Cosmopolis and the perils of weirdness in art

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If I said that I enjoyed Cosmopolis, David Cronenberg’s new film starring Robert Pattinson and an array of familiar actors who enter and exit his swanky car over the course of a trip to the barber, I wouldn’t be lying. But this is not the kind of enjoyment of a film that would spur me on to repeat viewings. It is the type of enjoyment that you might also get by watching a particularly insightful play, or reading  a book where in every chapter there is at least one line that really speaks to you, that makes you go “ahh” and make you smile in the knowledge that the author really gets it, and now you do too.

It’s a film that peels away a layer of the deceit and myths we are fed and shines a light into the dark recesses of society as it currently stands, distorted through a dystopic lens to make it feel more like a stylish thriller than a heavy handed polemic about the dangers of unchecked capitalism and individual recklessness that it could have been in the hands of a different director.

But the level of weirdness that the film reaches is one that I don’t want to necessarily experience again, and this is not because I don’t like to hear or see things that are unsettling. It is because I feel as though there is a certain level of discomfort that a piece of art can cause in the viewer before it forces them to teeter on the edge of falling into a strange world of conspiracy theories and madmen. My reaction to this film was similar to the one I had after reading the graphic novel Watchmen, which also looked at uncomfortable truths about the human psyche, the disturbing and commonplace occurrence of random acts of violence, and the blatant disregard that some people have for the worth of the individual within the larger structural institutions of a society. The reaction was one of pleasure on a purely intellectual level at the truths that were conveyed in a lot of the dialogue, and of an underlying queasiness for the very same reason.

The point that I am trying to make is that while I admire dark and probing works of art, I personally prefer art to work on a more visceral level. I want movie and books and films and theatre to move me and make me look at my life and my place in the world from different perspectives, but it feels more satisfying to me when these revelatory aspects of the viewing experience are grounded in some kind of cogent sense of reality; rather then murkily shrouded in layers of subtext and weirdness. Truth in works of art can be revealed to us in ways that compel us make a return trip to the cinema/theatre/gallery and rather than coming out of the cinema feeling confused and disturbed, we can emerge feeling refreshed and at least a little more illuminated then we first entered the darkness.

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