I suspect not a lot of people are going to like this film. The Robert Pattinson fans who have foolishly put their money down hoping to see their TWILIGHT star in yet another romantic role will probably leave at the point where he has his prostate checked in what must be the most unnecessarily prolonged digital rectal examination in cinema history. If not, then the scene of our Robert having a prolonged wee will probably be the final straw for them, if they’ve managed to last that long.
But plenty of other people will hate COSMOPOLIS as well. They’ll say that it’s boring, that it’s too self-consciously arty, and that it makes no sense. These people may even make up the majority of those who get to see it which is all the more reason why this film needs flagging up at the House of Mortal Cinema. By the time the film finished I loved COSMOPOLIS, and I had almost forgiven David Cronenberg for wasting my time with A DANGEROUS METHOD in which two people who could act and Keira Knightly wandered around in period costume for no good reason and to no great purpose.
The best Cronenberg cinema has always had a purpose, even though his recent work has of late become less palatable to me than his earlier films. I’m sorry but A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE and EASTERN PROMISES, while both very well made, had me clutching the arms of my cinema seat in frustration. This was a director who could do so much more, be so much more innovative, and while it’s become something of a cliche to say it, these movies, and especially A DANGEROUS METHOD had me hankering for the Cronenberg of old, the one who filled a residential complex with a combination of venereal disease and aphrodisiac or who caused rage to take on the shape of psychopathic children.
But there is another Cronenberg as well, one who existed before those wonderful body horrors. I’m talking about the Cronenberg who made weird short films like CRIMES OF THE FUTURE and STEREO, and that’s the Cronenberg I felt was behind COSMOPOLIS - the artist who expertly uses the trappings of science fiction, however tangentially, as a vehicle for his concerns and observations about human nature. That’s the Cronenberg who made this film, and it’s a delight to have him back.
You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about the plot yet. That’s because as far as I can tell COSMOPOLIS is virtually plotless. Very, very rich Robert Pattinson decides one day that he wants a haircut on the other side of town and takes his state of the art limo to get there. On the way he holds conferences, has sex, and meets with celebrities, while gradually the streets he passes through become more derelict and threatening. We learn that someone is trying to kill him and eventually, bereft of his bodyguards, lovers, limousine and even his jacket and tie he comes to a reckoning in the darkest part of town.
I’ll be honest here. For the first half an hour I didn’t like COSMOPOLIS at all. It has to be one of the coldest, most dispassionate films I have ever seen. In fact if I had to describe it in terms of other art and other artists I would say it has a feel somewhere between Cronenberg’s own CRASH, Andrzej Zulawski’s POSSESSION (1981) and the fiction of J G Ballard and Brett Easton Ellis, especially AMERICAN PSYCHO (novel not film). It really is that cold. Characters speak almost in monotone, camera angles are deliberately uninteresting and I actually started to nod off at one point.
BUT (and it is a big one), once you realise that this is meant to be an art house science fiction movie, the sort so prevalent in the early 1970s before STAR WARS did a lot to ruin the chances of intelligently-made SF getting off the drawing board, and that the ‘feel’ of the picture is actually quite possibly the most important thing about it, you can say goodbye to logic or trying to make sense of what people are talking about (I don’t think much of it matters but some of it is properly funny) and just let this weird, bleak, uncaring world wash over you. To give you an example of how strange this film is, suddenly out of left field a terrorist tries to assassinate Pattinson with a cream cake and we then get a monologue about how he has performed various other pastry-based atrocities with political aims in the past. I would mention other examples but I'd hate to spoil the film for anyone brave enough to go and watch it.
To be honest I can’t explain why I liked COSMOPOLIS so much, but this is me trying my best to do so. I honestly think it’s my favourite film of Cronenberg’s since CRASH or possibly before. It’s innovative, thought-provoking, funny and shocking by turns, and I can’t wait to watch it again. Well done Mr Cronenberg - I’m finally absolutely delighted with another film that you’ve made.