In the future, nobody will move their face. That is, at least, in David Cronenberg’s dystopian vision of the future, adapted from Don DeLillo’s novel.
Through billionaire finance whiz-kid Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), Cronenberg creates an American Psycho for the 21st century, with Pattinson essentially playing an updated Partick Bateman. Packer conducts his business from an internet-connected, tank-like stretch limo, dreaming up tweaks to his forex-trading algorithm to add a few more zeros to his bank balance. In classic Bateman style, he receives a daily medical check-up (one scene involves a protracted prostate exam, conducted during a wealth management meeting); he attempts to buy the Rothko Chapel, just so he can know it belongs to him and he lines his limo in cork in a futile attempt to sound-proof it. He’s aspirational.
He’s in the limo because, like a spoiled child, he has demanded his security team take him across town for a haircut. This is a bad idea for several reasons: gridlock caused by an anti-capitalism protest; a presidential visit; the funeral procession of a beloved rapper. Oh, and somebody might be trying to kill him. The car barely moves but he receives visitors, who trade lines about the nature of wealth and money (you couldn’t call it conversing, exactly). Like a cross between Gordon Gekko and Rainman, he worries about the strength of the yuan but doesn’t really “get” people (“isn’t this how people talk?” he implores his socialite wife).
The sterile world of Packer’s limo is an oasis of technology and wealth amid the fumes and grime of the city. Even as anarchists descend on the car, its passengers seem blissfully unaware, so far removed from the protesters that they don’t even acknowledge their existence. The limo, crawling through the anarchic streets, becomes a blindingly clear metaphor for the financial crisis (you can’t avoid the parallel, even though the novel was released five years prior to the crash). But what could been a lazy deconstruction of the financial sector is turned on its head, with the self-satisfied egotism of the anti-capitalist movement – with clear parallels with the Occupy demonstrations – also coming under fire. As Packer says: “Nobody hates the rich. Everybody is 10 seconds away from being rich… at least that’s what they think.”
You’re left with a rather empty, very misanthropic world, populated by beautiful, empty people. If Pattinson’s aim was to exorcise the ghost (or the vampire) of the Twilight films, he goes some way towards achieving it; he may not have to move his face very much but his presence is palpable. The boy can act.
Cosmopolis isn’t classic Cronenberg but it’s a fascinating interpretation of the times we live in, and an entertaining one at that.
First published in City A.M.