Empathy and Greed

Two of the most interesting films of the last 5 years were barely released and were met with polarized responses. These films, “Cosmopolis” by David Cronenberg and “Diana” with Naomi Watts as the princess, offer very different portraits of wealth and capitalism.


“Cosmopolis,” a 2012 film which stars Robert Pattinson in a tour-de-force performance as a young billionaire, is about the greedy excesses of the very wealthy, which is contrasted with the 99% desire to acquire some of that wealth while castigating him for his greed. The film follows Pattinson’s journey across New York City in his gigantic limo as he travels to the poor section of town to get a haircut. While in his limo, he has sex with several women, conducts business transactions, and gets his daily prostate exam. He also visits his wife, played by Sarah Gadon, who is even creepier and more disconnected from reality than he is.


Over the course of the film, Pattinson tries to connect with people and fails miserably. Eventually, Paul Giamatti turns up as the man who wants to kill Pattinson. Rather than a life-and-death struggle, though, the last scene plays like a love scene. The 99% (represented by Giamatti) meets the 1% and all hell breaks loose. Cronenberg has made a dark comedy about extreme wealth and about how the rich are disconnected with reality. The future depicted in the film (and the book by Don DeLillo) has come to pass, with a rich business man running the country and mass protests everywhere. The film repeatedly refers to the rat being used as a unit of currency, and that may indeed be where we are headed. “Cosmopolis” is one of the best films you’ve never heard of a dystopian black comedy about how society reveres and at the same time tries to destroy the wealthy; it’s a masterful film about greed.

“Diana,” a 2013 drama/romance that is also pretty obscure, paints an entirely different picture of the wealthy. Rather than equating them with rats, the film shows Princess Diana (played by Naomi Watts) and her lover Hasnat Khan (played by Naveen Andrews) try to use their wealth for good. Diana, for example, visits sick children in hospitals and (successfully) crusades against the use of land mines, while Hasnat is determined to keep working as a surgeon even though marrying Diana would make him famous and set for life. Ultimately, the couple is too empathetic; a little bit of selfishness might have saved their relationship. The film is interesting to watch and very sad because it shows how the paparazzi and the fame that Diana had to deal with ended up killing her. While she succeeded in using her wealth for good, her wealth still ended up killing her.

So basically, these two tragedies of the extremely rich both show how money is not, in fact, the most desirable commodity. Whether wealth is used with greed (“Cosmopolis”) or with empathy (as in “Diana”) it will kill you in the end. Although these two films were not big critical or box-office successes, they are a must-see for students of capitalism and lovers of intelligent films. – A.C.