Cosmopolis: Skewed Products

26 Jul

3rd. article in our 7-week series on the film Cosmopolis

Delillo’s Cosmopolis is a frequently paradoxical and enigmatic story that focuses on the events of Eric Michael Packer’s frequently complicated day.  No doubt a genius, the efforts Delillo expends to illustrate a personality almost fully defined by his materials is almost dizzying.  This essay will commit itself to exploring these descriptions at the expense of so many of Eric’s other dynamic attributes: which include his technical might as a hacker, his genius as an asset manager, and his status as a visionary of his age. Though Delillo’s book spends very little time objectively exploring Eric’s psychology, it is no secret that Eric’s is a difficult protagonist.  The products of his life do the most to define him as a character.

But first here’s a general summary of the dominant narrative paraphrased by writer Stuart Noble:

“Cosmopolis tells the story of the twenty-nine year old ego-maniacal billionaire currency trader Eric Packer, whose sole raison d’être is to manipulate the electronic flow of capital on global financial markets. The story unfolds mostly from within his opulent high-tech limousine, from which the other characters are introduced. Most notably, Vija Kinski, Packer’s “Chief of Theory” (77), whose role serves to support the underlying themes as expressed by Eric Packer. The story unfolds over the course of one day. [1]”

Is it necessary to understand Eric’s obsession with products? Many of Eric’s idiosyncrasies could appear to be strength’s looked at in isolation. Because he thrives in reflective social situations, the people of his immediate environment express many of his philosophies barely leaving us another avenue into his skewed intellectual life.  Provided as narration his stream of consciousness rarely veers to concerns of anything other than himself.  His frequent self-defining revelations and epiphanies are one of the frequent comic accents of the book though sympathetic they certainly are not objective.  Normalized these incidents and anecdotes, tell us nothing. Yet material evidence helps us identify some of the holes in Eric’s reasoning.

A massive job to bring Cosmopolis to screen, Production Designer Arvinder Grewal had an enormous challenge bringing Eric’s world to life. Property master Ron Hewitt, Assistant Property Master Michael Huschka, Construction Coordinator Marc Kuitenbrouwer and Set Designers Matt Middleton, and Brad Milburn all had their work cut out for them. For much of the promoted look and feel of the film had to be sourced as well as lived. Quoting influential adman Earnest Elmo Calkins, Cultural critic Virginia Postrell under emphasized the weight of creating the world of a protagonist as powerful and demented as Eric’s.  An audience would equally expect a material approximation of Eric’s success …

We demand beauty with our utility, beauty with our amusement, beauty with the things with which we live. [2]”

Not a novella product placement advocate by any stretch, in most situations Delillo is satisfied with the vague poetic descriptions.  Delillo doesn’t always name products by their brand names; paraphrasing you might just have to settle on a description like “white stretch Limousine of various sizes.” Though the narrative features rappers, the author doesn’t namedrop like one.  Production design cues from the trailers aren’t declarative enough for this reviewer however in terms of a cast of products, these would be the most prominent among a huge filmed ensemble.


I’m sure these companies appears somewhere in the credits.  I will assume the companies used in the film could be either Royale Limousine or Club International Limousine. These companies stand out in the limousine transportation industry.

What role does this limousine play in the narrative? Obviously it is a vehicle of transportation and it defines Eric as one of the upper echelon Technorati; it simultaneously defines his value. He’s so sought after by a range of interests (that he as a target) is safer mobile than stationary.

Deriving its character from its customizations, when not acting as a luxury taxi sometimes it acts as a defensive combat tank.  A mobile sanctuary sometimes the limo acts as his cradle as it does on page 88 when subtly Torval demands Eric use the limo to ensure his personal safety.

“The two stared balefully at each other for a long moment.  Then Eric lowered himself into the body of the car and eased the sunroof shut [3].”

Accounting for Eric’s narcissism and placing a huge emphasis on his club chair sometimes the limo carries his throne room as well.


Without an exact product name like the limousine, Eric refers to his “hand organizer” only once before claiming it is poorly outdated.  He could only be talking about a Blackberry because the smartphone’s introduction was actually in the late Nineties.  Drawing attention to Eric’s gift for uncanny technological prediction, this equally ubiquitous communication aid barely entered the market in this period yet he thought it was antiquated.

The product did not mature until President Obama impressed the electorate with his technological fluency during the election of 2008.  By then the product had to fight off the market insurgency of the I-phone and other upstarts.  Because most of his interactions with people are in person, we barely see how addicted to the Blackberry he actually is.


Because we are only talking about one day, filmgoers will not see a lot of variation in Packer’s wardrobe.  The trailers feature what would appear to be Gucci and Raybans and Costume designer Denise Cronenberg confirms Gucci’s involvementThe term Gucci is actually used as a verb in street slang, so the products appearance would guarantee Eric’s instant street credibility for the rappers he was hungry to impress. In another emotional contradiction with Packer he is a billionaire yet needs the sympathy of a poverty reared and stricken population he may not really know.

In clothing, the film describes the way the character Eric unravels as the narrative progresses. Articles of clothing keep disappearing helping his wife determine the termination of their relationship. Upon meeting intermittently throughout the day, his wife seems to take great pleasure in noting this observation as the story and day unfolds.


Treated more like a passport to an experience than a weapon, as the story illustrates Eric’s relationship to the gun is one of the most disturbing depictions. Packer’s regard for the revolver is very similar to how he treats a stun gun introduced earlier in the book. Far into his own downward spiral both weapons offer him the kind a relief someone soon to be a deceased would crave.



As dangerous as he is to himself, it really isn’t unlikely that he would be equally dangerous to the only person who he is attached to emotionally. Oddly affectionate every time they get together Eric eats part of his wife’s meal.  Forecasting that he might one day steal something more significant. By the end of the book he has taken from her financially as well.

Mentioned earlier, the reason you could learn nothing original from most of the people in Packer’s environment was Eric was a genius at many things.  One of which was converting these individuals into his representations.  Products to augment a sterling yet impervious ego, his murder by one of the few people who could not be transformed may indicate how Eric could be an attractive yet entirely resistible force.

As a literary soon to be a film character, Erik Packer is an incredible study in contradictions no doubt leaving audiences scratching their heads in awe or dismay.  An extremely complicated time in world history, one may understand this and that age better for embracing the contradictions in the dynamic characters and story within Cosmopolis.

Also see 2nd. article in the series; Cosmopolis: Lopsided Economics

Please join us for a discussion Thursday 7/26/2012@7pm/12UTC


Essential references:


[2] Postrell, Virginia. (2004). The Substance of Style. New York, Perennial. Pp.34

[3] Delilo, Don. (2003). Cosmopolis. New York, Simon and Shuster. Pp.88

89 Responses to “Cosmopolis: Skewed Products”

  1. littlebells July 26, 2012 at 5:04 PM #

    Great article CR!

    as far as gadgets are concerned: there are too many and young children are joining the ranks of “I gotta have it!” One of the trending topics earlier was about what kids need for back to school. Among the items was an ipad and smart phone. Really? What kid needs any of those? Most of these children do not use them for educational purposes.

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 6:40 PM #


      Thanks so much for the compliment. Fortunately the book is provocative and I had a lot of help writing the review.

      You know, I decided within less than 3 pages that I couldn’t stand Eric. Unfortunately it took Delillo far longer than that to establish the story he wanted to tell. So to keep reading I had to ignore his materialism.

      Fortunately, to respond to your statement, I have to (re) engage my anxiety with this problem.

      • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 6:41 PM #

        To be honest, I agree with you. A young person (under 11) who has an ipad and smart phone is probably into the wrong things and has a passport to even worse. Honestly I think parents are competing when I see this kind of thing shared between children.

        If we explore this even further we enter the world obsessions that must have motivated Eric to some degree.

        • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:08 PM #

          LB already knows my thoughts on this (lol) but for the sake of the discussion (and I promise to keep it short and not make it into a rant!) I’ll add it here! I really don’t understand the need for kids to have this technology so young. I can understand computer and internet access for homework but an ipad and a smart phone? No! Its easy to say this now but when I finally have kids, they won’t be spoilt in this area. I can see myself spoiling them with books and art supplies though, lol! I want any child I have to learn the value of money, how to use it properly and that not everyone in this world has access to it and those that do can ruin themselves with it (like Eric does). They’ll hate me, lol! However as I said before, I don’t have any and the reality could be very different when I do have any. I just hope that no matter what happens I can get this message through to them.

          Rant over! 🙂

          • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:10 PM #

            Also, I had the same reaction to Eric as you did CR! Its not a mind set I like 100% or can understand at times but the point of these types of books is to make you think and it did.

            • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:21 PM #

              I agree, imagine dropping the book at his description…

          • littlebells July 26, 2012 at 11:47 PM #

            Hi Ozzie!

            loved your comment! Children should be spoiled with loving affection and words, and an environment to use their imagination.

  2. littlebells July 26, 2012 at 5:06 PM #

    I also wanted to add that technology keeps from developing interpersonal relationships. Eric suffers from that. This new generation is starting to as well.

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 6:43 PM #


      Being a master of so many trendy obsessions really (genius or not) made him a pawn of more contemporary insensitivities than I think he knew. This is why I think he considered leaving the limo during the protest.

      I think he might have wanted to separate himself from a life of mastering things (for the hell of it), and instead experience life as a rebel and experience being thoughtful regarding others.

      Or this assumption is just my assumption.

      • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 6:44 PM #

        To be honest this book addresses so many philosophical issues I really had to FIGHT to stay on task.

        I kept saying to myself:


        I said at least attempt to get one topic right.

        • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:31 PM #

          LOL!! CR I think u did a great job. I really think this was a tough topic because there were so many products that defined this character. I mean from his watch, limo, technology, wardrobe. All of it told the story of this man unraveling right before our eyes.

          • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:48 PM #

            It was tough also because many are out of their minds regarding this materialism topic, something I couldn’t forget while itemizing all of Erics’s possessions.

            • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:51 PM #

              • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:57 PM #

                • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:14 PM #

                  I think product designers today have to be more socially and environmentally conscious when designing products. I think far too often when we just focus on making money u stop respecting people. Here’s what I’m talking about:

          • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:18 PM #

            I think that he got so lost in this world of luxury that he ended up feeling nothing. In the beginning he’s searching for his place in life and to actually feel something. That’s why he causes himself to self distruct over the day. Its the only way he knows how to feel. He finally does (I think, I need to read the book again) but he has to lose everything he has to get there.

            • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:30 PM #

              Ozzie, I absolutely agree.

              The Jordan’s might make you think I’m veering away from the luxury aspect of Eric’s story but I’m not. I was trying to draw attention to some people’s mania with the topic.

              • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:59 PM #

                Yes, I understood your point. I think its the same point the book was trying to make. I agree with you!

  3. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 6:55 PM #

    In last week’s article pertaining to economics did you come upon any notions that tie economic ambition and the obsession with attaining material wealth?

    Do you think the two things can be separated?

    • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:29 PM #

      I know you asked LB, but I’ll give it a shot, lol!

      I’m not sure you can separate them, however I have heard some stories of weathly people who are actually quite frugal. They make the money but don’t spend it. It seems to be the “old” rich rather than the “new” rich who do this. That’s not a rule though, it can be the opposite way round too.

    • littlebells July 27, 2012 at 12:20 AM #


      I apologize for not being at the discussion earlier. It seems it was a wonderful one. I agree with Ozzie in that they can be separate, but it takes a lot of dedication. I think there are those who have the capacity to separate themselves from the materialistic luxuries of the world and use their vast wealth for the common good. It’s not to say they won’t spend some of that money on themselves, but it’s not a focal point.

      Then there are those who are so consumed with money and what it can buy. I think it comes down to priorities, internal happiness, and discipline.

      • littlebells July 27, 2012 at 12:26 AM #

        I do think Delillo brings up a very important point: once you have acquired as much as monetarily as you can, where do you go from there?

        And usually to acquire so much wealth means time away from the most important things in life.

  4. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:06 PM #

    Welcome, new and returning viewers. If the urge overcomes you feel free to comment or respond.

  5. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:15 PM #

    Hi CR & LB

    Great article CR!

  6. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:16 PM #

    Of Eric’s many posessions,his wife is one of the few who manages to sustain (the illusion of) autonomy from him. I kept thinking this until the end when I wondered wondering whether she despite her effforts might have still been a product herself.

    • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:34 PM #

      I’m only realising this now but I think it shows very well the difference I was talking about above between “old” wealth (his wife) and “new” wealth (Eric).

  7. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:22 PM #


    Given u are a designer do u think people who design these products have the same relationship with objects?

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:24 PM #

      I’m sorry I meant to say have problems with over consumption of products.

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:29 PM #

      I don’t know whether you expect to hear this or not but “NO.”

      For the designer you do not have time to collector, though gifts are always nice. Being a designer demands connoisseurship which requires a significant amount of emotional removal from the objects or products you are making.

      • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:33 PM #

        I meant to say “to be a collector.’

      • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:26 PM #

        ITA its funny because I hate pictures on walls and don’t like a lot of furniture in spaces. So I guess your theory is true at least with me.

  8. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:27 PM #


    What makes a product valuable? Is it popularity, demand, design or it being unique?

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:31 PM #

      I would say design but I am biased.

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:36 PM #

        I would say all of what you said makes it desirable! 🙂

    • littlebells July 27, 2012 at 12:22 AM #

      Mob mentality. hahahahahaha!!!! 🙂 but seriously, i think it kinda is.

      I would say function for me, personally. I hate dust collectors so I better get as much bang out of my buck as possible.

  9. ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 7:29 PM #

    Hi all!

    I’m in slow mode today so it may take me awhile to catch up and reply but I am here, lol!

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:29 PM #

      Hi Ozzie.

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 7:32 PM #

        Hi CR!

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:33 PM #

      Hi Ozzie!

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:37 PM #

        Hi OB!

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:40 PM #


      I don’t want to rush your article (that’s coming) yet do you see anything about Delillo’s book or Packer’s materialism that has a distinctively American quality to it?

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:48 PM #

        Hmm, interesting question! I would say no but that’s a tentative no, lol! When it comes to The City (where most of the British financial services sector is) no. No difference at all. Its all fast pace and a high life style to match. But those are rich and don’t work in that area aren’t and I’m sure you have families like that in America! I think it all comes down to greed and greed is the same no matter where you are.

  10. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 7:30 PM #


    Normally I would expect you to want to write this kind of article. You ultimately addressed Eric’s immersion within the political world of the 1990’s instead. But as a person who frequently studies the depths of a character’s material obsession is there anything about Eric that you think distinguishes him from other internet and technology moguls of that time?

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:43 PM #

      Hmm! Great question. I think seeing Eric unravel over the course of a day was pretty drastic and distinguishing. Also, this character was looking for comfort ultimately that’s rare to see with these types of characters. Usually, in films they are made into villains but u never see them vulnerable or in need to comfort. To me every time Eric eats his wife food he’s looking to be comforted by her some spiritual connection.

      • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:00 PM #

        that’s a very sensitive take on that interaction between the two

        • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:41 PM #


        • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:49 PM #

          Paris-That’s a good observation why does he want to cut himself off from reality? Why does he being “new money” need to impress people with materials?

          • parisienne July 26, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

            Found it. 🙂 Why does he have to impress people? I think its because he’s unfullfilled himself. He has the need/want to feel important. Personally, if Eric Packer were real. I’d smack some sense into him. There are many “Eric Packer’s” in this world and it is truly sad that people place materialistic value or their own self worth. I’m at the point right now in the book that i’m already fed up with his character and cannot wait until he gets shot.

            I’m at the “bottle-fuck” scene.

            • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 9:09 PM #

              Great answer to this question. I think your response was better then my answer below. LOL!!

  11. ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 7:52 PM #

    OK, I’ve caught up with the article! I loved it! It really helps to better understand Eric.

    Now on to the comments!

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:02 PM #

      Yeah, have at it Ozzie.

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:49 PM #

        Lol! 🙂

  12. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 7:54 PM #

    IMO what keeps people humble is failure. With Eric he’s had so much success he feels invincible that he no longer believes he can fail. However, what makes him mortal is his prostate. But given he’s a control freak, lacks faith that he try’s to control when he dies and ultimately fails at that.

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:04 PM #

      I can agree despite the excess Eric sounds like he might be a sweet person, (down under there somewhere)

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:51 PM #

        I agree too.

    • littlebells July 27, 2012 at 12:30 AM #

      I agree, but there are those who still cannot humble themselves when they fail. I think letting go of your pride keeps people humble, and if that comes through failure, great. But I think it’s more of a conscious effort to do that.

  13. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:17 PM #


    Here’s another question. When I look at the Air Jordan debacle that is discussed above, it makes it clear to me that many buy products to make statements to others. So many of Eric’s material possessions could only be seen by his employees in the Limo in his house.

    What do you think he was trying to tell them.

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:35 PM #

      I think some people use products to assert their power over people. Most people don’t realize suits, uniforms can be quite intimidating because of their structure. Then u throw in color which can manipulate emotions. In other words a products design can be very subtle way to control people. That’s why designers need to be socially responsible.

  14. parisienne July 26, 2012 at 8:19 PM #

    Hi All! let me read and catch up!

    I’m still reading Cosmopolis but I must say and pardon my language but its a complete mind fuck.

    Great Article, CR

    • Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:22 PM #

      Hi Paris.

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:27 PM #

      Hi Paris!!

      • parisienne July 26, 2012 at 8:39 PM #

        Hi OB and CR!

        • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:55 PM #

          Hi Paris! I agree with you there! I’m going to read it again and I’m already dreading it for that reason, lol! I’m hoping as I’ve read it before and have had time to really think about it, that this time it will be easier.

  15. parisienne July 26, 2012 at 8:38 PM #

    I’m not through the book yet but I did notice rather quickly that Eric likes to impress people with materialistic gains. He has 48 rooms? Who in their right mind needs 48 rooms? He’s totally cut off from reality in the sense that everything around him is technological.

    • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 8:56 PM #

      I keep wondering is there a penthouse out there that has 48 rooms?

      • parisienne July 26, 2012 at 9:06 PM #

        Hi Ozzie! How are you?

        I’m sure there is a pent-house out there somewhere like that. Perphaps it belonged to Mr. Madoff. Speaking of Bernie Madoff, he went from one extreme to the other didn’t he?

        • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 9:12 PM #

          Hmmm, good point!

          Still feeling dizzy and foggy headed from recent events, LMAO! How are you?

  16. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:52 PM #


    I have to agree. Delillo treats intimacy really strangelyfor Eric. He eats his wife’s food, he treats Kosmo Thomas like he’s his teddy bear, has sex with Didi Fancher in the limo, bonds with Torval over beating up a pie terrorist.

    And yet he’s a technology whiz? What a weird dude, I was almost relieved when he was shot. NOT REALLY, but the madness had to end sometime.
    I think the last time I was this surprised by a film character, I was watching “Silence of the lambs.” Surprisingly he’s the protagonist!!!

  17. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 8:54 PM #


    I asked u a question up above but it got placed in the wrong spot.

  18. Comic Relief July 26, 2012 at 8:55 PM #

    Thanks everyone for coming. A really complex character thanks for opening him up for me a little bit more. Bye.

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 9:11 PM #

      Great job CR! And loved the research u provided for the discussion. Goodnight!

      • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 9:16 PM #

        Bye CR! Once again great article and discussion!

  19. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 9:04 PM #

    Do u think people with “new money” are looking for validation with their materials? I mean perhaps they think everything can be bought even people so they reduce them to products because its easier to manage them. I mean why do people with “old money” aren’t in need of such validation?

  20. parisienne July 26, 2012 at 9:10 PM #

    Beccause “old money” understood God first and money second. If you are right in your spiritual life everything else falls into place. People don’t understand that nowadays. They think “I need this” or “I need that” to fill a void or make them likeable. They don’t need anything except to be fulfilled with whatever God they believe in.

    • Open Book July 26, 2012 at 9:14 PM #


      Ahh! Take a bow….. I could not agree more. What a great way to end the discussion.

    • parisienne July 26, 2012 at 9:15 PM #

      I personally people who are millionaires. They are worth alot of money. Maybe they could be worth billions. IDK nor does it matter. I will say this for them. I’ve been in their homes. I’ve slept in their beds. (not like that, I vacationed at their home) However, when out in public, they did NOTHING to draw attention to themselves. They are secure in who they are. They do not need others to validate their self-worth.

      Yes, they have very nice homes. They treated everyone with whom they came in contact with respect and not once threw their weight around with “Do you know who I am?”

    • parisienne July 26, 2012 at 9:16 PM #

      *thank you*, *thank you* I’m here all week!

    • littlebells July 27, 2012 at 12:32 AM #

      This. Right here. 🙂

  21. Open Book July 26, 2012 at 9:16 PM #

    Ozzie & Paris- I’m signing off. Have a good night. Thanks for a great discussion.

    • parisienne July 26, 2012 at 9:17 PM #


    • ozzie20 July 26, 2012 at 9:23 PM #

      Bye OB!

  22. littlebells July 27, 2012 at 12:35 AM #

    I think people who over indulge in the use of gadgets, gizmos and other worldly materials use it 1) as an armor to protect them from others (as well as themselves) seeing their flaws and imperfections 2) as accessories to impress others so they will be seen as important or 3) 1 and 2.

  23. Sugel July 28, 2012 at 11:08 AM #

    When, in 50 years, the Library of America issues a volume titled Underworld and Later Novels, this contribution will exist for antiquarian interest. But it does nothing to diminish the sense that DeLillo still holds the stature of deserving to be read in 50 years. A bad book makes you dislike most novelists. This one, despite its faults, made me like DeLillo more. He attempted to think the present through, which is all we can ask of a writer. Sometimes even a master is caught in a back eddy of his own titanic project. May the next few years throw him a life preserver.

    • littlebells July 28, 2012 at 12:33 PM #

      Hi Sugel!

      Yes it is definitely a book that makes you think. 🙂 Still weird, but Delillo really thought his story through.

    • Comic Relief July 30, 2012 at 10:19 AM #


      I can’t tell you what a pleasure it is to get thoughtful comments of this caliber. With a collection like DeLillo’s, evaluations of his entire portfolio will probably spike after the premiere of the film (or people will just continue to surrender to his work). The relative strength’s of one work versus another are obviously for fans like you to debate.

      Please return and grace with more comments in the future.


  1. My Homepage - July 31, 2012

    … [Trackback]…

    […] Read More here: […]…

  2. Dofollow Backlinks - August 10, 2012

    … [Trackback]…

    […] There you will find 64319 more Infos: […]…

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: