Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

David Cronenberg paved a new career path for Robert Pattinson in two horror stories of wealth

Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis and Maps To The Stars (Screenshots)
Robert Pattinson in Cosmopolis and Maps To The Stars (Screenshots)
Graphic: The A.V. Club

Watch This offers movie recommendations inspired by new releases, premieres, current events, or occasionally just our own inscrutable whims. This week: You don’t have to go to the theater to get your Robert Pattinson fix. We’re looking back on some of the best performances from the one-time vampire, future caped crusader.

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Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps To The Stars (2014)

Robert Pattinson was wrapping up the final entry of the Twilight saga when out of the blue came a script for the new David Cronenberg movie. The YA heartthrob wasn’t exactly known for his dramatic chops at this point, but the Canadian master must have seen in Pattinson and his chiseled jadedness a quality well-suited to the lifeless cool of Cosmopolis, the Don DeLillo late-capitalist odyssey he was adapting for the screen. Looking back, we might thank Cronenberg for changing the direction of the actor’s career: Pattinson transformed into a champion of arthouse cinema following his icy turn as a dead-inside billionaire. And two years later, he reunited with the director for the Hollywood roast session Maps To The Stars. Both movies are 21st-century horror stories about the privileged and wealthy and their eerily solipsistic worlds. Pattinson as the uniting factor is key: There’s something in his statuesque, pallid beauty that speaks to the veneers of perfection explored by these films, and the rot and vacuity beneath such sleek, pretty surfaces.

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Cosmopolis follows Wall Street financier Eric Packer (Pattinson) as he journeys across Manhattan in a white stretch limo to get a haircut. A visit from the U.S. president, a rap star’s funeral, and anarchist rioting cause bumper-to-bumper traffic, so Eric moves forward at a snail’s pace. It’s no matter—the limo functions as a sort of traveling office where he receives visits from his doctor and his poet wife, and enjoys sexual trysts with colleagues and his go-to prostitute. Pattinson is on screen in nearly every shot and speaks in a flat, affectless manner. It’s not a showy performance, but that’s intentional: DeLillo’s bleak, sardonic vision of American life demands that human emotion be dialed down. Pattinson’s manicured appearance and cold, lobotomized presence embody the dispassionate chill of the novel. But he also imbues each of Eric’s encounters with an inexplicable sadness.

Eric peers out his tinted windows at the death and chaos around him and feels bored, even when he gets news that his bad bet on the Chinese yuan might dismantle his fortune. Pale and shimmering, he seems to float above reality—the cost of reaping the benefits of a brutal capitalist economy while remaining sealed off from its crushing effects. A protestor sets himself on fire outside the limo; Eric watches, along with his financial advisor, Jane (Emily Hampshire), who claims the act is “not original,” citing the countless monks who’ve done the same. “Imagine the pain,” Eric responds with a twinkle in his eye. He’s desperate to feel something, which accounts for all the mindless sex. But this desire evolves into something more violent and self-destructive as the limo hurtles toward its destination.

Between Cosmopolis and Maps To The Stars, Pattinson has a great deal of backseat limo sex under Cronenberg’s watch. But in the latter film, the actor gets behind the wheel as a limo driver and aspiring actor/writer in Los Angeles. Cronenberg’s most recent film focuses mainly on Havana (Julianne Moore, who won Best Actress at Cannes), an egomaniacal actress with staggering amounts of emotional baggage. Havana belongs to a constellation of sickly Hollywood folks, including a morally bankrupt celebrity shrink (John Cusack) and a bratty, Bieber-esque child star (Evan Bird). She hires Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a mysterious, timid woman with severe burn scars on her body, to be her newest “chore whore,” which unravels a twisted, perverse history.

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Cronenberg piles on the sexual violence, psychosis, and murder as the story gradually reveals the disturbing interconnectedness of its various characters, and the inbred, closed-loop economy that sustains the industry. Havana’s obsession with starring in the remake of the movie that made her own mother a star in the ’60s is one of the many bizarre ways she hopes to exorcise her trauma as a victim of childhood abuse. As Jane puts it in Cosmopolis, there are no new ideas. Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner contend that inbreeding is both a literal and metaphorical force in the business, which constantly churns out more and more of the same thing. As the hapless outsider Jerome, Pattinson plays the film’s most relatable character, passively cruising in and out of the lives of others, his starry-eyed desire for fame intact. The glittery fantasy of the chauffeur and limo, a sign of status and success, is deceptive. Put a blacklight to the seats and you’ll find all sorts of stains.

Availability: Cosmopolis is currently streaming on Amazon Prime, Pluto TV, VUDU (with ads), and Tubi (with ads), and can be rented or purchased from Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, and Microsoft. Maps To The Stars is currently streaming on Netflix and can be rented or purchased on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube, Microsoft, Fandango, Redbox, DirectTV, and VUDU.

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