The tricked-out limo is a meaningful object. Observing from the middle to bottom rungs of the economic food chain, it's shorthand "classy" luxury for reality dating show contestants, Real Housewives, unimaginative hip-hop video directors and teenagers on quests for prom night virginity loss. They're the only acceptable means for getting Faith Hill to the CMA Awards. They're environmentally destructive. They're more than a little embarrassing.
To David Cronenberg they're even more than all that: tubes of doom, hyperbaric chambers for ultra-rich people to breathe in their own recycled air, death-on-wheels. So why not put Robert Pattinson in one of them?
Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a young hotshot billionaire who demands a ride to get a haircut at the old-fashioned barber shop where his father used to take him as a child. Conceptually resembling the absurd traffic jam of Jean-Luc Godard's Week-End, the action creeps the giant white car inch by inch on its way through a city that's falling apart and clogged with a presidential motorcade, a funeral for a rapper and an anti-capitalist riot. Then Packer's impenetrable fortress is breached, one by one, by people like Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel, Samantha Morton, Kevin Durand (Lost), Mathieu Amalric (Quantum of Solace) and Sarah Gadon (A Dangerous Method). They get in, they speak cryptically, they speak directly -- always in the same deadpan hush -- and Packer responds in kind. They bring threats, violence, sex, warnings, mockery and, eventually, once the car is abandoned and Paul Giamatti shows up, a reckoning. And "what happens" is really less important than how and why -- what it looks and sounds and feels like as Packer glides, drones, lurches and rumbles toward his vanishing point.
Like Cronenberg's 1996 button-pusher Crash (based on J.G. Ballard's novel about a small band of fetishists whose shared obsession is sex at the scene of car accidents), this is an adaptation of a novel (by Don DeLillo) where cars and humans are inextricably linked. Crash's scarred sex-people, seemingly pushing toward death, are actually making connections wherever they can find them in a quest for a new kind of existence. But Cosmopolis' insulated cargo is a man cocooning himself in soundproof luxury who, for whatever reason, nevertheless allows each break-in to occur and, ultimately, finds himself ceding control, throwing his billions to the wind and encouraging his own destruction.
The human/car mash-up isn't new. In movie history the auto is in a dead heat with the gun as the prop we collectively love the most. If it's Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Love Bug or Smokey and the Bandit, it's our pet. In Christine and Death Race 2000 it's our surrogate weapon. In Two Lane Blacktop it's our boredom and hopelessness and long-haired protest of boredom and hopelessness. Here it's another step in Cronenberg's story of how we ruin our lives from the inside out, standing in for the greed and fragility of the people with all the money and the futility of self-preservation. So a vulgar white limo-zeen is a more than appropriate vehicle, at least until the world crashes in to regulate.