It’s not often that I find myself lost for an opinion – but I freely confess, I just don’t know what to think about Cosmic Fear or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia. On the one hand, it’s exuberant, sincere, amusing and thoroughly unpredictable. On the other hand, it’s confusing, complicated, unclear in its message and perhaps a little conceited. I have no idea what it was trying to achieve – and still less whether it succeeded.
The basic plot is as follows: three people – two of whom fancy each other, though they haven’t quite figured that out yet – lounge around in an untidy flat, engaged in a very middle-class debate about the most effective form of activism. Having despairingly dismissed all real-world options, their thinking takes a fantastical turn: what if Brad Pitt dedicated his life to saving the environment, using the power of Hollywood to change opinions and transform the world? As they enact their impossible dream, each of them takes a turn to play Brad – following him as he pitches to producers, makes a movie, and uses his platform for advocacy.
There’s certainly no shortage of creativity here, including almost dance-like physicality and technical shenanigans with an iPhone. It’s all completely ridiculous, but it’s done with élan – and some of the imagery is striking. At one point, with the flatmates commentating, ‘Brad’ takes to the forest to commune with nature; the action on stage links into a bizarre but engrossing video sequence, which appears to see the film star metamorphose into a rabbit. The performance is magnificent – utterly rabbit-like, while avoiding all the obvious rabbity clichés. But what does it actually mean?
Well, your guess is as good as mine. If I had to take a stab at it, I’d say it’s something to do with the futility of hand-wringing: the fact that Brad Pitt isn’t going to save the world on our behalf, so we’d better get on with doing it ourselves. Perhaps there’s an element of rebuke there as well; there’s certainly something a little distasteful about seeing these obviously privileged characters having fun role-playing as the most disadvantaged people in the world.
But other passages made little sense, and some actively annoyed me. One apocalyptic scene is based on the idea that acid rain can literally melt people’s flesh – a ridiculous exaggeration that distracts from the true climate catastrophe which might be awaiting us. A sudden shift from environmentalism to the refugee crisis felt like a box-tick, while conflating recent floods in the UK and Bangladesh is almost insulting; I don’t want to trivialise what happened in Somerset, but a bad flood in Bangladesh means that thousands of people will die.
The higher-level story of relationships between the characters didn’t really go anywhere – and overall, when one character says they’re “stuck in mega meta-hell”, I thought he might just have written his own review. When all’s said and done though, there was amusement in the bemusement, and the high octane performances have an undeniable appeal of their own. Make of all that what you will.