Hollow Man, by Tyler Smith
There is a scene in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis in which our hero, 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (played by Robert Pattinson) is in his state-of-the-art limo, getting his prostate checked by a doctor. This scene is particularly notable because Packer’s vulnerable state does not keep him from having a meeting with a female business colleague in the limo with him. They hash out their points and make personal observations, all while a doctor is feeling around in Packer’s rectum.
There is definitely a sense of humor to this scene, but it is played completely straight. Because, in a way, this scene reveals more about Eric Packer than any extended monologue ever could. He is relentless, analytical, and brilliant. He is these things often at the expense of the most basic elements of humanity. Where most people might want privacy during an invasive, embarrassing medical procedure, Eric is perfectly fine with going about his business. It doesn’t matter what he feels and it doesn’t matter what the woman in the limo feels; there is money to be made and he is going to make it.
Eric spends the majority of the film in the limo, which he has had specially equipped to handle all of his business and personal needs. There is even a panel on the floor that can slide away to reveal a urinal. He welcomes his friends and colleagues into the limo, talks to them in strangely robotic- often cryptic- analytical terms, and sends them on their way. There has been talk from his security detail that somebody has threatened Eric’s life. Eric doesn’t seem to care. He wants a haircut and will be going across town to get one.
Along the way, we see Eric’s occasional interactions with his wife. They speak in a clipped, formal manner, and speak mostly about his business, heavily implying that their marriage is a matter of financial convenience more than love. When Eric first sees his wife in the film, he has just finished having sex with another woman. His wife seems to smell sex on him and inquires. He denies. Neither of them seem particularly passionate about the possibility of marital infidelity; they seem to do only what is expected of them, what they’ve seen other people do.
Eric continues on his journey across the city, showing very little interest in the world around him. Even when an anti-capitalist protest starts to get out of hand and his limo is rocked back and forth by increasingly agitated protestors, Eric just keeps right on talking with one of his advisers. He deals in the money markets, able to predict with computer-like precision exactly what the market will do. He is always thinking of bigger things; global things. A little riot is certainly not going to shake him.
The first real clue we get that things aren’t going well for Eric today is when he informs a friend that he has lost a lot of money by miscalculating what the currency in another country is going to do. He doesn’t convey any real remorse about this, and we get the feeling that even if he loses an amount of money that he characterizes as “a lot,” there’s always more where that came from. Life goes on.
The second clue that the film allows us is when Eric, out of nowhere, commits an act of horrible violence. There is no lead-up to it, and there seems to be no consequence; not emotionally, anyway. Eric does something awful, and just continues. That’s what he does. He always continues.
When Eric is finally confronted with the man that threatened him, he finally starts to say what he is really thinking and feeling. Moreover, he seems to genuinely think and feel it. Up until now, the character has talked a lot, even going so far as to explain what emotion he is experiencing right now. But he always seems to be narrating somebody else’s life, rather than commenting on his own. Now, though, when faced with the one person that is not interested in his money or his status, Eric is able to finally express himself.
The scenes between Eric and his stalker are by far the most interesting in the film. While I enjoyed the continuous analysis and never-ending conversations between Eric and his colleagues, the raw, unfiltered dialogue at the end of the film is at once sad, funny, and tense. Two men whose lives have been dictated to them in some way or another are facing off against one another, calling each other on their bullshit. Eric’s ease with having a gun in his face denotes certain confidence. Not confidence that he can escape the situation, but that he has a very keen insight into the man with his finger on the trigger. The scene crackles with energy.
But this isn’t really that unexpected from a director like David Cronenberg. He specializes in creating a particularly unrelenting kind of tension. The sense of dread that builds as Eric slowly makes his way across the city was for me unbearable at times. Cronenberg’s experience as a horror director has informed a very deliberate pace, with an eerie patience that seems to say to his audience, “Yes, yes, I know you want to know what happens next. But just be patient. I’ll show you when I’m good and ready.”
For Cronenberg’s entire career, he has managed to marry the heartless, the disgusting, and the humorous. He is interested in characters that are trying to find their place in the world, seemingly aware, but always in a state of dishonesty with themselves. Eric fits right into this. He is brilliant and articulate, but doesn’t seem able to apply those traits to an understanding of himself or his fellow human beings. To watch Eric’s behavior is to laugh, while also sneering at his ability to detach from the world around him.
Based on the novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis is, if nothing else, fascinating. It may drag a little bit, but I was always intrigued by what I was seeing and hearing. Cronenberg makes good use of his stellar cast, which consists of Juliette Binoche, Paul Giamatti, Mathieu Amalric, Jay Baruchel, and Samantha Morton. They each enter his life for a short time, deliver some thought-provoking meditations on life, business, and the pursuit of meaning, and then exit.
And throughout it all, Eric sits amused staring out the window at a world he can never be a part of. He seems miserable, but not so much so that he is going to do anything about it. For all his wealth, he is content to simply sit back and become a spectator in his own life. And the limo rolls on, slowly but surely, towards his fate.