Boy Billionaire in the Clouded Confines of his Limousine
When losing 3 billion dollars is the equivalent to losing 3 dollars, then you might be in the situation of Eric Packer, a 28-year-old asset manager. He’s a refined hedonist with robotic emotion played by the pale Robert Pattinson, who trades in his fangs for a different kind of carnage, one that plays upon bureaucracy, capitalism, and social oblivion.
Based off the 2003 Don DeLillo novel, Cosmopolis follows Eric in his limousine, attempting to cross midtown Manhattan to get a haircut at his father’s old barber. He is stuck in traffic the whole day thanks to a Presidential visit, anti-establishment riots, and a rapper’s funeral procession. He is cold, untouchable, but desires a downfall, wants to feel again and lose the burden of his billionaire status.
DeLillo, who, in a lot of his literature, analyzes the capitalistic, materialistic dystopias that form from our fears, or sometimes lack thereof, often uses subtle symbols to express a character. Eric’s full initials are EMP, and might suggest his dramatic fall from power, just as an electromagnetic pulse would do the same to an infrastructure. In DeLillo’s older novel White Noise, his main character is Jack Gladney, a man with a constant fear of death and ironic last name. In this story, Eric welcomes death in curious, degrading fashion.
Directed by David Cronenberg, Cosmopolis, by nature of its subject matter, appears professional and ambitious and yet out of touch. The dialogue caters to the stage, quips smooth and calculated like many of the characters that speak them. But this esoteric language becomes a façade to develop both a film trapped in slow-motion, and a character who is socially unaware and loathed by many.
The film takes place almost entirely in a stretch limousine, punctuated by Cronenberg’s geometric framing, with close-ups that provoke a claustrophobic feeling even inside a spacious vehicle. This is how this film feels, like an optical illusion. Sleek and ambitious and yet we move like Eric in his elongated, cork lined (for noise) sedan, stuck, caught in traffic. So why does he insist on crossing midtown with the President’s brigade in full succession, a high security alert in effect, and an unidentified assassin looking for him?
These are questions his chief of security repeatedly asks, but never gets a direct response. The answers supposedly lie within the context of Eric’s life, illuminated in this car ride and in his miniscule facial expressions. Pattinson’s performance is cold and confident, severe and stoic, but there is not much room to wriggle within the billionaire body; a systematic financial calculator that wears a mask of pasty skin, sunglasses, and slicked hair.
He obtains spontaneous visits into his secluded limo, which includes cameos from a dedicated assistant (Jay Baruchel), a tech savvy advisor (Samantha Morton), a promiscuous mistress (Juliette Binoche), and his daily doctor who performs invasive procedures that have become too ordinary. Eric’s face doesn’t twist a muscle even during sex. He is losing money every minute after he bet against the rise of the yen, but his frustration lies with his personal relationships, not the plummeting numbers he sees a world away on his computerized seats.
Beyond his straight-laced mannerisms, Eric’s mind obsesses on consummating his recent marriage, expressed agitatedly to his wife (Sarah Gadon). He loses patience with her quickly, throughout the course of one-day; the only times he gets out of the car involve eating with her and subsequently cheating on her. No wife can support his type of muted, existential crisis.
Cronenberg does his best to create gothic vibrations within Eric’s insular world, but they rarely transcend to being cognizant commentaries. In one scene, he carries a conversation in his car amidst anti-capitalist widespread riots, involving fires, demarcations, and giant rat masks and logos, symbolizing…something. The apathy is smothering from his confines as he learns what could have provoked the protests. The social disconnect is overt.
The looming doom (Paul Giamatti) officially confronts the young billionaire and while he may be psychotic, his brash and unpredictable morals feel rational alongside of Eric. This is a wealthy man, rich in everything but life. We are masterfully given a character, except there is no desire to receive him. He dreams of a futuristic utopia, a divide from a failing present, but forgets how that jump is made. This is a disconnect too large to overlook.