David Cronenberg makes movies that bore you into being awake. It's a conundrum that somehow feels manipulative and strangely exciting as you watch them. His newest conundrum is an adaptation of Don Delillo's novel Cosmopolis. Delillo, too, often exhibits a soporific, self-indulgent tendency in a lot of his novels. The flippant yet heavy-handed dialogue, the lackluster yet somehow epic paragraphs, the sleek, sardonic meanness at the center of a lot of his plots, all reveal a sort of hermetic belligerence. All that is on grand display in Cosmopolis, a story about a rich white-boy motherfucker riding in a limousine through a decrepit, demoralized urban zone, feeling feelings that aren't really feelings, just pontifications that stiffen into nothingness. Think American Psycho without the ax murders and the Huey Lewis songs.
But Cronenberg out-Delillos Delillo in the movie version. His Cosmopolis is a claustrophobic mini-masterpiece, yet it is completely unenjoyable, just as Cronenberg seems to like it. It's the bookend to his 1983 mini-masterpiece Videodrome, except Cronenberg completely reverses the atmospheres. In Videodrome, James Woods plays a slimy cable TV producer who eventually gets sucked into a television (literally and figuratively); in Cosmopolis, Robert Pattinson plays a slimy millionaire already sucked into his catastrophe. The limo he rides in is an epistemological vacuum-cleaner, sucking in meanings as it glides through a reenacted Occupy Wall Street protest, a couple murder scenes, and finally an assassination. Pattinson is gorgeously nebulous, as is the limo's interior, a sort of plush talk-show set made of glossy chrome and leather. Vodka is eternally chilling in a mini-fridge right next to a telescreen. The windows are tinted and you only get minimal glimpses at the chaos, but still it seeps in without really changing anything.
That's the core of Cosmopolis's aesthetic and philosophy: everything is over, and yet here we are still acting like shit means shit. In Videodrome's ending, Woods' character watches himself kill himself on a mystical TV screen in a makeshift shanty. In Cosmopolis, Pattinson is about to be shot in the head by a disgruntled, sad-sack bureaucratic, played by none other than Paul Giamatti. Same difference, and yet in both endings there's a feeling that the world isn't really coming to an end. It's just sick enough of itself to shut its eyes real tight and let things go.