Cosmopolis and other talking books | Bleader

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Cosmopolis and other talking books

Posted By on 08.29.12 at 02:32 PM

Robert Pattinson in Cosmpolis, about to shoot himself in the hand
  • Robert Pattinson in Cosmpolis, about to shoot himself in the hand
Based on conversations I've had about the film, it seems the most contentious aspect of Cosmopolis, currently playing at the Landmark's Century Centre and 600 N. Michigan, is that all the characters talk exactly the same way. It doesn't matter if the person onscreen is a billionaire investor, a security guard, an artist, or a homicidal lunatic: everyone speaks in grammatically correct complete sentences and in full awareness of his or her position in human history. This mannered dialogue, which suggests an omniscient narrator playing ventriloquist with all of humanity, comes directly from Don DeLillo's 2003 novel (it should sound familiar if you've read any of his books). David Cronenberg roots his adaptation in the book's language, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere in which DeLillo's words seem to fire at the audience point-blank.

In an interview in the current issue of Film Comment, Cronenberg explained the reasoning behind his approach:

I love the way [DeLillo's dialogue] shot off in so many different directions at once and that it was so strangely mechanical and dehumanized and yet so obsessive and passionate underneath. So much of human discourse is like that. The human reality is buried under the grammar and technology of language. I thought Don brought that right up to the forefront. It was the way the language was woven into the subject of the language, a lot of which was not a discussion just of capitalism, but the future of capitalism, and the future in the way that the anticipation of the future modulates the present.

In this regard, it's necessary that Cosmopolis should be so fundamentally opposed to realism: its central concern is something that hasn't happened yet. Yet the dialogue's lack of variety can be exhausting, especially if you don't like the way it sounds. I happen to enjoy this sort of literary stunt; it makes a game of the disconnect between movies and books rather than ignore it, as most literary adaptations do. In films like Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Effi Briest, Manoel de Oliveira's Doomed Love and The Letter, and Philip Haas's underrated Paul Auster adaptation The Music of Chance, the uniform dialogue—taken directly from the source material, as in Cronenberg's adaptation—seems to structure the images as much as the framing. And Ben Hecht (Angels Over Broadway, Whirlpool) and Hal Hartley (Trust, Flirt, Henry Fool) have achieved similar effects with their original screenplays. If these films and filmmakers have anything in common, it's that they're fairly esoteric in their appeal, their ideal viewer being someone who thinks about imagery and grammar with equal passion.

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