These days, anger is almost de rigueur – more so, at least, than at any time since the Cold War. Its manifestations, though, are collective: witness Occupy. But what of individual aggression, the kind that plays out beyond the collective? Two films (the other being The Rum Diary) going on general release this summer explore anger in two young men: both as a gestational process and existential catalyst.
Based on Don DeLillo’s flawed 2003 novel of the same name, Cosmopolis, directed by David Cronenberg, charts a day in the life of Eric Packer (Pattinson), an obscenely rich New York currency dealer and assets manager. Rising in the morning with nothing but the stated aim of getting a haircut, Packer traverses Manhattan in his stretch limo headed for his dad’s barber. Along the way he’s bedevilled by anti-capitalist protesters, a funeral procession for a Sufi rapper and security measures for a presidential visit. Except for the ending and a couple of relocated scenes, Cronenberg has stuck pretty much to DeLillo’s narrative. And that means a lot of talk: between Packer and his wife (Gadon), art-dealer mistress (Binoche), his own security detail, various minions and his philosophy guru (Morton).
These extensive dialogues (and a couple of sexual encounters) take place mainly in the ultra-controlled and artificial environment of Packer’s soundproofed limo. This being DeLillo, such musings are, on occasion, as deliberately bored and boring as the life they circumscribe. Conversely, it’s existential boredom that initially drives the plot.
It’s only as Packer finds himself confronted with the passion and intensity of life outside that he begins to discard his becalmed pretensions, leaving his car for episodes of increasingly visceral violence. Cronenberg brilliantly counterpoints these as carefully orchestrated incidents, depicting Packer’s anger as another variant on boredom: contrived.
Pattinson is creditable as Packer, wearing ennui like a city suit. But it’s the final scene with an inspirational Paul Giamatti that saves the narrative from too much deliberation and dispassion. Playing Benno Levin, a former colleague fallen on the hardest of times, Giamatti is part Sam Spade, part confessional monk, contextualising Packer’s angst with real anguish. Cronenberg’s strategy of painful transformation is not new. He’s pulled it off again in Cosmopolis, but at a price that only Cronenberg fans may be willing to pay.
Cosmopolis | Directed by David Cronenberg, (France, Canada, Portugal, Italy 2012), with Robert Pattinson, Paul Giamatti, Sarah Gadon, Juliette Binoche, Samantha Morton. Starts July 5