Stevee Taylor over at Cinematic Paradox is running a really cool blogathon. Bloggers are encouraged to make a For Your Consideration post for a film unlikely to garner any major awards attention this year. Considering the sameness of the critics groups so far in their selection of winners and Top 10 lists, now is the time to expand the discussion to other great films throughout the year.
Cosmopolis is a polarizing film I fell in love with. David Cronenberg adapted Don DeLillo’s trippy postmodern story of a business executive traveling across Manhattan for a haircut into a beautifully layered alternate reality version of Homer’s Odyssey.
If film culture would actually look at individual elements of film for merit rather than throw out controversial or poorly received work altogether, Cosmopolis would be in the running for a number of categories.
You can almost fill the Best Supporting Actress category with the women of Cosmopolis. Juliette Binoche, Emily Hampshire, Samantha Morton, and Patricia McKenzie go toe to toe with Robert Pattinson’s Eric Packer and tear the screen to shreds.
Binoche is sex and mathematics epitomized in one outrageous show. Hampshire manages to be the most realistic character in the film as a mother and executive pulled into Packer’s limo while trying to enjoy a workout on her day off. Morton makes long, lingering monologues about sociological theories seem effortless and more thrilling than a riot breaking out around her. McKenzie is a woman obsessed with her duty as a security guard, dominating Packer after the sex and her shift have come to an end.
And what of Robert Pattinson, himself? He’s brilliantly distant and calculating in a role that should have been his breakout as a serious actor. Packer is not a likable protagonist. He has everything in the world before he’s 30 yet he cheats on his beautiful new wife and throws the entire global economy into chaos because he’s bored. His cool veneer slowly falls apart into a man who might as well be dead for all the good his life is worth now. This is not a showy performance, but it is a perfectly grounded performance that encapsulates the bizarre approach to a simple story.
We have David Cronenberg to thank (or blame, depending on your reaction) for Cosmopolis. He adapted the screenplay to have very strong fence posts that line-up episode for episode with Homer’s Odyssey. Each person he meets with in his limousine is another warrior felled by some trap of the stock market crash. Some fall to greed like the men turned to pigs by Circe. Others fall to desire and lust like sailors crashing against the rocks of the sirens. And some are felled by their own lack of foresight, like the men trapped by the Cyclops. The only difference is the body count and the tone. Eric Packer is not the brave hero destined to return home and his wife Elise Shifrin does not need to be rescued from anyone.
Perhaps the strangest omission in the awards season discussion is the total non-starter that should have been Sarah Gadon’s run for the Leading Actress Oscar. Her performance as Elise, the only woman who can control Packer, is astonishing. She is given the bulk of the over-stylized dialogue and makes it sound far more realistic than any other performer in the film.
Her Elise is a calculating woman, casting a spell over everyone who confronts her while refusing to stoop to their level. If she bent her will, Packer would have never gone on his quest for a haircut. She would be happily ever after with a man who would obsess over every inch of her body the way he obsessed over every number in the currency pattern of the Yuan.
But that’s not what the story is about. Sarah Gadon has to go from detachment to utter disgust over her relationship with Eric Packer because Eric Packer has to fail for the good of the world. Gadon’s nuanced portrayal of a woman scorned is the reason why the rest of the film comes together. Without her guiding presence as the only voice of reason–have something to eat, don’t cheat on your wife, be satisfied with what you have, enjoy the simple pleasures of life–there would be an interminable series of self-indulgent monsters onscreen. With her brilliant turn, Packer becomes a tragic hero rather than the monstrous id of capitalism.
Cosmopolis is the kind of polarizing film that probably can’t win any major awards. It is, however, the kind of film people would normally rally behind with great passion. If Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Blind Side can overcome mixed critical consensus for a few big nominations, why not Cosmopolis?