The Los Angeles Times and New York Times recently examined the themes of Cosmopolis, the relevance of the film and “the most experimental narrative filmmaker at work today”, David Cronenberg. Both pieces were thoughtful and worth the time so have a leisure Sunday and enjoy!
From the Los Angeles Times, “Perspective: Is David Cronenberg our most original director?“:
Hypnotic or stupefying? “This is the third time I’ve seen it, and I still don’t know if it works,” a colleague told me as we left a screening of David Cronenberg’s”Cosmopolis.” I totally understand. The movie is undeniably something — but what exactly?
Adapted from Don DeLillo’s stormily received 2003 novel about a 28-year-old currency speculator, the billionaire master of an imploding financial universe whose whimsical desire for a haircut entails an entire day crossing gridlocked midtown Manhattan via stretch limo, “Cosmopolis” is an exercise in constant natter and glacial forward glide — a movie that lulls even as it disconcerts.
Critical consensus at Cannes skewed negative: The Times’ Kenneth Turan called “Cosmopolis” (opening in Los Angeles on Friday) a “static,” “mishandled” adaptation of DeLillo’s novel, further noting that “incredibly,” the strongest performance was delivered by Robert Pattinson, the vampire heartthrob of the”Twilight” films, here cast as Wall Street bloodsucker Eric Packer.
“Cosmopolis” isn’t the first Cronenberg movie to flop at Cannes. However consistent in his themes and ideas, he seems to work against expectation.
The 69-year-old Toronto-born and -based director’s first movies depicted futuristic dystopias, and most of his subsequent productions, not least “A Dangerous Method,”the faux-genteel period piece released last year, have an alienated, science-fiction flavor. “Cosmopolis,” which gives the not unintentional impression of doggedly pushing the viewer 15 minutes into the future a few seconds at a time, makes the sci-fi element overt. Sound-proofed and screen-filled, Packer’s limousine space capsule has intimations of the moon shuttle in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001,” even as the director’s visual strategies recall those from two other radical ’60s films, the discontinuous zoom of Michael Snow’s “Wavelength” and the lengthy traffic jam tracking shot inJean-Luc Godard’s “Weekend.”
Indeed, Cronenberg is not only Kubrick’s heir as the most experimental narrative filmmaker at work today but the most provocative and consistently original North American director of his generation.
In some respects, “Cosmopolis” is “Crash” without high-impact car wrecks. Packer’s limo functions as a bedroom, if not a source of sexual excitement, and, by modifying several scenes, the filmmaker has made DeLillo’s novel even more auto-centric. The movie is also more alienated — not only in Cronenberg’s digital cinematography, featuring synthesized backgrounds as disconcerting as Hitchcock’s rear-screen projection, but in his fidelity to his source material. Panning DeLillo’s novel, Walter Kirn wrote that the dialogue “reads like an unholy collaboration between Harold Pinter and Robby the Robot.” That’s exactly how it plays. The movie’s characters don’t speak their lines so much as they are spoken by them — the protagonist is a zombie Mark Zuckerberg trapped inside the game world Cronenberg invented in “eXistenZ.”
Over the years, Cronenberg has variously positioned himself as Freudian and anti-Freudian. In any case, he shares a common view that to be human is to definitely not be the master of one’s own house. Packer’s limo may be an elaborately controlled environment in which, as an ultimate demonstration of his power, he brings the world to him — not just on computer screens but in person, joined on his journey by a succession of doctors and analysts. At the same time, the outsized car that rolls mindlessly through the clogged streets is the “death drive” made material. It’s even possible that “Cosmopolis” has a happy ending in that Packer finally realizes this.
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From the New York Times, “The World Behind the Tinted Window“:
“Cosmopolis” is hardly obvious screen material on the page. But Mr. Cronenberg has located cinematic life in other novels that many would deem unfilmable, whether for being too bizarre (William S. Burroughs’s “Naked Lunch”), too graphic (J. G. Ballard’s “Crash”) or too interior (Patrick McGrath’s “Spider”).
In an interview at the Cannes Film Festival, where “Cosmopolis” had its premiere in May, Mr. Cronenberg spoke about his approach to adaptation. “You have to betray the book in order to be faithful to the book,” he said. “You have to recognize that literature is not cinema.”
But “Cosmopolis,” which some critics in Cannes faulted for being too static, is an almost perversely faithful rendition of the book. On the phone from Toronto recently, Mr. Cronenberg said that claustrophobia was very much the point. “I love the ascetic idea of so much happening within a limo,” he said. “I don’t find that it forces you into monotony. Quite the opposite, it forces you to be innovative.”
He looked at films that were restricted to cramped locations — the submarine-set “Das Boot,” and “Lebanon,” which unfolds inside an Israeli tank — and he even moved one scene, an encounter between Eric and his art dealer, from an apartment into the car.
Mr. DeLillo, for one, might argue that there is something inherently cinematic about this contained structure. His one produced screenplay to date — for the 2005 indie “Game 6”— is also about a character stuck in traffic, trying to get from point A to B. “A man on a horse crossing the screen from right to left, or left to right — there’s something about that that strikes me as the essence of American cinema,” Mr. DeLillo said in a recent phone interview from his home in New York. “In this case we have a man in a limousine who’s crossing the screen in a rather different way of course. But it’s that idea of a journey that will be resolved in the simplest and maybe the most violent possible way.”
The limo built for the film was a “Lego-like modular structure,” Mr. Cronenberg said. “It had to come apart for lighting, for sound, for camera.” In keeping with Eric’s stipulations that his car be “prousted” — lined with cork, à la Proust’s room, to shut out the din of the outside world — Mr. Cronenberg instructed his sound designers to keep the limo scenes free of ambient noise. Not even the hum of the engine is audible.
This airless bubble is an oddly apt vessel for Mr. DeLillo’s heightened language, which Mr. Cronenberg transcribed almost verbatim. (He wrote the script in a mere six days.) “It’s very stylized,” Mr. Cronenberg said of Mr. DeLillo’s dialogue, “but it also taps into some inner rhythms of the American psyche.”
Some reviewers were put off by the novel’s clipped cadences — Walter Kirn in The New York Times Book Review described the dialogue in the book as “an unholy collaboration between Harold Pinter and Robby the Robot” — but Mr. Cronenberg embraced the artifice. “I can hear naturalistic dialogue any day on the street,” he said. “What I wanted was not just to hear this dialogue spoken but to see actors embody it. They bring it to life in a physical, corporeal way.”
Amid a revolving door of mostly female visitors played by the likes of Juliette Binoche and Samantha Morton, the impassive constant is Mr. Pattinson. “I don’t think Rob’s face has ever been examined in such excruciating detail, from so many angles,” Mr. Cronenberg said. “That was part of the casting. You want a face that can take that.”
Mr. Pattinson acknowledged that the part was challenging. “The dialogue seemed to flow really easily,” he said. (He was speaking shortly after his appearance at Comic-ConInternational last month, before the recent tabloid furor over the dalliances of his girlfriend and “Twilight” co-star Kristen Stewart.) “But when you approach the character in a conventional way and try to figure out who he is, that becomes terrifying.” He added: “I kept trying to hold on to that element of not really understanding him. I think David liked the takes when I had literally no idea what I was doing.”
Even now the movie remains elusive for Mr. Pattinson, who said he had seen it four times: twice he was baffled (“It was impossible to crack”) and twice he connected with the dry absurdist comedy. “David just presents it as deadpan, and people don’t know whether to laugh or not,” he said.
Often considered a progenitor of body horror, Mr. Cronenberg has an underappreciated sense of humor. “Cosmopolis,” much like “Crash” and “Naked Lunch,” highlights the mordant comedy of the source material. “People keep saying to me, ‘Do you ever think of doing a comedy?’ And I say, ‘Well, I’ve made tons of them,’ ” Mr. Cronenberg said. “You have much more freedom to be subtle and dark in a comedy that’s not being presented as a comedy.”
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