It should come as no surprise that the best movies about the recession and the economic crisis have all been genre films, more specifically: horror movies. In Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell the peril of financial insecurity literally becomes a curse for a young bank employee (Alison Lohman) who faces the wrath of an elderly woman she’s left without a home. In Black Swan, we saw the repercussions of what happens when a patriarchal system fails and women are left trying to fulfill everything that a society with a new hierarchy of values expects from them; this theme was also explored in the mythical Winter’s Bone.
In the harrowing Dogtooth, Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos created a terrifying allegory about a time when parents would decide their children shouldn’t be exposed to the horrors of the outside world, and in the hilarious Piranha 3D, a B movie warned youths that these just weren’t the times to give themselves to hedonism. The terrifying prospects of the world’s collapse via an unstable economy have permeated the very backbone of popular culture and for every obvious look at the crisis (see all the documentaries and non fiction movies about the subject) there are many subtler observations.
What all of these have in common, however, is that they see the economic crisis through the eyes of those who have suffered the most: the middle class and the downright poor. This phenomenon might be due to the fact that the super rich have been portrayed as villains and anyone trying to see life through their eyes would’ve instantly been tagged as insensitive (see what happened to Christopher Nolan’s downright fascistic The Dark Knight Rises). It was about time that a recognized auteur tried to portray the crisis through a different light, and David Cronenberg was just the man for the job.
His adaptation of Don DeLillo’s Cosmopolis is a searing vision of a world where the “haves” have no idea that the “have nots” are real. The movie opens and we meet 27-year old Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) a carefree billionaire who just wants to go get a haircut. Eric enters his limousine — where most of the movie takes place — and conducts a series of business meetings and sex encounters along the way. His drive across Manhattan is constantly slowed down by a series of traffic jams and protests.
It seems that mile by mile, Eric becomes less aware of what’s going on outside, even if Cronenberg choreographs some moments of pure brutal social uprise (a group of young men rioting and throwing rats at people, protesters spray painting Eric’s windows…). In order to convey Eric’s narrow world view, the movie was shot in a studio and we can see how the outside world is entirely created with computer generated effects. The effect of this fakeness might be distracting to some, but on an aesthetic level are on par with Hitchcock’s controversial use of screen projections in Marnie; both basically embody the altered state of their characters’ psyches.
With every utterance of making it to his barber while the world around him collapses, Eric loses more and more of the soul he might’ve never even had to begin with. The movie gives us glimpses of his personal life — we see his affairs, his disturbing hypochondria and his appreciation of art — but as played by Pattinson, Eric remains a hermetic figure who has accepted beforehand that he might never be able to empathize with others. That he is traveling in what’s basically a moving sarcophagus is dark humor at its best.
Cosmopolis reminds us of why Cronenberg is often thought of as a modern day Hitchcock, his combination of horror and humor are flawless and his movies are always more than what they seem to be. If Cosmopolis at first glance seems to be almost apologetic in its hermetism, Cronenberg subverts our expectations because he never judges Eric, his direction makes him more of a scientist than a moral authority. The movie leads towards an unexpected finalé in which Cronenberg turns economic nightmares into an actual being, proving for a haunting experience. It’s understandable that like most of the director’s work Cosmopolis will remain misunderstood, mistrusted even, because it doesn’t care to serve easy answers and instead of romanticizing the selfishness of the rich (like any movie about Marie Antoinette) it transforms it into a tangible object, a punching bag of sorts where we can finally release our worries and anxieties.
Cosmopolis is presented in a stunning high definition transfer that makes its hypnotizing qualities all the more seductive (few movies can be this cold and attractive). Bonus features include a theatrical trailer and interviews with the cast and crew, but the Blu-ray is worth its price for the inclusion of the feature length documentary, Citizens of “Cosmopolis”, which gives us insight into every element involved in the film’s making. Interviews with Cronenberg and key crew members reveal how the novel was turned into a proper screenplay. Casting the leading man of the terrible Twilight series might’ve been Cronenberg’s biggest joke so far, because he prepared us to hate Eric before the movie even started, but in the interviews included here Pattinson proves why he was simply the best man for the job by coming out as an articulate, clever young man. He knows he’s always being objectified and we see him delighted about the fact that just this one time, he’s being consumed by more cerebral audiences.