On Thursday, Cosmopolis the movie was released here in Holland. The movie, which was short-listed for the Palme D’Or at Cannes this year, is an adaptation of the book by the same name by Don Delilo from 2003. It was directed by David Cronenberg (who is apparently known for making weird, yet interesting movies) and features Robert Pattinson in the lead as multi-billionaire Eric Packer who loses his money and himself in the course of one day while in search of a haircut. Since I keep tabs on Rob’s career I heard more and more about this story and the more I heard, the more confusing it became. That’s why I decided to pick up the book and in turn the book made me want to watch the film. Here’s what I thought of both of them.
The story entails one day in the life of the young and filthy rich Wall Street mogul Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson). He lives in a 32 room apartment in one of the tallest buildings in Manhattan and cruises around the city in his high tech white stretch limousine. One day he wakes up and decides he needs a hair cut. This action requires him to go across town, but with the President in town, a protest against the future, AND the funeral of a celebrity going on at the same time, he has to re-route a few times making the trip quite an endeavor. Along the way Eric meets several people (from employees, to doctors, to mistresses and his wife), most of the time in his fancy limousine.
That is the premise and basically the summary you will found anywhere when you google the story. Like I said, the more I read about it, the weirder it sounded and the more intrigued I was. See, Eric Packer is so filthy rich that he does some crazy things. Most of them out of boredom, or fear. For instance he has a medical exam. Every day. The exam includes a prostate exam during which he has a discussion with his head of Finance. Then there is his wife of 22 days, Elise, who doesn’t know him, nor does he know her and he keeps trying to have her have sex with him, but every time she disappears again into the jungle that is Manhattan. At the same time, he is shot with a stun gun, gets a pie in his face, his car is defiled, he pays his respects to a dead rapper, has a philosophical discussion on rat becoming the new currency, and meets his nemesis at the end of the story. In the mean time, he is betting his fortune against the Yuan, which goes horribly wrong. In the course of one day, he goes from king of the hill, to someone with nothing left to lose. Oh and of course, he gets his haircut (well sort of that is).
Weird doesn’t even begin to cut it when trying to explain this story. But I liked it. A lot. Why? I love books where characters go through some sort of development. And I like books with characters that are slightly insane and that are set up for you not to like as a reader. Eric Packer starts as a self-fulfilled bastard who thinks he can do anything. During the story, through the people he meets and the actions he takes, this attitude changes, slowly but surely to where he on the one hand sort of loses his mind, but also realizes, to an extent, what a scumbag he really is. This is very nicely exemplified by him losing articles of clothing as he makes his way across town (first his sunglasses, then his tie, suit jacket, etc). It’s as if he is literally stripped of his body armor and where he begins sitting in his throne in the back of the limo, half way through the story, he is ‘knocked off’ his thrown and others sit in his seat. I really liked how the imagery used mirrored what happens to Eric.
Eric brings on his own downfall, due to his own overconfidence and the fact that no one dares to disagree with him. By the time he ends up at his hairdresser he is stripped of all pretense and has eliminated anyone who is part of that world. His bodyguards, wife, employees and his driver all leave him, leaving him by himself in the wrong side of town. You also find out that the reason why he wants to go to that specific hairdresser is because his father took him there when he was a kid. It is the first moment in the story where Eric seems to have actual human qualities. This development is done in a subtle way and the reader is constantly left wondering: is he really such a pompous ass? The answer is yes and no. It just depends on who he is with.
Another thing I liked about the book is the language used. In interviews, David Cronenberg, who also wrote the script to the movie, describes the book as being ‘poetic prose’. And he’s right. The words, the language in the book is amazing. Lots of alliteration, word play and other poetic schemes are used to give the book and its characters a distant and surreal quality. The language is not only used to create a certain distance but also underlines the power that Eric Packer has. For example, when he says: we need a haircut, even though he is by himself. Even though the language may seem a barrier at first, the book is still a quick read because there is so much dialogue. The movie uses a lot of lines straight from the book, so I think that if you haven’t read it, it feels strange at first, but after a few minutes you do get used to it.
The movie pretty much follows the line of the book. Give or take a few scenes that are in the book, but not in the movie. For once I have found a movie that gives off the same vibe as the book. To me, the movie made me feel about Eric as I did when reading the book. When I first ‘met’ Eric Packer, I just wanted to hate his guts. At the end of the movie, much like in the book, he ends up in a confrontation (with Benno Levin aka Richard Sheets played by Paul Giamatti) that has him bare his soul at least somewhat. It makes him slightly more human and in the end more likeable: he is only human afterall. An extra thumbs up to the movie for making the omnipresent power of Eric a lot clearer than in the book. At the beginning Eric is in control of every inch of his being, whereas at the end he is anything but in control of his actions or his fate. I guess it’s because of the visual aspect that comes with a movie.
Overall, I very much enjoyed the book AND the movie. It’s just the story that is this good that whether you read it or watch it just blows you away. Throw in the fact that many things happening in the story show direct parallels with current events in world finance and politics and you get an eerie yet intriguing showcase of life behind the big office buildings and stretch limousines. It’s a tale of how something as mundane as going out for a haircut can change your life forever. Is it a pretty, nice, beautiful story? No. And neither is the movie. But if you like, slightly weird, gritty stories that may make you a bit uncomfortable at times than this is something you might enjoy.
All pictures taken from Robsessed. No copyright infringement intended.
Would you like to go see this or read this?