eric’s is a projection, a fantasy of Benno’s. His wife won’t have sex with him, he gets pied and loses all his money. He sees Benno. He comes to him to be destroyed. That was my take when I read the book but like I said above, I’m no post modern scholar. 😉 I loved Cosmopolis on a lot of different levels; as a fan of Rob’s, as a proud Canadian who now idolizes David Cronenberg, as a piece of art, as a surreal ride through Eric’s unknown.

There is so much more I could talk about. Sarah Gadon’s Elise was icy perfection and Patricia McKenzie’s Kendra… well I don’t feel I’m quite recovered to discuss that scene coherently. At least not in the post. As I’m trying to wind this up I’m remembering more; the poignancy of Eric after hearing about Brutha Fez, the minimal use of score but the awesome song at the end credits. I could go on for a long while…

Following this film from announcement to now has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It’s been an absolute gift. Thanks to you all for reading and commenting along the way. Chauffeur Tink will post her review to coincide with the U.S. release of Cosmopolis. (we’re just extending the party in the limo 😉 ) Whether you’ve seen the movie or not I can’t wait to talk to you guys in the comments. Get in the limo!

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21 Responses to SPOILER POST: Part 1 – “Let it express itself.” Chauffeur Deb reviews ‘Cosmopolis’

  1. 4tlashes4erimus says:

    What a pleasure to read! I loved your insights and it made me even more excited to see the film!! 🙂

  2. Suziekew says:

    Wow, Deb, that is a fantastic review! I love reading other people’s perceptions of this amazing movie and have been looking so forward to hearing your detailed thoughts. Love the bedtime story observation and the contrast of pee-ing between the haves and have nots. And wow, it never even occured to me that it could all have been a fantasy of Benno’s…great insights!

    • deb24601 says:

      Thanks Suzie! It was really difficult to bring the review in at that length, I could have easily doubled it lol. There is so much to talk about. The diner… I didn’t even mention the diner.

    • tinkrbe1l3 says:

      wasnt it fantastic? deb gave me more to look at and i didnt know that was possible at the moment. it was a fresh review. i wanna compare the pee-ing thing and the other stuff benno says that could reflect Eric’s day. i love the mother/father elements too. i sensed them but didn’t listen to Vija yet as if it’s a bedtime story. altho, Eric tells her things like he’s a young son who wants his mother to be proud or impressed.

  3. laura says:

    Wow, that was an amazing reading! I haven’t seen the movie yet (it is released in October in my country), and after watching the different clips and reading some reviews, I was (I’m) seriously worried that I wasn’t going to understand a single scene from the movie, lol!. But this article/review is gonna be a lot helpful for sure!

    • deb24601 says:

      Thanks Laura! It really is a strange film but there are lots of different ways to appoach it. I didn’t get into the themes and actual story much in my review because we’d covered all that during our book discussions. I focused on the visual adaptation. If you like, you could check out our old book discussion posts here http://cosmopolisfilm.com/category/the-novel/discussion-group-the-novel/ I know having that info made the film more enjoyable; even if I didn’t “get” parts of the movie or the characters I was never lost. Can’t wait to hear what you think after you see it. 🙂

  4. Rose says:

    That was a great review! I loved your comment at the end about this being a projection or fantasy of Benno’s. I have never thought of it that way but it makes perfect sense and makes me connect with the book on a level I didn’t think was possible, sooo..thank you!

  5. Cosmonerd says:

    I was just over at the other site reading the Sight and Sound review and I didn’t think it could get any better than that, but you’ve topped it, Deb. This site has led me to get INTO the book and the film (the limo!) in ways I haven’t done since I was a student long ago, but many of the things you mentioned above (as recognized by your other fans), are revelations that are going to send me happily back to the text again.
    And by the way, I think it’s about time you got a fan post from Mr. Cronenberg and Mr. Pattinson, the objects of our regard.
    Thanks so much.

    • deb24601 says:

      Wow, thank you! I was really intimidated while writing this, I felt like with all the reviews out there that everything had been said, so I’m very glad to hear I made some fresh observations. 🙂 As for Mr C and Mr P… they have already rocked our world with David’s comments about the blog and Nancy Babich tee and Rob’s big smile for Chauffeur Tink. I don’t think we could take anymore. 😉

  6. Pingback: SCANS: New Eric Packer still, review and essay on the “alluring” Cosmopolis from Sight and Sound | Cosmopolis – The Movie Fansite. Film by David Cronenberg starring Robert Pattinson

  7. gardenlilie says:

    Thanks Deb! I’m late but just read it all and like the book discussions, there was always different ways of interpretation that kept us going and going. So, I love your blatantly biased shocked face and you saw it 8 times, bejeezuz ;)! The vodka talk w/ Morton, she does look like you’d believe anything she’d say as in boss lady; and the haircut sounds like a coming home as in dad time. The trailer, which ignited and fired us up, gave that little swagger surprise, like all part of the theatrics. Thanks!

    • deb24601 says:

      Thank YOU! Yes, Vija could be quite dangerous couldn’t she? So much influence. She really fascinated me. I swear I’m all twitchy wanting to see it again.

  8. Jane says:

    Loved your review. New things that I had not read before which makes me even more excited to see this movie when it comes to the states. That’s why, as good as your review is, I can’t understand why people would walk out unless they came to see only sex and violence where they would not have to used their brain.

    • tinkrbe1l3 says:

      i have a running joke about the walk outs: they’re upset because Cosmopolis makes them aware of their stupidity. 😉

      that’s oversimplifying it but really, Cosmopolis is not spoon-fed cinema. it’s unique and people are so used to that same, bankable crap that the studios put out. they go to the movies and turn off their brains. you don’t do that in Cosmopolis. you can’t. the “otherness” of Cosmopolis is so jarring, so in your face…i read a great twitter reaction: The film demands and expects the audience to be smart. or we can quote Eric: To make people think. emphasis on the think. 😉

      i feel like audiences have gotten complacent with their films. anywho…the film brings out a lot of emotion, love or hate.

  9. pausner says:

    Great stuff. I wonder if E+B is no longer Edward and Bella. It should be Eric and Benno

  10. Mary says:

    Here’s a take on the movie and the book. I think Cronenberg worked and adapted the book well, with deft changes; relocating scenes in the book made the limo itself a character in the story. The inter-play between the transient characters in the book with Packer is subtly different in the movie to that of the book but for good reason. The structure of the book manifests Packer’s ‘journey’ and is neatly replicated but Cronenberg’s directorial genius in his use of the limo enhanced the claustrophobic nature of Eric’s internal disorder. For despite outward appearances, ‘a film about capitalism’, the film asks the viewer to address the motivations of Eric Packer, the ‘berserkly rich’ financier. The viewer is given a lot of cues on the way, I hesitate to say ‘clues’ because there is no indication about where the story is headed. These ‘cues’ are all of a piece; they are emblematic of a sadly common mental health disorder, not psychosis, nor socio-pathology but depression. A man is travelling towards his own self-destruction deliberately and purposefully. There is much talk on the way about abstract concepts, power, chaos, death, the creative impulse, grappling with the infinitesimal sub-divisions of the unit measurement of time. In all of these conversations the overall effect is to illuminate Packer’s feelings of isolation. His ‘prousted’ limo is the ultimate metaphor for his seclusion; but we are shown repeatedly, that while Packer will step out into a world that has functionality, his relationship with it seems to serve no purpose to him at all. He needs to eat, he philosophises, he has ‘sex-to-go’, he wants to be tasered, he attends a rave but most of all he wants a haircut. There is no tactile connection with his wife. His connection to the world is so distorted and his relationship with it is so fractured that he seeks the comfort of the barbershop his father took him to as a boy. He is nostalgic for a time when he felt more part of the fabric of society but from which he is now so utterly divorced.

    Depression is an energy sink. At an afflicted person’s lowest, they are incapacitated. However, a depressed person is at their most dangerous, to themselves, when they are lucid and feel that their decision making is at their most ‘rational’. In the ‘rational’ mind of a depressive, they begin to fantasise about death, more of which later. Packer’s request to be tasered after coitus, his awed response to self-immolation (in the book) and Vija’s dismissal of it, the self-inflicted gunshot wound to the hand have a commonality to the depressed mind. Packer’s obsessive search for extreme physical ‘sensation’ is governed by a mind that considers itself numb. These are acts of self-harm which can pre-sage suicidal thoughts. The physical pain experienced from self-harm acts as a release for the emotional torment raging internally.

    He also murders his bodyguard, Torval. In the film, it’s quite a shock when it happens, it feels nonsensical in a movie that is already challenging the viewer to understand it. Packer’s actions can be explained thus: his bodyguard was preventing him from achieving his ultimate goal of delivering himself to his own destruction. These are all very rational choices to the depressed mind. It plays out this way beautifully; Cronenberg has given no hint of Packer’s internal torment. It is the ‘control’ element of the direction which is the one massive red herring. Packer may be ‘losing money by the tonne, millions,’ but he remains ‘in control’. “We know this,” because Packer’s unravelling in the film is signposted by outward signals. He begins his journey at the start of the day, fully suited but barely animated and by the end he has lost his tie, jacket, has a pie pushed into his face and has half a haircut. His body movements become less constrained as the film progresses and there comes a sense of freedom having killed his protector. He is not in control of the financial market, but the power he feels is the power he has over the manner of his own demise.

    The book itemises Packer’s fantasies of his death, De Lillo identifies Benno as ‘the murderer’. Cronenberg preferred to leave the ending ambiguous. No shot is fired and it fades to black. The film is bookended by references to Pollock and Rothko. Pollock’s alcohol-fuelled ‘chaotic’ canvases open the movie and Rothko, who took his own life after painting a series of canvases where he used darker and darker colours, closes it. So what do we have here? Cronenberg offers ambiguity and, therefore, hope where there isn’t any in the book. De Lillo gives us suicide by proxy. Suicide by proxy for Packer is, when you think of it, exactly in line with his experience of the world. Packer touches nothing and nothing touched Packer. He could only die at the hand of another. He remains ‘in control’ to the very last and this is the genius of the book. The genius of the movie is it made us care. How do I know that I care? Because I have been thinking about the movie a lot even though I’ve only seen it once, and not many movies do that. What a great, great movie.

    p.s. If there were one song that had the same tonal charge as Cosmopolis, I would choose Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sounds of Silence’.

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