By Leslie Byron Pitt @Afrofilmviewer afrofilmviewer.com
Nowadays I find myself, much more compelled to revisit the latest features of Cronenberg as opposed to his more explicit shock flicks that appeared earlier in his career. My main reason for this I feel is, as a director, Cronenberg has elevated his themes of body horror, carnal pleasures, and creative enterprise gone awry, to its peak. His love the viral and transfer of fluids hasn’t left him, however, while his films had a more tactile and physical approach, his later films have matured into precise and clinical pieces. His texts no longer need the type of body trauma that endeared him to the horror crowd. Now his films demand viewers’ attention due to their more pointed approaches to decaying minds.
Maps to the Stars opens with scarred, medicine popping teen Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) arriving in Los Angeles and striking up a friendship with limo driver Jerome (Robert Pattinson). Agatha has come to Los Angeles to make it in Hollywood and through a famous source has the chance to work for neurotic and strung out actress Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). This provides perfect cover for the troubled youth to try and reconcile with family, who are considered near royalty in Hollywood circles. Despite their fame and riches, Agatha’s family seems to be fraught with issues themselves. Domineering wife Christina (Olivia Williams), must keep an eye over her destructive son, Benjie (Evan Bird), while keeping a secret which could destroy all that she and husband Stafford have created.
Surprisingly, considering his lengthy career, Cronenberg’s ensemble piece is his first shot in the United States. Yet the targets of this particular and peculiar piece of satire will cause little astonishment to fans of Cronenberg. Maps may look like it’s dealing with popular people, yet a closer inspection shows that Cronenberg is once again dealing with outcasts. People whose past sins, faux self-help culture and over medicating have found themselves trapped within the ultimate soulless breeding ground for psychological self-harm. The sharp, clean cinematography from Peter Suschitzky provides little hiding space for the characters on display. The sun always shines in L.A, only the grim, haunted visages and soiled behaviour of the people provide the shadow. Cronenberg provides just enough distance to allow us to wallow in the absurdity of it all.
While the wondering structure of the film may feel a little jarring, Cronenberg maintains a cold sardonic tone throughout, sprinkling unique elements of humour in-between the excessive drug use, orgies and ghostly visions. Moore’s amazingly hysterical performance feels like it’s channelling an aged Lindsay Lohan, who’s been pushed further over the edge, than what many feel now. The mere sight of Patterson playing a minimum wage limo driver after appearing as billionaire with half a hand in causing the west’s economical destruction within Cronenberg’s previous feature, Cosmopolis (2012) is quite humorous.
Maps to the Stars may have an acquired sense of humour that’s more likely enjoyed by those who like their Hollywood collapses to be more than a little offbeat. However, for those into the man’s work, Cronenberg’s film would be an interesting double bill with David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive as the “lesser” of two nightmares. Take that as you will.