Indiewire/The Playlist had an opportunity to sit down with David Cronenberg and talk about Cosmopolis. Here is an excerpt from the interview:
You’ve said that the novel proved prophetic, but economies do wax and wane so there must be some room for coincidence. What is it about this 2003 book that resonates with you as both a cinematic and contemporary text?
“Cosmopolis” was never meant to be analysis of world economics situation, you know? That is almost gravy. The fact that the world suddenly seems to be caught up with Don DeLillo’s book and it’s as though we were making a documentary instead of a fiction film. Things were happening: Occupy Wall Street, the pie in the face of Rupert Murdoch. We had shot scenes with Rob [Pattinson] that were so similar to that it was quite bizarre. But no, it didn’t need that contemporary reality to make it interesting to me because it was the characters, it was the philosophy, it was the structure of the novel itself that was really interesting to me. And I thought it would be…you know, as an artist you’re always looking for universal realities, truths, not absolute truths, but something that has some universal meaning and yet, you have to deal with particular characters, particular moments in time and so on. And so you need the particular to be universal and I thought that was very strong in Don’s novel and as I said, the world could have been peachy keen economically and I still think the book would have been resonant.
The novel has a device referring back to the stream-of-consciousness confessions of Benno Levin, played by Paul Giamatti as one of the many people out to get Eric Parker. As one of the most complicated characters in the story, what does Benno Levin represent to you?
Well, I don’t think in terms of symbols and schematics. I think of Benno as a real person. I have to approach my characters as real people and with my actors we, as I’ve often said, you cannot say to an actor, “You will portray this abstract concept.” I can’t say to Rob Pattinson, “You are the symbol of capitalism.” Because an actor doesn’t know that. How do you act that? What do you do with that information? It doesn’t help you. You have to say, “You’re a character who has this past, who has this barbershop he goes to, who has this desire, who has this job.” That’s how an actor works and that’s actually how I work. So I can’t say, “Benno represents this or that.” I can say Benno is a character who has a bizarre love for the Rob Pattinson character. He’s in love with him. But he’s also repelled by him and is also intimidated by him, to the extent that he actually must connect with him. Just the way some crazed fan has to connect with some celebrity — that bizarre distant emotional connection. And that’s the way I deal with it, so in essence, I can’t answer your question the way you asked it.
You’ve said the film is not a treatise, and you don’t like to talk in abstractions, but the great tragic comedy of the movie is that the rich and the poor are equally clueless and helpless…
Well, you know, we just talked about a Rothko that sold for $71 million dollars. Talk about abstract expressionism. The money becomes an abstraction at that point and the question that the Juliette Binoche character asks, “What is money? I don’t know what money is anymore.” I think a lot of people are saying that. When you hear of these absurd sums for these strange objects. What does it mean? Money has become disconnected from any kind of reality. It’s almost become philosophy. Money has always been technology, but now it’s becoming philosophy as well, it’s quite strange.
Do you hope this film you made provokes a pragmatic conversation that can be had from some of the ideas and themes presented in it?
Oh, I think so. We’re having one right now. That’s what you want a movie to be, you want it to be juicy. You want it to be provocative in the sense of provoking questions, concepts and ideas. So at that point, yes I think analysis and being schematic is interesting. It’s after the fact. I just have to say that’s not the way we create the movie, but after the fact, yes, art does that. It should stimulate conversation, just the same way a Rothko or a Pollock painting will provoke those kinds of conversations, even though they don’t spring like that intuitively from the artist. The fact that the movie turns out to be bizarrely timing is coincidental, but useful in a pragmatic way.