Maps to the Stars (David Cronenberg, 2014)
If you thought Gone Girl was screwed up, then buckle your seatbelts, kids! For this is Cronenberg we’re dealing with, and he never does horror by halves. He’s the guy who made Jeff Goldblum into The Fly, and gave James Woods an all-consuming slit in his abdomen in the horror Videodrome (What could that possibly represent? Let’s do a psychoanalytic reading!) Maps to the Stars doesn’t quite reach these levels of horror – it’s technically a drama, and it’s toned it down to an MA15+ rating – but it is disturbing nevertheless.
Demonstrating the horrors of Hollywood, Maps to the Stars delves into the lives of various individuals involved in the biz. There’s Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore) a vain, unstable, forty-something actress desperate to recreate the role that her own deceased mother made famous. Burn victim, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), becomes Havana’s assistant, and befriends chauffeur and aspiring actor Jerome (Robert Pattinson). Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack) offers unusual treatment services to the rich and famous, boasting Havana as one of his clients. His son Benjie (Evan Bird) is a bratty child star recovering from a drug addiction, who is haunted by the ghosts of dead children. Benjie’s mother Christina (Olivia Williams) is a nervous wreck, and by the time the film is through, you will understand why. It’s only partly because her son is basically Justin Bieber.
An excellent cast has been put together, with Julianna Moore and Mia Wasikowska the stand-outs. Moore is making her ascent into fully-fledged legend. The way she holds her face here is so Hollywood sleaze – she provokes disgust, admiration, and pity all at once. And just when you thought Mia Wasikowska couldn’t get weirder than that freak in Stoker… Surprise! Though I think if you name your child Agatha you are asking for her to have problems. Similarly feral, she transfixes the audience, despite being extremely hard to relate to. Wasikowska certainly doesn’t shy away from playing the ugly girl, and her film choices to date have been rich and rewarding. Agatha is certainly no exception.
The clear message of this film is that Hollywood celebrities spend a LOT of their time having massages. But maybe more than that, it is that Hollywood screws you right up. Cronenberg presents the glitzy town as a place where nightmares are made, stripping away the fantasy of the glamourous life. While its inhabitants do have ridiculously good-looking homes, these become cold and foreboding settings for the horrors that occur within. Maps to the Stars is extremely dark. It involves comical moments, including plenty of name-dropping, but these are mostly in a “I really shouldn’t be laughing at this” kind of way. For the most part, however, it is downright terrifying, and viewers will be gasping repeatedly.
Though we might like to think that Hollywood is full of wonderful people like J-Law and George Clooney, Cronenberg suggests that for the most part, it creates some seriously deranged individuals. The massages are appealing, but Maps to the Stars makes the real world seem perfectly satisfying in comparison. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating look into a world we can hardly imagine, and if you can handle a bit of Hollywood horror, it is well worth a peek.