Cronenberg, Luxury Cars, and the End of the World

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I’m going to try to keep this short & reductive, so as not to get unnecessarily mean. There was a weird detail to our December Movie of the Month, the apocalyptic Canadian black comedy Last Night, that reminded me to finally check out a work I’ve been putting off for years. However, much like how our conversation around the Laura Dern black comedy Citizen Ruth lead me to finally pulling the trigger on David Lynch’s Inland Empire only to find it an exhaustingly ugly, empty exercise in art film pretension, Last Night similarly lead me astray. In the film, cult Canadian director David Cronenberg plays a distressed business man who spends his (and everyone else’s) last day alive at the office, making sure things run smoothly in the world’s final moments before its mysterious doomsday mechanism arrives. It’s when Cronenberg’s character, conveniently named David, leaves the office that Last Night‘s scenario begins to feel eerily familiar. David calmly navigates the world-crumbling chaos & riotous hooliganism taking over Toronto from the comfort of his expensive-looking luxury car. Watching this unfold, I thought I had accidentally entered some kind of time loop, as it’s this exact scenario that Cronenberg directs Twilight vet & honorary Death Grips member Robert Pattinson through in his 2012 film Cosmopolis. The major difference there is that in Last Night this is a single detail in a large, thematically fulfilling tapestry, while in Cosmopolis it’s the entire exhaustingly cold, empty journey.

I’ve had a DVD copy of Cosmopolis lurking in my to-watch pile since the mass Blockbuster Video close-out sales of 2013. I was smart to stay far away as long as I could resist. I’m not at all hostile towards the basic idea of a feature length film about Robert Pattinson venturing across town in a limousine solely to get a haircut. After all, I was fairly ecstatic about the film Locke, in which Tom Hardy makes a series of phone calls to orchestrate a concrete pour from the driver’s seat of a car. Cosmopolis had a lot more going on than Locke in terms of set pieces & range of characters; Pattinson occasionally leaves the relative safety if his “office” limo to visit a basketball court or a bookstore or, of course, a barber shop. The purpose of the film’s dialogue is much more difficult to pin down, though, aiming more for philosophical musings on existentialism and capitalist vampirism than any linear narrative. It was all white noise to me, recalling the empty-headed speculation of Southland Tales without the energy or humor. With the detached coldness of an absurdist stage play or a going-through-the-motions table reading, Cosmopolis provides very little for its audience to hold onto. It has some interesting cultural context, considering how it’s dead rat-brandishing protesters that surround the all-important office limo mirror the time’s Occupy movement and I’ll admit that Pattinson is entertaining enough to carry his beyond-demanding lead role. It just ultimately signified nothing to me, despite the fact that I was very much positive on Cronenberg’s similarly detached Hollywood satire Maps to the Stars. Don’t ask me why that is, because I honestly have no clue.

I’m not sure that Cronenberg’s apocalyptic car ride in Last Night influenced his choices in directing Cosmopolis in any way. Not only was the latter film adapted from a Don DeLillo-penned novel, there are some pretty major differences between his character’s business man coldness and Robert Pattinson’s. Last Night‘s business dude seems to be a kind, gentle man despite the emotionless way Cronenberg portrays him. Cosmopolis‘s protagonist, by contrast, is a heartless brute & a money-grubbing sociopath, making the film feel like Gossip Girl’s Chuck Bass: The Movie. In that case, the world is crumbling because of a man-made financial crisis; in Last Night we don’t know why the world is ending, just the humanist ways it’s many characters grieve its loss. When Last Night ends we see strangers comfort each other & fight through personal insecurities to achieve intimate, emotional connections in their final moments. When Robert Pattinson finally reaches the barber in Cosmopolis, he gets a terrible, asymmetric haircut. I’ll leave it to you to guess which result I found more satisfying and to draw connections on why Cronenberg would be attracted to two disparate, dialogue-heavy projects in which wealthy businessmen calmly drive through a crumbling society in the comfort of a luxury vehicle. In the mean time I’ll be trying to forget the frustration & boredom I suffered when I finally pushed play on Cosmopolis . . . or eagerly awaiting the end of the world. Whichever comes first would be fine.

For more on December’s Movie of the Month, the apocalyptic black comedy Last Night, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this look at its studio comedy equivalent Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012), and last week’s gaze into the bright explosions of its Michael Bay contemporary, Armageddon (1988).

-Brandon Ledet

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