I guess, if David Cronenberg can make a movie out of Crash, he can make a movie out of Cosmopolis. Both books are about looming death and dirty secrets; the killing sweep of history. This could be the film that springs R-Patz from his Twilight jail. The protagonist here isn’t American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman, but he’s the same slice of money. As usual in Don DeLillo’s fiction, there’s no real interest in women as individuals. Life is a dick-swinging contest for DeLillo. He writes like Nietzsche crossed with Tom Clancy. In every book, every man has the same anxiety: Am I big enough (to matter, on a cosmic scale)? Who’s better than me? Imagine a personal ad: Self-important man seeks answers. Must be cryptic. Violence preferred.
A young sinister business tycoon rolls around New York at the beginning of the 21st century. He’s an asshole who can see patterns in financial markets. He loves to gloat over the assassinations of his peers. In his tiger-like stretch limousine, he prowls the city looking for a haircut. En-route he encounters a riot, a funeral, and several women. He tries to understand the world by watching it – and by watching himself watching it. His fancy new watch even has a camera (because this is a Don DeLillo book, and he’s got semiotics on the brain). Someone somewhere wants to kill this man. But he seems drawn to his nemesis. After all, as his chief of theory explains: “The logical extension of business is murder”.
Don DeLillo belongs to the David Mamet School of Speech and Drama. So no-one talks the way people talk in real life. Rather, they talk in a kind of bareknuckle philosophical argot, like Samuel Beckett. You get a buzz from the arrangement of words, even if you doubt their arrangement. His cadences come from Mars. Dialogue, for DeLillo, is like ventriloquism; his characters all speak like they’re trying to relay snatches of thought. People say things like: “You acquire information and turn it into something stupendous and awful.” When what they mean is: Don DeLillo acquires information and…yadda yadda yadda. And you can go whistle if you want real life. This man writes in fractals. His word choices have an irregular beauty unto themselves. And as much as you want to dismiss him for being a bullshit artist, he does have a knack for aphorism few can match.
Eric Packer, the billionaire in the limo, is “the spectre of capitalism”. He’s the darkening reach of money, “speculating into the void”. Quite what Twilight fans will make of R-Patz as an existentialist, I’m not certain. This is definitely not the “Mr Darcy of vampires” role that made Robert Pattinson’s name. Will his reps let him say things like: “I want to bottle-fuck you slowly with my sunglasses on”? Or do the sunglasses somehow make it ok? There is a sort-of love story between Eric and his new wife, Elise (and a sex scene in an alley), but I’m not a hundred per cent sure Elise exists. She’s more like a projection. Ultimately, every person who interacts with Eric is more like a set of numbers read off a screen.
Technology warps reality, for DeLillo. In Cosmopolis, like all his books, there’s a lot about the mutability of images. Eric Packer watches the managing director of the IMF get killed “live on the Money Channel” and “he [wants] them to show it again. Show it again…until the sensation drains out of it.” This passage recalls a similar scene in DeLillo’s Underworld, where a man watches a video of a murder and “the more [he watches] the tape, the deader and colder and more relentless it becomes”. No-one writes about death with the awful precision of Don DeLillo. His description of the Kennedy assassination (in Libra) is chillingly exact: “the sleet of bone and blood”. You have to admire the eloquence of “sleet”.
For David Cronenberg and R-Patz, my advice is simple: watch the bodies. This guy likes to gawk at people as they die. The means of death is irrelevant. It’s the fact of death that drives his fascination. There’s a line from Underworld, about how “every breath you take has two possible endings”. That’s the cheery outlook of Don DeLillo. In Cosmopolis, someone asks a rhetorical question: “What is the flaw of human rationality?” Answer: “It pretends not to see the horror and death at the end of the schemes it builds.” There is no K-Stew for R-Patz in this scenario. There isn’t even a haircut. All that’s out there on the streets of New York –all that’s anywhere – is the indecipherable moment that death cuts short.