Maps to the Stars (2014)
Editor’s Note: Maps to the Stars opens in limited release this Friday, February 27th.
David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars premiered at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival and is finally hitting North American theatres. The satirical and cynical drama exposes Hollywood’s narcissistic celebrity culture, its obsession with fame and the celebrities’ desperate struggle to maintain their privileged status of being rich and famous. Since this culture is deeply rooted and mostly visible in Hollywood, Cronenberg shot some of the scenes on location in Los Angeles to emphasize the film’s authenticity, which also interestingly marks his debut in filming in the United States.
The satirical and cynical drama exposes Hollywood’s narcissistic celebrity culture, its obsession with fame and the celebrities’ desperate struggle to maintain their privileged status of being rich and famous.
The story is structured around the dysfunctional Weiss family, consisting of Hollywood guru Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), his wife Cristina (Olivia Williams) and their cocky, spoiled teenage son Benjie (Evan Bird), an actor struggling with drug-addiction. When their expelled schizophrenic daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) returns to Hollywood to work for Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore – who won an award for Best Actress in Cannes), a famous actress with mother issues and therefore a regular patient of Dr. Weiss, the family’s dark secrets are threatened to be exposed. The members of the Weiss family fear the revelation of these secrets and with that the possible destruction of their celebrity status – a horrific thought since every character in Maps to the Stars is trying their best to keep up their superficial clean image they fought so hard for.
For Maps to the Stars, Cronenberg collaborates with many of his regular associates including cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, composer Howard Shore, production designer Carol Spier, editor Ronald Sanders and costume designer Denise Cronenberg, to name a few. All these collaborations contribute to the unique tone and form of Maps to the Stars and its distinctiveness. The strange and mysterious atmosphere is emphasized through the odd characters of Agatha, Havana and Benjie, all suffering from hallucinations as a result of unresolved and traumatizing childhood issues by growing up in the bizarre world of the entertainment industry. All of them are haunted by visions, comparable to those from The Sixth Sense, as it is pointed out during the film. These ghostly encounters have a deep impact one each character and are responsible for the madness they are driven into. Especially Agatha’s schizophrenia is visually well presented in one of the key scenes when she flushes down her pills that are supposed to keep her sane. During that scene Agatha is standing next to the bathroom mirror that creates a double reflection of herself indicating the troubles that are ahead for the protagonists once the drugs lose their effects and Agatha turns into who she used to be before she had to leave her family behind.
The film is highly self-referential due to the many contemporary cultural references and pointed remarks that add to the humorous tone of the film.
The film is highly self-referential due to the many contemporary cultural references and pointed remarks that add to the humorous tone of the film. With the screenplay written by Bruce Wagner, Maps to the Stars offers a sharp look upon Hollywood by exposing it through themes such as sudden fame and its quick decline or the downside of the business including drug abuse, pretentiousness and delusions. Although some scenes might seem to be exaggerated, Wagner claims that Maps to the Stars is not meant to be a satire as he has witnessed the absurd and bizarre reality of Hollywood and the showbiz. When Wagner worked on the screenplay in the early 90s about his own experiences in Los Angeles, he was still working as a limo driver and looking onto the celebrity culture from the outside. Robert Pattinson’s character Jerome, a limo driver and aspiring screenwriter, provides Wagner’s early perspective of an outsider on this grotesque culture, exposed in Maps to the Stars.
Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars is a sharp-witted, hilariously self-deprecating take on Hollywood and its celebrity culture.