Cosmopolis in a Neo-Feudal age

Art & Culture | Mark Warburton 30 Sep 2021

When David Cronenberg realized Don Delillo’s book, Cosmopolis, back in 2012, the resultant film was unpopular with critics and audiences alike, yet it was prescient. Judging by previous efforts like eXistenZ (1999) and VideoDrome (1983), maybe Cronenberg was aware of the proliferating media ecology, fueled by the 'seductive glow of cyber capital'.


Cosmopolis maps the pathologies and disconnect of a world dictated by its rate of change. Time and money compress to the point where human interaction is reduced to bare bone performativity. Robert Pattison's Eric Packer, and his wife, Elise, speak in opaque generalities devoid of emotional resonance, invariably - with reptilian force - returning to the question of sexual consummation.  


Packer's insistence on getting a haircut 'across town' becomes his - and the film's - sole analogical sanctuary for human sociality.  Such an archaic act contravenes the hyper-efficient model of Eric’'s meticulous, daily routine. It signifies danger; a rejection of the angularity of the city’s grid plan; there is lossless, here, alien to techno-capital's capture of time. Eventually Eric instinctively murders his bodyguard in order to feel alive, to wander the streets; no longer free of the unpredictability and pain closed off to him by the protective cocoon of the limousine. 


In a nightclub, Packer watches the youth - up to their gills on a drug called 'Nova' - and sympathises with their escapism,' there’s enough pain for everyone now'. A generational agitation ferments; a collective sigh; a young middle-class frantically jostles at the bottleneck leaving neo-serfdom as the world continues to morph into a winner-takes-all oligarchy. Rats become the anarchic cypher of the film because, like runaway capital, they are vectors of disease and dispossession. 


Paul Giamatti’s character is the apotheosis of the ragtag horde of desperation. Killing Eric may be cathartic, but corrective? No. Relentless sea changes eclipse the relevance of human action; it only serves to post-rationalise history's unfolding. Especially in a world where grand narratives have dissolved in techno-capital’s cold embrace.


In Cosmopolis, rap stars as public figures of veneration become an idiosyncratic corrective in lieu of post-modernity’s narrative destruction. The death of a rapper sparks a deep grieving process, for they are the human face of popular culture. Humanity reawakens under different symbols and representations in the face of capital’s outside; after the gods have died, new ones are born. 


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