Don Delillo’s novel Underworld in my estimation is one of the great American novels of the 20th century. His novels White Noise (1985), Libra (1988), and Mao II (1991) are also important works. His follow-ups to Underworld have been more modest efforts, with his novel Cosmopolis (2003) perhaps the least of them. It never sparked my interest, though The Falling Man (2007) and Point Omega (2010) were much better. But I was interested in David Cronenberg’s film based on the novel. Its first half occurs almost entirely inside a stretch limousine equipped with the ultra high-tech technology and the highest level of security measures. Its occupant, Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) spends most of his life (apparently) inside. We see him eat, sleep, have business conferences, have sex, urinate, you name it. The limo is the symbol of his power as one of the richest men in the world—a multibillionaire. He has little interest in the rest of the world, in other people, even in his wife, to whom he is clearly attracted, but with whom he discusses sex as if it is a medical procedure for which one makes an appointment (she is a poet and shows the same attitude—they have been married for three weeks in the film without having had sex). The film stresses the absolutely sterile, lifeless nature of his existence. The characters in the film speak like characters from a Delillo novel, often in a kind of stylized stream of consciousness, artificial repartee carried out on a high level of intellect and abstraction. Such speech works better in print than on film. As Packer’s identity gradually dissolves, as his financial empire crumbles and the capitalist edifice he embodies verges on collapse (his limo is engulfed by a mob of protestors who hate what he is) and as his life is threatened by an unknown assailant, I found myself mouthing “So what”?
A last-minute appearance by Paul Giammatti made the end of the film interesting.
Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (2005) was more satisfying. In general, his avant gardism has not often made for good film.