August 26, 2012

Cronenberg's Cosmopolis

In the 1980s when I was a young adult, there were movies and there were art films. There was TV trash and there were foreign films. There were grocery-store bestsellers and there was literary fiction. 

Somewhere along the line, things changed and we got high-low culture. Not highbrow culture (a steady diet of Schopenhauer) nor lowbrow culture (Wheel of Fortune) and certainly not middlebrow culture. It was The Simpsons and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was being smart about dumb stuff. It was the complexity of high culture, the joys of low culture, and the craftsmanship of mid culture, shot through with self-awareness and metacritical. 

From the 2000s on, certainly, all the smart people I know watched TV voraciously. They rarely went to the arthouse cinema. They read books by smart authors who had likewise embraced popular forms, and we ended up where we are today, where you can't claim to be an intellectual and not know what The Hunger Games is. Now talent is EVERYWHERE and everyone knows about it. We probably have the closest thing to a shared culture than we have for decades because middle-schoolers, literary scholars, soccer moms, and retirees are all reading the same stuff. 

But it bodes poorly for a film like David Cronenberg's Cosmopolis, which is an art film. Art. Film. Weird and difficult. Unfamiliar. Unrealistic. The most amazing thing about the movie is that it is a near-perfect adaptation of the novel that is its source material. I wouldn't have thought it could be done, but Cronenberg captures the exact tone and timbre of Don DeLillo's cult classic. The surrealness, the humor, the despair. And all the themes. I feel like most movie adaptations are lucky to capture one or two themes of a literary novel, but this one felt even more expansive than the novel. (It probably helped that my husband noted that "take a haircut" means "take a big loss" in the world of finance. To which all the rest of us went "Ooooooohhhh.") 

And Cronenberg has the visual skills to replicate the symbolism of the novel and translate its themes into images. It's a road trip, it's a journey back in time, it's a search for Rosebud, it's a limo that gradually turns into a hearse, it's reading a foreign language, it's looking out the window, peering into your body (bottoms up), getting humped, zapped, pied, and prousted. 

Which is all to say: I really liked this film.

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