Coming a long way from what is perhaps his best known film, The Fly (1986), David Cronenberg’s new satirical drama Maps to the Stars (2014), as the title implies, centres on a group of Hollywood celebrities that are desperately searching for fame and success. Anxiety, stress, longing for ultimate triumph but also fear of failure seem to be the film’s major issues, yet Cronenberg goes deeper than that; he enters the celebrities’ minds, uncovers their dirtiest secrets and desires and unearths their deepest internal struggles.
The film features two converging story lines; Havanna Segrand (Julianne Moore) attempts to overcome her past, personified by the ghost of her dead mother, with the help of Dr. Strafford Weiss (John Cusack), who offers some rather unorthodox treatments. Meanwhile, Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird), the famous children’s star freshly out of rehab pursues the same goal, his recovery being prevented by his connection with Agatha (Mia Wasikowska). Being an outsider from her family, Agatha returns to California and becomes Segrand’s new assistant. Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson), a Limousine driver, seems to be the only friend Agatha has. Both stories are connected through Wasikowska’s very twisted character; she proves to be the cause of her surroundings’ downfall.
Some might perceive Maps to the Stars as sick and scandalous, yet it does give an indication of an ideal reflection of what Hollywood’s greatest stars have to endure in their lives. It certainly does not offer a map to the stars, to success, to money or fame. Instead, it shows us how all these factors, indeed, are leading away from happiness, health and freedom. Cronenberg cleverly engineers a thrilling atmosphere, by giving Moore the possibility of performing in an extraordinary role the likes of which we have probably never seen her in before. Both Moore’s and Wasikowka’s performances are outstanding and the film shows, in a very believable manner, how human beings constantly put a mask on, pretending to be something they are not, making us all actors of sorts. On the other hand, Maps to the Stars conveys how people have choices and that it always lies within their own capability to lead a good life. As we know from previous Cronenberg films, he does not like to linger on the obvious but rather enjoys offering his audience something different, thought-provoking and complex, such as we experienced in A Dangerous Mind (2011). Cronenberg puts the audience in a position where they cannot help but think further about what was presented to them. Maps to the Stars includes multiple sickening images that linger in the viewer’s mind long after the credits have rolled.
Indeed, Maps to the Stars does puts its viewer on the edge throughout the film (a total of 111 minutes) and up until its very end. Therefore, if you are searching for a film which gets you to thinking about our fame-obsessed culture, deranged views on the “ideal specimen”, and features a naked Moore, then Maps is worth the ride.