Maps to the Stars
Director: David Cronenberg
Stars: Julianne Moore, Robert Pattinson, John Cusack
A tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing celebrity, one another and the relentless ghosts of their pasts.
Though we recently touched on David Cronenberg’s latest film in our look at the director’s career on Geek Juice Radio, I wanted to watch and discuss his latest film, Maps to the Stars again – separate from marathoning Cronenberg’s movies as we did for that episode. It is a Cronenberg movie completely in style and story, but it’s important to give a film a look at based on its own merits – apart from the pedigree of its director; and Maps to the Stars certainly has a lot to say.
Celebrities are People Too
Maps to the Stars is a very dark and satirical look at the lives of movies stars and the whole disconnected culture associated with Hollywood. I made a comparison before saying that it’s like Robert Altman’s The Player but through the cinematic lens of Cronenberg. That is a rather broad and not completely fair comparison. Both films are satirical looks at Hollywood but whereas Altman’s film was a commentary on the Hollywood system and lifestyle, Maps to the Stars speaks about the people in Hollywood and has a very personal and intimate feel to it.
Julianne Moore plays Havana Segrand, an aging actress living in the shadow of her mother’s career and struggling to keep herself working and relevant. If she is on one end of a spectrum the other would be Evan Bird as Benjie Weiss, a teen sensation and controversial star trying to get his career back on the right track after a stint in rehab. Both Havana and Benjie are seeing ghosts, people from their past who constantly appear to bring guilt and other human issues they’re forced to suppress in order to pursue their careers. There is also Benjie’s parents Stafford and Christina Weiss (John Cusack and Olivia Williams); both people who are hiding and glossing over their own personal and relationship problems in order to advance their status and their son’s career. The black sheep of this family is Agatha Weiss (Mia Wosikowska), estranged from her family because of her pyromania. She is scarred both physically and emotionally and is trying to find her own identity in a family and place where identity is not allowed. The only person in this story who is not going crazy or seeing ghosts is Robert Pattinson as Jerome Fontana – an aspiring actor/writer whose primary job as a limo driver brings him in contact with all these other characters as a sort of detached observer.
Maps to the Stars portrays Hollywood is a place where having an identity is not allowed – human beings are trademarked products and the less human they behave the more marketable they become. Maps to the Stars shows the lives of people who are having very human problems, personal and emotional issues that need to be dealt with however they all choose to avoid them in order to advance their career or maintain a public image. The film explores what happens when people choose to ignore those issues. As a good point to show this there is a scene where Benjie, who is constantly being haunted by the ghost of a dead fan, attacks and strangles a younger co-star in the film he’s working on. From the characters’ reaction the biggest tragedy with this incident is that production on the film has been stopped and Benjie’s role will be recast – barely a concern about what would motivate Benjie to do this. His mother’s worry is that he stays out of jail and keeps working, not a thought to maybe getting some therapy for her son who so obviously needs it. At another time, Benjie breaks his sobriety by getting high on GHB and shooting his friend’s dog – an incident that is never addressed or discussed because being a human is not allowed in this Hollywood.
It’s Still a Cronenberg Movie
And every ounce of it is a Cronenberg movie. Though this is the very firs time Cronenberg ever shot in the United States instead of having Toronto substitute for American cities, everything here has that recognizable Cronenberg feel to it. There were several times I caught myself thinking: “Wow, this feels exactly like Crash,” Even though this film and Crash are two radically different stories with completely different things to say.
What it comes down to is that Cronenberg directs stories about human beings doing very human things. His film’s aren’t “larger than life,” characters or extraordinary situations – his stories are about people, normal people shaped by the world they live in and dealing with their circumstances in very human ways. To go back to his first feature, Shivers, about a parasite run amok in an apartment complex and turning its residents into hyper-sexual zombies; Cronenberg said that he didn’t sympathize with the characters until after they were infected. Before they were bland yuppies with no personality – then they are transformed into REAL people expressing REAL emotions through their actions. Every single Cronenberg film is different in story, tone and style – each one unique to whatever it’s about – but Cronenberg’s movies have consistently shown audiences what it means to be human, what it means to react to emotional stimuli. Maps to the Stars is no different as it shows the very human side of celebrity culture, and the importance of not losing sight of what makes us all human, what makes us each the individual they are.