cos-mop-o-lis –(n.) a large city inhabited by people of many different countries. I’ll get this out of the way quickly – I’m a huge Don DeLillo scribe. He has written possibly my favourite novel of all time and, with a few exceptions (The Body Artist) his body of work accounts for one of the premier uses of the English language. With all that in mind, I still missed David Cronenberg’s adaptation of the novel of the same name, Cosmopolis. I’m not sure why – laziness? – but once I got myself a copy of the screener I squealed with delight throughout. It’s not his strongest novel but this doesn’t stop the film from succeeding evermore.
A lot of critics bashed the film upon its release, unfortunately so. Graffiti With Punctuation’s Cameron Williams (aka The Popcorn Junkie) wrote, “Cosmopolis is a film that’s hard to endure due to its pretentious nature, but deserves credit for inspiring a unique form of wrath – rage against the Cronenberg.” Blake Howard, of described the experience as such: “I want to preface immediately that most viewers will detest this film.” He describes the protagonist Eric Packer (accurately) as “an alienating prick” but ultimately decrees, “all these elements are necessary ammunition to amplify this hypothesis” and awards the film three and a half stars.
The general consensus at the time of release was a more negative combination of the two, given the amount of 1 star responses printed following the films release in August of 2012. Most viewers left the cinema with the ill-conceived notion that the film was about a whole heap of financial nothing, communicated via a lyrical Wall Street Buddha sitting atop his limousine throne. It was as if they’d all missed the point of DeLillo’s (and I credit DeLillo here, not Cronenberg, as he basically – wisely – lifted the dialogue straight from the almost-screenplay like novel) essay on the habits of the uber rich. It’s definitely one of the more obtuse films to be released in 2012, that can’t be argued otherwise, but it’s also one of the more important given the current post-GFC climate we’re living in.
Another film that supposedly missed the mark with critics that shared a similar tone was Killing Them Softly, the latest release by Andrew Dominik. Praised for its visual quality and equally castigated for the political beat down it told the story of a robbery gone wrong in the backdrop of the 2008 US presidential election. These are former somewhat big-time criminals and they’re lamenting throughout the film about the paycuts they’re all suffering – the pro-hitman New York Mickey (James Gandolfini) is brought in on economy class – and the televisions and billboards behind these men offer empty promises of a better America. It’s about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the face, considering the final scene where Jackie (Brad Pitt) confronts Driver (Richard Jenkins) in a small-town bar to collect his full entitlement and Driver isn’t (read: can’t) willing to pay all of it.
Somewhere throughout all of this everyone decided that subtlety is smart and to be unsubtle is, well, not smart. There’s a certain technique about using subtlety effectively to convey a message that is well regarded, of course (just look at Lost In Translation or Before Sunrise) but the same can surely be said about its polar opposite, can it not?
John Doe, Kevin Spacey’s serial killer in Se7en famously decried “Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention.” In a post-GFC era, an ugly chapter of world history caused by greedy banks and blind-eye politicians, maybe a sledgehammer is exactly what we need. I don’t profess to have a great knowledge about world politics but considering how forgetful the mass media makes us, and we in turn choose to accept this all too easily (remember the Shell oil spill? The catastrophe that ‘shocked’ the world yet is now mostly forgotten?), perhaps we need this shake-up once in a while to remind us of what the world is truly like. Or, our understanding of part of the world.
This is all argued as a common good. What kind of society are we to merely accept these corporate evils as a chapter we can now pass? The newspapers at the time of the Occupy protests here in Melbourne made the movement sound like a bunch of slackers fighting with cops out of boredom, as if the super rich were in fact doing us all a favour by being super rich. This is not a call to arms this is a call to recognise a certain truth and to acknowledge a definite bias and for you to make a decision from there.
I would not be writing this about any old film or novel. We’re not talking about Joe Average’s debut film – this is the combination of two craftsmen, DeLillo and Cronenberg. Two masters that exist in the top league of their medium by critics and fans alike.
The brilliance behind Cosmopolis is that it represents the upper echelon of the upper upper upper echelon of the rich. Eric Packer is only 28 and is a multi-billionaire asset manager. He loses hundreds of millions of his fortune due to an ill-conceived bet on the yuan and barely bats an eyelid. Packer is in his limo (a work of art itself) to perform the most inane of duties – get a haircut – and it’s over the course of this day that he transforms from a man with everything to a human being with nothing. He becomes evidently self-aware in search of a greater truth throughout this journey (at one stage it is caught in the crossfire of a bastardised Occupy-like protest), resorting to not only ruin his own life but the lives of those around him. He is that oblivious to the city and all it contains that all of this, and yet none of this, matters to him. It is not sympathetic and he does not exist for your approval.
I’m not here to convince you that this film needs to be 5 stars. This is served to merely highlight the importance of such a film and those not too dissimilar to it. If you can’t get past the dense language and stiff (!) delivery then I can’t help you. But to sit back and say “yeah, yeah I get it already” and then go out and happily enjoy the forbidden fruits that these films speak so strongly against then, I hate to say it, you clearly don’t.