Map to the Stars

| February 27, 2015

‘Shock-jock’: someone who expresses opinions in a deliberately offensive or provocative way.

These are my thoughts toward David Cronenberg. Love or hate him, the films of the veteran director are always swathed in controversy. A quick Wikipedia search labels this vehicle as ‘body horror’. As some sort of mutilation or gross-out sequence is featured in nearly all of Cronenberg’s works, we can expect more gore in his latest feature Map to the Stars.

Welcome to Gomorrah. Actually, you probably refer to it as ‘Hollywood’. This is the place where children have adult problems and adults are plagued by childhood issues. At least that is theHollywood of Map to the Stars. We focus on six people tied together by Fame…amongst other mysterious and unmentionable things. One of these stories features a couple (Olivia Williams and Cusack) who disowned their daughter and are having trouble managing their drug-addled child star son. Another case follows an aging actress (Moore) vying for the career-saving role of playing her (abusive) mother in a remake. Consequently, the Mother keeps reappearing to haunt the actress. A third story revolves around a C-list celebrity chauffeur (Pattinson) and his irreverent romance with a burn victim (Wasikowska). What actualizes is a sticky, uncomfortable spider web that even the toughest of souls will find difficult to watch.

Map to the Stars embraces cliches to fuel itself. Julianne Moore is the typical out-of-touch aging actress; John Cusack and Olivia Williams just cannot understand their teenage son; and Wasikowska and Pattison have a cliché slightly-older-than-adolescent relationship. However, the presentation is not contrived thanks to the dedication and ability of the cast. With a grim, seedy smell of the apocalypse in the Hollywood air, the ostentatious performances, the paint-by-numbers narrative(s) simply work. In fact, Julianne Moore and Olivia Williams are outstanding.

The highly unusual story of Map to the Stars is based on photographer Bruce Weber’s early career in 70’s Hollywood. Weber is the mastermind behind the chiaroscuro Gap ads from the 90’s. The frankly outrageous themes of drug use and homicide seen in the film (the film’s innocent themes, mind you) are obviously a product of the erotic and explicit cinema of the 70’s. The update, which should contain dust if we are to give credence to social evolution, unfortunately is still fresh.

At age 71, and after 19 films, David Cronenberg is expected to be good. As I mentioned about his 2012 feature A Dangerous Method, the graphic content – or body horror – is now made with a wider audience in mind. This is not solely achieved by employing A-listers to star in his movies. Cronenberg, like contemporary David Lynch, has succeeded in making a career out of discomfort. A career that apparently we, as an audience, do not mind experiencing from time to time. Map to the Stars is a testament that not only is Cronenberg a master orchestrator of slimy and seductive films – but he is only getting better.

Map to the Stars works better as a commentary than a narrative. Some of the ambiguities remain unsolved, leaving the audience confused at the conclusion – and not in the good way. However, as a commentary, the film is a must-see black comedy, with very unnerving consequences.

About the Author:

Daniel currently resides in New York City working as a freelance writer and director. He is a graduate of the Film and Video department of Columbia College, specializing in Italian Neo-realism and French & British New Wave cinema.
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