Sunday, January 6, 2013

Cosmopolis (review)

So, prepare yourself for an incredibly biased but hopefully nonetheless informative review.

I love David Cronenberg. Naked Lunch was the first movie in a very long time that made me uncomfortable enough that I actually wanted to turn it off, and for me that's a good thing. While I do prefer his pre-2000 movies (A History of Violence is fun but not incredible; the internet tells me Spider is good but I haven't gotten around to it), I have yet to find a film of his that I don't like.

It's no surprise then that I enjoyed D. Crone's newest project, Cosmopolis. The world Cronenberg creates is a sort of post-apocalyptic American Psycho in which we follow the beautiful Robert Pattinson down his path towards self-destruction. But unlike American Psycho, actual physical violence is sparse and (with one notable exception) brief.

And yet the movie still succeeds in being alienating without heavy reliance on goopy set pieces or graphic violence. It does this primarily with the stylized and almost stilted dialogue, and secondarily through the absurdity of the plot (e.g. Pattinson receives a prostate exam in his limo while consulting with one of his many advisers). I loved it.

Critics, for the most part, did not. Metacritic calculated a 58% average review score and Rotten Tomatoes calculated 65% of reviewers scored it greater than 50%. So not everyone hated it, and in fact the distribution of scores is all over the place, but few pronounced strong admiration. Reputable reviewers (i.e. not Entertainment Weekly) gave it both extremely positive and extremely negative (as well as extremely disinterested) reviews.

Then what do you tell your friends about Cosmopolis if you can't rely on otherwise reliable review sources to give you your opinion? What's more interesting to me than the wide distribution of opinions is their contradictory nature. Half of the critics accuse the movie of being vapid and self-important with no real insight into capitalism, existentialism or whatever the movie seems to be trying to explain. The other half can't get enough of what they perceive as the films themes, motifs, and symbols. At the same time the New York Post bemoans the superficiality of the dialogue, the New York Times calls it "to the point".

What do I think about the movie? It's definitely a slow build (at least the first time through) and the dialogue takes some getting used to. The movie can be read in several interesting ways, but none of them really do the film justice. Saying you went to Cosmopolis for its interpretation of death drive (or worse, its supposed vision for the future of OWS) is like saying you went to The Hobbit for its association of the One Ring with femininity: the reading might be there but if that's all you liked then you weren't really watching.

What I like about the movie is that it creates its own world, and not at all in the same way that J. R. R. Tolkien creates his own world. Cronenberg's Cosmopolis is an incredibly alienating world where everything is not quite right, everything's a little skewed. This isn't just American Psycho of the 21st century (although the parallels are obviously there), it's something much more unique.

In the end all I can really say is if this sounds interesting then you should give Cosmopolis a shot. Watch it and form your own opinion (even if it's just, "Meh, stilted and boring."), since if nothing else Cosmopolis is definitely open for interpretation. And finally, if you can make it, stay to the end to hear Pattinson verbally spar with Paul Giamatti. It's awesome.


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