Theatre of Dreams
David Cronenberg’s long been fascinated with forms of horror, be it body or psychological, so it’s not a surprise that he’s finally found the time to look at that cess pool of dysfunction and disgust, Hollywood actors. As the ultimate outsider, a man used to shooting in his native Canada (for tax purposes), Cronenberg need have no fear of reprisal or in-cult condemnation; his money’s clean; so he’s free to go to tinsel town, so to speak, and he does. Maps to the Stars plays like a scurrilous reimagining of Sunset Boulevard, except there’s no nostalgia, no affection. It’s a movie that despises the Dream Factory and the sycophancy, bile, sexual degeneracy and hypocrisy that powers the looms. The dream becomes a nightmare.
Long before we’ve drilled down to the incest (a triple helping) and ruined ids that drive the story, we’re alerted to the fact this is to be no valentine to Los Angeles’ creative community. Cronenberg employs overdub, reduced diagetics and mannered takes to increase the film’s uncanny load. Everything about the industry dynasty on the dissection table feels wrong. It’s not simply that they’re damaged, vainglorious and cold, but also prone to projecting reprimands from dead people into their everyday lives. Julianne Moore, allegedly abused by his dead mother but now anxious to play her part in the remake of her most famous movie (therapists assemble!), may be heart breaking but she’s also prone to doing a jig when the young son of her actress rival drowns. That’s what passes for a (sym)pathetic character in this pill popping headfuckarama.
Mia Wasikowska as the abandoned daughter of a deviant brood; broken, schizophrenic; fares better. When returning to see brother and spoilt child star, Evan Bird, she gains our understanding – the closest thing to sympathy the movie has on offer, first for being collateral damage in the fallout from her parent’s incestuous marriage, later for being victimised by self-help guru and unapologetic deviant, John Cusack, who fears the mud raking that may accompany her reappearance, years after she snapped and tried to murder them all in a house fire.
Yet from the sardonic title down, Maps to the Stars is a difficult film to love. Cronenberg should take credit for refusing to temper his scorn with sentimentality or a single, fully human presence, but the consequence is a two hour exercise in alienation, committed to keeping the audience at arm’s length at all costs. What Hollywood’s glitterati will make of it is anyone’s guess, but it could be a long time before Canada’s favourite son finds himself invited to an awards after party.