Bleak. Incestuous. Sadistic. Visceral. Painful. Devastating. Honest. Psychotic. Cruel. Captivating. Tragic. Empty. Loneliness. Insecure. Dysfunctional. Happy. Lies. Anxious. Satirical Horror. Melodrama. Toxic. Abuse. Reflection. Neurosis. Guilt. Failure. Macabre. Massacre. Fear. Ambition.
When David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars (2014) has been reviewed by major media outlets and renowned film reviewers the subject matter, plot and emotions tend to utilise the aforementioned terms.
In light of that, Cronenberg’s unflinching representation of Hollywood life essentially delves into the corrupted psyche of a culture. This Hollywood society is biologically incestuous and seems to develop, like a living organism into a monstrous and nefarious creature that consumes each new generation, destroying their morality, state of minds and characters, and eventually, in the case of the two of the protagonists, their lives. Ambition within Hollywood is encompassed by a series of actors and actresses who define themselves in accordance to the roles that they are asked to play. Living in a world of make-believe is constructed as the road to devastation in this film which fundamentally chronicles a community struggling through a nervous breakdown, culminating in its total collapse of mental faculties and an implosion of each character due to the weight of these Hollywood expectations.
Depicted in a traditional multiple-storylines style plot such as Paul Haggis’s 2004 film Crash, Maps to the Stars demonstrates a number of different characters and gradually interweaves the webs between them to demonstrate the concentration of this festering world which has birthed its habitants from the same communal womb indicating that this Hollywood area is fundamentally corrupt and in its very essence each inhabitant is a by-product of incestuous creation.
Julianne Moore plays Havana Segrand, the daughter of a famously successful actress who suffers from mental delusions and visions of her mother taunting her failing career. Throughout “new-age” therapy sessions with Stafford Weiss, played by John Cusack, Havana becomes convinced that her mother physically and sexually abused her as a child. Whilst auditioning a part as her mother in a movie remake of one of her mother’s films, Havana becomes subject to an increasing imposing mental delusion where her mother jeers at her, mocks her subordinate acting skills, as well as her desperate attempt to emulate her mother. Stafford is the father of13-year-old child star Benjie (Evan Bird) who seems to represent the typical deterioration of the young Disney star who forgoes the typical child maturing too fast into a world of sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll, and, in the case of this incestuous Hollywood world, self-entitlement, arrogance and a resurgent link to Oedipal desires. Benjie’s exiled sister, Agatha (Mia Wasikowsa) has spent years in a mental institution since drugging her brother and then setting the house on fire, which she justifies utilising warped mentally unstable logic. On her return to Hollywood, she meets and befriends Jerome (Robert Pattinson) a limo driver and actor struggling to break into showbiz. She later becomes Havana’s assistant or more colloquially dubbed: “chore whore” and experiences a very powerful awakening to the mundane nature of Havana’s life.
This cinematic portrayal of Hollywood negotiates a world obsessed with drugs, age, sex and money. As a 13-year-old, Benjie is the “most powerful” actor, particularly compared to his failing foil counterpart Havana who is even older, if that’s possible, than the 26-year-old actress who is declared to be “totally menopausal”. Through drug-fuelled lenses, fleets of celebrities age out of importance and essentially resign themselves to an infrastructure which challenges their mental and moral stability. Age becomes the currency of this superficial world. Benjie being the highest paid, despite his unattractive personality, character and morality. Whereas, Havana is only offered the job she so desperately desire after the son of her rival mysteriously drowns in his father’s swimming pool leading to the mother’s mental collapse.
Overall, this movie is shocking and strange. It has a satirical tone mixed in with the darkness and dreamy alternate reality feel. There are comedic moments which are interspersed in appropriate moments as if this movie has taken on an element of Asperger’s, unaware of timing, empathy and the code of conduct for general social interaction. This is exemplified by Havana’s reaction to the news that her actress rival’s son has died and she will now have the part she desired. She begins singing “Na-Na-Na-Na. Na-Na-Na-Na. Hey-Hey-Hey. Goodbye”, demonstrative of her self-obsession and lack of empathy for others. The film culminates in her murder by her “chore whore” which is savagely and sickeningly audible. The film concludes with a mass suicide of sorts, whereby each of the characters dies physically and metaphorically.
This film is an unflinching exfoliation of the sheeny surface of Hollywood life which is perceived by the average Joe public. This satirical approach to the attack against Hollywood idealism is undertaken in the most sadistic and masochistic manner possible, essentially unveiling the roots of an entire culture as incestuous, evil, immoral and corrupt to its very core. This film is a very visceral attack at the jugular of the body of the Hollywood politic.