Friday, 29 June 2012



Over recent years I've not got my hopes up for any new films by David Cronenberg. In exactly the same way that many people prefer Woody Allen's "early funny ones" over his "later unfunny ones" (Love And Death over Cassandra's Dream is a particularly one-sided contest), I'd rather have Cronenberg's gloopy horror movies of old, and would sooner sit and watch Videodrome or Shivers rather than dense and dramatic offerings like A History Of Violence or Spider. That's not to say that Cronenberg's recent films haven't been any good - I admired Eastern Promises enough - but they're humourless and tough to enjoy. Shockingly, I just can't get excited about a new David Cronenberg film. Beautifully photographed by Cronenberg's regular DP Peter Suschitsky, scored by his regular composer Howard Shore, with Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti and Mathieu Amalric turning up at various points - and astonishingly it's all for nothing.

There's no real sense in doing a plot synopsis of Cosmopolis since it isn't a plot-driven film. Nor is it a character-driven film or an incident-driven film: if anything it's a surreal mood piece and wilfully "difficult" arthouse fare, adapted from the Don DeLillo novel which I haven't read (but the excerpts available on the publisher's website suggest that chunks of the movie at least are word-for-word transcriptions). Billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) decides one morning that he needs a haircut and thus attempts to cross New York in his luxurious 35-foot stretch limo - despite the President's motorcade and a celebrity musician's funeral procession bringing all traffic to a halt. Over the course of the day's journey various people get into the car - lovers, doctors, his security people - or he gets out to share a few moments with his wife, his bodyguard, some comedy anarchists or a man trying to shoot him from a tenement building. And outside the car civilisation and capitalism - at least Eric Packer's bit of it - appears to be collapsing into chaos.

What annoyed me about Cosmopolis isn't the fact that it's 109 minutes of non-sequiturs and gibberish, nor even that it's non-sequiturs and gibberish that doesn't mean anything at all. It's that it's not supposed to mean anything. This isn't a film to analyse and think about; it's a headscratcher that will have you scratching through your hair, scalp and bone and right into the brain - to no effect. Pretentious isn't the word because this isn't even pretending to be anything; it just is. It's a film that has no meaning to uncover; it's been designed that way and such it's a complete waste of your time. You can't relate to the people on screen, anything they do or anything that happens to them, or connect to any of the obtuse, unnatural dialogue. It doesn't make sense on a narrative level or on a human level; like Crash, it feels like a film made by aliens still adjusting to the human mindset. Probably the only way you can work through Cosmopolis is to assume that none of it is actually happening, most of the people in it aren't real and the whole thing is taking place in Robert Pattinson's head. That's frankly as good a justification as I can come up with.

Peter Greenaway once opined that "cinema is far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to the storytellers". That's entirely wrong: cinema is actually far too rich and capable a medium to be merely left to tedious artists with nothing better to do with their time and other people's money than wave their bums in the air and call it Art. And sadly that's what's happened here. It's occupying that same vein of wanky dullness as Synecdoche, New York and Inland Empire - at least David Lynch didn't bother to pretend there was some kind of vaguely coherent thread linking his random three-hour assemblage of miscellaneous noodlings. So what's the point of Cosmopolis? Is Cronenberg just taking the piss, seeing how much arrant and impenetrable nonsense he can get away with under the guise of Art, or has he simply lost it? Neither explanation strikes me as tenable, but it doesn't surprise me in the slightest that there've been walkouts from baffled cinemagoers.


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