Monday, September 17, 2012

A Sentimental Haircut

 Directed By David Cronenberg

Cosmopolis is David Cronenberg's adaptation of Don Delillo's novel of the same name.
The film follows a day in the life of a 20 something billionaire asset manager named Eric (played by Robert Pattinson), taking his limo through grinding New York traffic on a cross town odyssey to get a sentimental haircut.
There is a Samuel Beckett like absurdity to an obscenely wealthy man insisting himself into self destruction.
He insists going cross town against the flow of traffic.
He insists the Yen cannot rise any higher, as reports flow in that it continues to do so.
He insists on ignoring his security advisers and the possible threat against his life.
Over the course of a few hours we watch a man insist himself into ruin.
Eric's day is filled with episodic meetings from his various business partners, assistants, lovers, and his equally rich and emotionally detached, equally independently, absurdly, wealthy wife.
The first half of the film is structured around philosophical discussions of cyber-captialism, wealth, class, ego, equality, predetermination, rebellion, and commodification, the second half follows Eric outside of his limo his desperate, disastrous and malicious attempts at connecting with the real world. 
Many viewers have noted that the second half of the film is more dramatic, dynamic, exciting, and unpredictable than the first, but this tonal shift is Cronenberg's intention, and an asset to the film, not a defect. 
To show the limits and repetitions of Eric's life, even with the boundless possibilities his wealth offers.
Director David Cronenberg creates a claustrophobia through the soundless world of Eric's interior highlighted each time he opens the door and a rush of street noise sweeps in.
 "A specter is haunting America, the specter of capitalism" reads a building ticker, during a nameless, "easily forgotten", mass global protest in Times Square.
This reversal of the famous lines of Karl Marx, capture not only an anti-globalization maxim and sentiment of the film, but comment directly on Eric's spectral disconnection from the world around him.
His wealth, his stature, status, and connections; his very place in the circuitry of capitalism itself, have made him a ghost in his own life.
 Being able to own anything has made desires empty of value.
 The lack of desire is central to clinical depression and cultural ennui as well.
For Eric the only thing to desire is risk.
 The knowledge that the Yen can be beaten, the laws of economics made to bend to the rational laws that govern everything.
Only as Eric slowly learns rational laws do not govern the world, and predetermined facts and predictable systems can still, nay must eventually, produce unpredictable results.
 Enter Paul Giammotti's depressed, embittered, homicidal, towel wearing, hobo agent of chaos (that is chaos theory) itself, as Eric asymmetrical twin.
Giamotti's exchange with Eric at the end of the film is the most intelligent discussion since "Police, Adjective's" dictionary lesson.
Even among those who didn't like the film, I've heard and read nothing but respect for the skill of this scene and the acting involved (Pattinson included, whose vampiric blankness finds a synonymous character).
Cosmopolis has Eric hitting on his assistant while his doctor gives him his daily prostrate exam. 
This will doubtless not be a film to appeal to those interested in a light diversion.
David Cronenberg has if anything, made the novel harsher, colder, and sharper.
The sex is mechanical, the texture is glossy, the violence unpredictable, and the sense of humor and self-mockery honest as a pie to the face. 
This novel was written before the 2008 financial collapse or the Occupy Wall Street protests, and though Cronenberg is doubtless aware of these events and their similarities to the plot (Eric's genuine shock at the imperfections of his system are not far off from Alan Greenspan's similar surprise at the limits of his free market dream) he doesn't exploit them, staying ruthlessly close to the novel's original text, and letting the eeriness of the connections sink in for themselves. 
Even if every bit of jargon, philosophical musing, or witty banter falls on deaf ears, the film still succeeds as a story of a wealthy young man searching for something, anything, real.
Whether its freedom he finds or just "freedom to be poor and die", as his wife corrects, is something the film leaves open to viewers to decide. 
Like the possibility of the fungus between Giamotti's toes ordering him to do things, some answers are ultimately irrelevant, and some absurdities more real than any truths.

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