by Ben Sachs
The mise-en-scene advances a paradox M.C. Escher may have appreciated: the characters appear at once larger-than-life and confined to an ant farm. I've now seen Cosmopolis three times in three separate theaters, most recently at Doc Films this past Saturday, and each time it's produced the effect of making the cinema seem to cave in on the audience. It's not just the limo interior that contributes to this effect. Cronenberg maintains the same walled-in compositional sense throughout Cosmopolis, regardless of whether the characters seek refuge in restaurants, ballrooms, or empty streets. Often the filmmaker lines the frame on both sides with objects or architectural figures or else shoots the characters through windows, further confining them within the shot. These are perfect visual analogues to DeLillo's mannered dialogue, which addresses the 21st-century anxiety of information eclipsing physical experience and which also has the effect of insulating the characters from the disorder of real life.
I suspect the film is a different—and likely inferior—experience on DVD. The day after I attended Doc Films's screening, I discussed Cosmopolis with a friend who watched it at home around the same time that I saw it at Ida Noyes Hall. Though a fan of both Cronenberg and DeLillo, he took no enjoyment from the movie. "I felt like it was pushing me away," he said, noting his frustration with the blatantly artificial New York "locations" and Robert Pattinson's unwavering lead performance. I could understand his frustration. Even certain colleagues of mine who admire Cosmopolis have admitted to enjoying it only after a second viewing, once they see past the anticlimactic narrative structure and the weird humor takes root. But more importantly, the home viewing environment renders a movie smaller from the get-go, essentially nullifying Cronenberg's incredible shrinking act.