The fact that Don DeLillo's novel "Cosmopolis" is a philosophical inner monologue set almost entirely inside a traffic-stalled limousine wasn't a problem to writer/director David Cronenberg. It was a challenge.
The Canadian filmmaker, whose new film opens this weekend in the Twin Cities along with a retrospective of his work, has tackled such daunting books as William S. Burroughs' plotless drug fantasia "Naked Lunch"; J.G. Ballard's ode to the sexual thrill of high-speed auto accidents, "Crash"; and John Kerr's scholarly account of the tense relationship between Freud and Carl Jung, "A Dangerous Method."
In "Cosmopolis," Robert Pattinson plays Eric Packer, a Wall Street titan whose life and financial empire collapse in a single day. "He's in his limo and forces people to come to him for business, for conversation, for sex, yet he's disconnected because he's in this bubble he's created," Cronenberg said last week by phone. The restricted setting "struck me as something that could be very powerful and revealing."
Pattinson's character is superficially placid but troubled by the social and economic collapse he sees through his bulletproof windows. When he briefly ventures outside he discovers that performance artists are proclaiming the rat the new unit of currency.
"We invented money. Money's not a natural thing, whereas the rat really is," Cronenberg said. "Making the rat the unit of currency is making money organic and earthbound again instead of something strangely abstract."
Casting Pattinson, best known as Edward Cullen in the "Twilight" movies, as the story's financial bloodsucker may lead viewers to make unwarranted assumptions, Cronenberg said. "The character is glacially cool in the beginning, as he was in the novel. But the problem with that is that it becomes too facile and might derange one's response to the movie." As his travels take him to the neighborhood of his childhood, he begins to revisit the vulnerability, naiveté and innocence of his youth, qualities Cronenberg hopes are not lost on viewers.
To prepare for the challenges of filming extensively inside a limo, Cronenberg showed his crew "Lebanon," which takes place entirely inside an Israeli tank and "Das Boot," set in a German submarine. "It wasn't hard to become excited about it," he said. "Rather than confine you it really induces you to become inventive visually. The car is a tank and a submarine. It's a vacuum tube and a bell jar. It's many things."
Cronenberg has met his share of business titans resembling Pattinson's character. He prefers to keep them at arm's length: "I live in Toronto for a reason."
DAVID CRONENBERG: BARON OF BLOOD
What: A five-film retrospective presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis/St. Paul.
With: "M. Butterfly" at 7 p.m. Sun.-Mon.; "The Fly" at 7 p.m. Sept. 2-3; "Videodrome" at 7 p.m. Sept. 9-10; "Dead Ringers" at 7 p.m. Sept. 16-17, and "A Dangerous Method" at 7 p.m. Sept. 23-24. The latter film's screenwriter, Christopher Hampton, will be present on Sept. 24.
Where: St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 SE. Main St., Mpls.
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186