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“Cosmopolis”: Post 9/11 Allegory or Economic Crash Parable?

"Cosmopolis": Post 9/11 Allegory or Economic Crash Parable?

Don DeLillo is my favorite author, and David Cronenberg is one of my favorite filmmakers. The announcement that Cronenberg would lend his “Crash”-like sensibility to the first film adaptation of one of DeLillo’s novels — 2003’s “Cosmopolis” — stirred in me no shortage of cinephiliac and intellectual excitement. With the French-subtitled teaser trailer now going viral, and anticipation of a Cannes premiere, I thought it might be a good time to examine what that swiftly edited montage of images is all about–and Robert Pattinson’s appearance doesn’t have anything to do with it.

When “Cosmopolis” was published a couple years after 9/11, the tragic event was fresh in people’s minds, and the impending global economic collapse was not yet a reality. The novel follows “a master-of-the-universe type, a fabulously wealthy asset manager named Eric, who at 28 is a monster of arrogance, vulgarity and contempt” (New York Times), on a limousine-ride across a crowded, trafficky New York City, filled wth paranoia, dread and a looming sense of chaos. A level of suspense hangs over the film having to do with terrorist threats.

But more than a decade later, the film version looks to be less about the dangers of violent subversives, and more about the protagonist’s personal and economic excesses.

Then again, with hindsight, the story of “Cosmopolis,” in many ways, prefigures all of our recent talk about the dangers of capitalism and the efforts of Occupy Wall Street. I’m not giving anything away when I write the story involves the dissolution of Eric’s billion-dollar fortune, and builds up to a violent, anti-capitalist protest that could be torn from today’s news. But as DeLillo notes, none of this has much impact on the inexorable power of our technology-driven free-market capitalist world.

As DeLillo writes, “The protest was a form of systemic hygiene, purging and lubricating. It attested again, for the ten thousandth time, to the market culture’s innovative brilliance, its ability to shape itself to its own flexible ends, absorbing everything around it.”


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