Where to begin with Andrzej Zulawski’s Cosmos? It’s a film that seems difficult to describe in a way that is both easy and concise. The most likely reaction from most viewers will be one of “what the hell did I just watch?” At first glance, it seems like an odd comedy, but it defies genre, in my view, even though according to the rather sparse Wikipedia page for this film quotes the film makers as describing it as a “metaphysical noir thriller” which hardly helps in understanding it, since the film tries to resist easy categorisation.
The plot of the film, which is rather basic, goes a little something like this: Witold, a law student, has failed his final exams and so has to resit them, so he goes on a retreat in order to study, accompanied by his friend, Fuchs, who has taken leave from his work as a fashion designer. They encounter strange things, such as a sparrow hanged on blue string nearby or the owners of the guest house. Witold also falls in love with the recently married Lena, who is the young daughter of one of the owners. There’s a bit of mystery, a bit of comedy, especially in dinner sequences or Witold’s episodes of over emotional convulsions. There’s plenty of references to Sartre, Shakespeare (one of which is a reference to Romeo and Juliet) and many others which are perhaps lost on me or containing puns that don’t quite work in the English subtitles. But all the plot points trail off,things inexplicably occur such as the aforementioned convulsions or Leon’s often incoherent speech which the characters seem to understand perfectly, yet has no explanation. Conventions of narrative structure and various genre rules are tossed out the window so even if you don’t have much expectations as to what the film is about going into it, those will be tossed out too. However, where the comedy works, such as at the dinner scenes or certain expressions or what is more or less the conclusion of Witold and Fuch’s investigation are genuinely funny. All the performances in the film are highly expressive, perhaps to the point of intentional overacting and high energy, which serve to emphasise the absurdity of the experience.
One example of how film conventions are thrown out the window is that usually in films with alien environments or bizarre characters, our protagonist is usually an everyman, our window in the world (think Neo, Sarah Connor, Luke Skywalker, Henry from Eraserhead) but Witold is not an everyman in the way he behaves and all the literary references he makes, whereas Fuchs makes fun of him, doesn’t understand most of the references and his behaviour is much less visibly absurd, yet the film is more or less from Witold’s perspective.
I’m going to try and avoid giving too much of a protracted attempt at analysing the meaning of the film except to say that it’s a fundamentally absurd and meaningless film; deliberately opaque so that the only meanings possible are ones we ascribe to it, but even then it would be impossible, or at least very difficult, to ascribe a unified meaning to the whole film. Hell, even within the film it has multiple endings! It’s deliberate obtuse and I found myself frequently baffled, yet on my toes and captivated. We might be able to relate and two or three sequences to each other and construct a multiplicity of meanings or lack thereof, but this is not a project I wish to undertake here. Perhaps the grand meaning of the film is just the basic absurdist premise. I don’t know. Feel free to construct your own meaning of the film. It’s not a film for everyone, but if you’re feeling up for a highly abstract film, you might have a good time. I sure did.