Music and sound are not just elements that underscore select scenes in David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis, they are each specifically discussed and used in the story itself. Cosmopolis follows 28-year-old billionaire Eric Packer (Robert Pattinson) as he drives around Manhattan over the course of a day, trying to get from one end of the city to the other to get a haircut. A seemingly simple premise, but as any Cronenberg fan (or those who have read Don DeLillo’s novel) know, it does not stay simple for long. It is clear that Eric is incredibly rich and his wealth has caused him to become removed from (although still amused by) the general population – a point that is further driven home as he travels through town in a showy, tricked out, bulletproof white stretch limousine.
The score, created by composer Howard Shore and indie rock band Metric, may start the film at a kinetic pace with “White Limos” (which almost echoes the opening to U2’s “Where The Streets Have No Name”), but once Eric enters his limo it is not just the music that is suddenly stripped away, all noise evaporates once he is inside. We learn that Eric had lined his limo with cork to eliminate street noise and it is this lack of ambient noise that makes every move, breath, and grunt in his limo sound all the more intrusive and off-putting. Cronenberg does not let up with this complete lack of ambience, and it makes the expansive limo feel no bigger than a SmartCar, causing your ears to long to hear sound (any sound) again. The score eventually begins to weave its way back in and takes some of the pressure off, but the claustrophobic effect of the limo is never truly dissipated while inside its confining walls.
But it is not that Eric craves silence, his desire seems to lie more in the need to control it. This idea comes up once again when Eric describes the two (yes, two) elevators in his apartment – one plays the classical music of Erik Satie while the other plays music from rap artist, Brutha Fez (K’naan.) Eric selects which elevator he will ride in depending on his mood, a decadent indulgence, but one of that shows us how even the most basic elements, like sound and music, are things he experiences only when he wants to. A hip-hop artist like Brutha Fez may seem like an odd choice for a buttoned up businessman like Eric and while we are never taken inside Eric’s home, we do get to hear one of Brutha Fez’ songs (as performed by K’nann) with the track “Mecca.” The track’s surprisingly spiritual lyrics seem to hint at Eric’s true character – a man who has everything, but is still searching for something more.
The combination of Shore’s electronic orchestration with the almost angelic sounding vocals of Metric lead singer Emily Haines help give the score an almost ethereal sound. At first, this seems to highlight a man who feels he is above the fray, but when paired with the K’naan track (the only song on the soundtrack not created by Shore and Metric), one starts to wonder if the real reason this is man seems to be floating in the clouds is because he no longer knows how to stay connected to the tangible world around him.
Chaos may (and does) happen around Eric, but he always seems to be an observer of it, never a true participant in it and the score works to give the feeling of someone oddly calm despite the harsher elements (protests and death threats for Eric, pulsating beats and synthesizers for Haines) surrounding them. It is not until “I Don’t Want to Wake Up” that Haines’ voice starts to take on a more manic and distorted tone, foreshadowing the twists and turns Eric’s ride (and day) begins to take.
This is not the first time Shore and Metric have worked together (they both had music on the soundtrack for The Twilight Saga: Eclipse), but on Eclipse the two did not really collaborate with one another – one of Shore’s pieces, “Wedding Plans,” merely bled into one of Metric’s songs, “Eclipse (All Yours),” and transitioned the film from its final scene into the end credits. But even though this was a small moment, it was notable how seamlessly the orchestrated piece from Shore blended with Metric’s rock sound.
Here, Shore and Metric take things to the next level with the composer truly working with the band to create the music and instrumentation which, when paired with Haines’ vocals, takes the mood of the soundtrack from electric to alarming to somber. Shore, best known for his more classical orchestration on films such as The Lord of the Rings series, may not seem like an obvious pairing with new wave Metric, but these two different styles work quite well together and will hopefully prompt more composers to collaborate with artists and bands from genres different from their own.
Cosmopolis will probably leave you with more questions than answers, but the film does so by taking you on a journey that is both visually memorable and aurally captivating. The film itself may be a bit confusing, but the music is anything but, rising to the occasion and delivering a score that is new, fresh, and immensely enjoyable.
1. “White Limos” – Howard Shore & Metric
2. “Long to Live” – Howard Shore & Metric
3. “Rat Men” – Howard Shore & Metric
4. “Asymmetrical” – Howard Shore & Metric
5. “I Don’t Want To Wake Up” – Howard Shore & Metric
6. “A Credible Threat” – Howard Shore & Metric
7. “Call Me Home” – Howard Shore & Metric
8. “Haircut” – Howard Shore & Metric
9. “Mecca” – K’naan
10. “The Gun” – Howard Shore & Metric
11. “Benno” – Howard Shore & Metric
Cosmopolis is currently out in limited release.
Has the soundtrack for Cosmopolis made you want to check out the film? Do you like the idea of pairing composers with artists or bands?