Some storytellers know firsthand that the best way to communicate their ideas and social commentaries via their narratives and characters is by allowing them to say nothing. Let the experiences speak for themselves, and the audience shall understand what I’m trying to say, they think. “Speaking between the lines”, perhaps, is the professed goal.
Unfortunately, David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis says almost nothing because it exists in a vacuum of such utter vacuousness that it would not surprise me to know that many viewers who emerge from the movie will feel somehow like they have left part of their soul behind: this is a movie that robs its audience of its agency, forcing them to become complicit in its damnation of Big Money and Big Business that sees the world population not as citizens, but as moneymaking propositions. In this age of The Great Recession where the global economy is hobbling along as the whips of Wall Street grow ever louder and harsher on its already slashed back, it would seem that this would be an easy story to tell. Because it’s set in 2000 instead of 2008 and centers on the bursting of the tech bubble, it feels dated, historic, and even slightly irrelevant. We’ve come so far beyond the horrors of the One Percent that this feels like an old, forgotten conversation that just doesn’t matter anymore. Our realities are much scarier than what Packer is forced to endure.
The story is about a young billionaire named Eric Packer whose life is so cushioned by the security of vaults and vaults of money that his greatest worry in life is getting the right haircut. As played by Robert Pattinson, he is effectively portrayed as cold and removed from the normal constraints of the human experience, but Cronenberg never really attempts to show either a) if there’s an actual person under all those dollar signs or b)if there isn’t, what actually is there. It’s like trying to decipher an ancient hieroglyphic by studying modern Spanish slang. The two simply cannot work together.
If Cronenberg was trying to prove that money corrupts to the point of inhumanity, then he accomplishes that in the first five minutes and there’s no point to the rest of the film. If he was trying to say that money necessarily forces up existential barriers that divorce the rich from reality and then leaves them to wander the rest of their lives in a soulless state, well, he never really bothers to show us how or why. It’s just an endless series of random encounters that Eric has throughout his day that I suppose is to make us think and feel, but which ends up doing neither because it never tries. You can only speak between the lines if you actually have lines and not just Robert Pattinson’s cold stares to rely upon. An overwrought and self-satisfied piece of pretentious moviemaking as I’ve ever seen.