David Cronenberg has been described as “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world,” with films like The Fly, Scanners and Crash. His latest film Cosmopolis, starring Robert Pattinson as financial genius Eric Packer, is out in cinemas today. He talks to movieScope about the political significance of the film.
Cosmopolis seems to echo the Occupy movements in New York and London. How did the those movements inform the film?
It was certainly very strange to be shooting scenes of anti-capitalist riots in New York and then read about them that evening in the New York Times. But the Occupy movement didn’t inform the film at all because we really just stuck to the script. It just so happened that what Don (DeLillo) wrote was prescient and clairvoyant. It felt as if the world was catching up with him.
In saying that, we couldn’t help noticing that as it was as if we were somehow making these things happen. We knew we weren’t but…Paul Giamatti texted me saying: “I can’t believe I just saw Rupert Murdoch get a pie in his face,” because we had just shot the scene when Rob (Pattinson) gets a pie in his face.
Do you consider the film, or the Occupy movement, to be anti-capitalist?
While it’s easy to say the movie is anti-capitalist, if you look at the film’s structure, it isn’t anti-capitalist, and there really are no anti-capitalists in this movie.
And it’s been noted – accurately – that the Occupy movement is not anti-capitalist either. They really want a piece of the action. They’re saying: “We want to be part of that one per cent.” Or at least: “The ninety-nine per cent should be part of the capitalist dream.” They’re not communists or socialists concerned with trying to bring capitalism down; they want to be capitalists. It’s the same with Paul Giamatti’s character Benno. He loves capitalism. He loves investing. The complaint he has is he’s been left behind by Rob’s character Eric. Eric is too quick, too modern. He’s destroyed the way Benno worked.
You change the (Japanese currency) Yen to the (Chinese currency) the Yuan in the film. Why is that?
That was my feeble attempt as an ignoramus when it comes to economics to make the film a little futuristic. When the book was written, Japan was seen as the rising sun. Everybody was terrified of Japan because the Yen was going to become the world currency. It’s obvious now that the look to the east was correct, but the world power will be China. Since the book was written, the Yen has collapsed and, after the tsunami, suddenly Japan was staggering. By 2015, the Yuan will be a fully convertible currency and may well displace the dollar as the world currency. That’s the Chinese plan and no-one is able to suggest a way in which it won’t happen.
Where do you think Cosmopolis fits within your body of work?
I don’t actually think about my other movies. You’re asking me to be an analyst of my own movies, and I could do that – but I won’t because that’s your job.
The joy for me is working in the middle of the night in a dark street with your crew and your actors. You’re not thinking about Twilight or Scanners – you’re thinking about Cosmopolis and Eric Packer. When I’m putting the movie together, I have to consider a hundred details; I have to think about the star value of the actors, I have to think about Rob’s passport, I have to think about the complexities of a Canada-France co-production. That’s all irrelevant to the actual creative making of the movie. I try to be pure that way.