Maps to the stars (2014)
Directed by David Cronenberg
By Conor Plosia
When we look in the mirror, we never see what we want. On some level, we’re always left with the dissatisfying view of a stranger. David Cronenberg’s Maps to The Stars pushes Hollywood culture into a hall of mirrors with its eyes stapled open. While filmmakers have depicted tinsel town in an unflattering light before, Cronenberg utilizes satire, surrealism and familiar faces in a novel way to extend the palm branch to those uninitiated into the secret society of the wealthy and famous.
The chemistry of the cast it electrifying, and Maps to the Stars offers a star-studded one: Julianne Moore, John Cusack, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson all make appearances. But Pattinson’s return to a Cronenberg cast is perhaps the most curious inclusion.
Cronenberg started out making “body horror” films (most notable The Fly and Videodrome), a subgenre that began in the late 60s, early 70s, and involves gruesome transformations of the human figure by the use of practical effects. At around the beginning of the 21st century, his work changed lanes. First he adapted the cult comic A History of Violence and then came Eastern Promises (both starred Viggo Mortensen; the latter earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor). Cronenberg now seems to have taken Twilight alum Robert Pattinson under his wing, first with Cosmopolis and now Maps to the Stars. The onetime horror director casts male leads that seem to resemble himself somehow, an act that reiterates the idea that our characters are their creator; an artistic reflection of his social and sometimes political views on our reality.
Although the film will make you smile throughout, it’s by no means a standard Hollywood movie (contrary to its setting). It has glamour, movie stars and bright lights. But it also refuses to play into sentimentality or offer any happy endings. The refreshing void of Disney plot devices is filled instead by passionate performances and clear direction. Maps to the Stars marks Cronenberg’s first film shot in the United States; being a Toronto native, he chose to make his movies there, and up until now the city has served as the appropriately maddening setting for his work.
The question remains: will California’s bright and beautiful will receive this film with open arms? I doubt it. Maps to the Stars touches on drug abuse, sex scandals, and twisted Hollywood families and contains a slew of insider jokes. It will likely be deemed a sensational cinematic experience by critics and film buffs alike. The industry will no doubt shun the movie come award season.
Americans can’t help but dream of celebrity. But the actions we will take to reach viral fame are becoming dangerous. The film pulls no punches at the expense of those who have sacrificed their bodies and dignity to land a job. The reality is that for some, there are no bound to what will be done to reach fame – or to stay famous. There are moments in Maps to the Stars when the audience may wade in a sea of despair. Suddenly a pop-culture joke is cracked, and the crowd might erupt in laughter and cheer – only to soon return to the mysterious and frightening truth of the film. And despite the persistent feeling of emptiness, there is the lurking suspicion throughout that someone behind us may be watching. Whether it’s in our mind or in some spiritual vision, Maps give us the feeling we’re never truly alone.