Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cosmopolis: Welcome to Delillo's World ***

Cosmopolis is the first Don Delillo novel to get a proper adaptation from Hollywood.  Delillo stands as one of the great American novelists of the past fifty years with classics looking deep into the fringes of America's troubled soul.  His canvas ranges between the epic to the small scale story:  Underworld covered the entire Cold War, while Libra focused on the JFK assassination.  Cosmopilis, one of his shorter novels, takes place over the course of one day.  Directed by David Cronenberg, watching Cosmopolis at times feels like a long piece of drone music heading towards an inevitable anti-climax

The film follows Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson), an ultra rich Wall Street "Master of the Universe" type as he controls his shrinking world from the confines of a high tech limousine.  From the beginning it's clear he's facing a crisis.  As the day unfolds he consults with tech experts, post-modern gurus, a rapper, meets his wife, mistress, and a call girl.  Cronenberg imagines a much angrier version of Occupy Wall Street with protesters launching violent assaults on Wall Street traders.  Like the characters in Poe's The Masque of the Red Death, who live in decadence as a plague decimates the population, Eric cannot escape a confrontation with the have-nots.  And he does not avoid them, in fact he seeks a confrontation.  When a guru calls the protesters "unoriginal" he replies,"What's Original?"  While history repeats itself, or at least the pattern returns, what else can the elite do but sit back and reflect on how the peasants will react this time around.

Pattinson's quite effective.  He's like Louis XIV riding around town making philosophical statements about random topics.  He reminds me of the Delillo's protagonist from his debut novel Americana, a young TV executive who has everything decides to leave it all behind for a vanity project.  There's a self-destructive element to Eric in his quest to experience desire, fear, and violence.  The climax of the film comes right out of Dostoevsky's Notes from the Underground with Paul Giamatti (Benno Levin) personifying alienation   The scene plays as if Eric as represents the 1% versus Benno as the 99 percent's avatar.  Both characters have an obsession with the decay of the body and its philosophical implications.  Most film goers will not like their confrontation, but I've seen few with more intensity.

I liked Cosmopolis because of its great juxtaposition and attempt to make sense of the modern world through the eyes of some truly flawed characters searching for some meaning amid all the sound of fury of the 21st century.

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