There’s, to my mind, three ways in which the angriest of us can make an argument, and they’re usually limited to personality type. The first, and most admirable, is violence, which has three subcategories: 1) the promise of threats; 2) a swift uppercut to the opponent’s jaw or unmentionables; and 3) a swift uppercut to the opponent’s mother’s jaw or unmentionables.
The second is the ad hominem, or a frank and honest attack on the opponent’s personal failings, e.g. “Well, I may not be able to take the square root of a negative, but you have the face of an elephant”; and the third, and most reviled, is the obfuscation of language.
Cosmopolis is firmly planted in the third type, so firmly that I’m not even sure if it’s making an argument at all. The characters all have endless monologues laced with ballooned phrases and delivered with no sense of meaning or conviction. For example, early on the protagonist meets up with his wife, who informs him that, “You reek of sexual discharge.”
One could simply say, “You smell like sex,” but the idea is that the characters are drained of any sense of human warmth and feeling. Now a skilled actor could deliver that same phrase and convey the same idea, but then if we were to edit down the dialogue, the movie would have ended several minutes before the credits.
Consider the premise, which is neatly summarized by Wikipedia: “Billionaire Eric Packer ([Robert] Pattinson) rides slowly across Manhattan in his limousine that he uses as his office while on his way to his preferred barber, even though there are traffic jams.” The most exciting part of that sentence is the link to Manhattan, because we know a girl there; the second sentence goes on to explain the nature of traffic jams. Along the way, Pattinson meets up with a handful of people who may be saying the same thing, if they’re saying anything at all, and flings woo at an adviser while getting a prostate exam. It’s almost as riveting as watching a dog beg.
Similarly, the term “odyssey” has been applied to the plot, but I think that does a disservice to Homer, because Odysseus didn’t get caught in a nasty wind circling back to Aeanea so that Circe could keep telling him what a pig he is. For example, there’s the character played by Samantha Morton, whom I suspect is an economist because she seems to have her own definition of “wealth” and “capital” and deals solely in theories.
She gives a speech, which takes up roughly seven hours of the film’s 109-minute running time, and, best I can surmise, amounts to the idea that “technology is a game changer.” This is reinforced by one of Pattinson’s business partners who fiddles with a computer and sports red hair, and Paul Giamatti, who gives another long speech in which he expresses both admiration for and hatred of technology, in a few million words.
So what’s the point? Is technology bad? Is business a cancer on humanity? Why does every generation think it’s experiencing a fundamental change in humanity? If this is an attack on capitalism, what are the charges? For that matter, what is the film’s interpretation of capitalism? In one corner are the poor and downtrodden of New York City, in another is the soulless corporate stand-ins of the characters; are they the heroes or the villains?
The phrase “specter of capitalism” haunts the movie more than it does the movie’s world but so what? Is there a meaning buried within its piles of monotone dialogue? What I got out of it were a lovely pair of breasts, a good opening credit sequence, and excitement at seeing Paul Giamatti.