Hollywood cartography is, like everything else in those buoyant hills, a version of something, that knows both truth and artifice. Tightly bound; entwined, to mask any division between the two; Hollywood relationships form a constellation. There are personal and professional personas in its midst but they all exist for us, mere mortals, to admire.
In David Cronenberg’s savage satire, Maps to the Stars (2014), he explores these lethal connections. It is not, however, from a distance that we see the fascinating, brightly shining stars of a vast universe. Rather, Cronenberg gives us extreme close-up, so that what we see is flames. Each of these stars can be reduced to burning gases, sucking up all of the available oxygen.
When Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska) arrives in Hollywood, she jumps straight into a limo; it’s driver is Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattison). She has made friends with Carrie Fisher (Carrie Fisher) on twitter and is hoping to find work in Hollywood – perhaps as someone’s personal assistant. Her first stop is star gazing at the nothingness left behind. It is the site of the family home of child star Benjie Weiss (Evan Bird). We soon learn that he is her brother and that their home was burnt to the ground.
As the connections between this nothingness and Agatha’s past are slowly revealed, her story turns from ‘burn victim from a small town moves to Hollywood to find a job amongst the stars’ to ‘return of the repressed, and battle between multiple and incestuously formed mental illnesses in a troubling family home’. Agatha’s physical scars mirror the much deeper emotional ones that she has suffered through childhood. Her backstory greater resembles the reality of a reality tv show than the reality of real life.
Alongside this, and true to her twitter word, Carrie Fisher introduces Agatha to a big star: Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore). Agatha’s impish, pathetically plain nature is just what megalomaniac Havana is looking for in a new personal assistant. Though their relationship has several moments of faux sentimentality and the sugary sweetness that only a narcissist baiting prey is capable of producing, theirs is mostly sado-masochistic. There is some violence, and much humiliation.
If this sounds subdued for Cronenberg, I can assure you that it’s every bit as savage an attack on Hollywood as any of his earlier works are on conventional ideology and societal values.
Maps to the Stars follows Cronenberg’s trajectory of body horror well: still concerned with Freudian womb fantasies, only this time showing us the horror of what Hollywood has birthed, he makes us want the characters to return to an impossible state of regression. This is well explored through Havana’s obsession with her late mother, the beautiful movie star Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon), whom Havana hopes to play in a brand new Hollywood remake of her fictitious famous film, Stolen Waters. To this end, Havana is in therapy with Dr Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a popular television quack whose methods include an intense physical therapy that seems to require dubious closeness. He is also Agatha’s estranged father.
The incestuous relationships between characters – chartered like a constellation out of control, one that can’t help but burn up every other shining star in its wake – are overt and covert. They involve generations, and are linked through an inability to escape the grotesque reaches of intense narcissism.
Cusack and Moore are admired but their fame masks hideously disfigured personalities. Agatha, our physically scarred and emotionally damaged protagonist, is their casualty and their biggest fan. She eventually charts her own way into the centre of their constellation. Inside, it is rotten. Somehow, it is still beautiful. It is true and it is false.
And it really should be seen with its David-Cronenberg-film-featuring-Robert-Pattinson-in-a-limousine companion film, Cosmopolis (2012). Screening in a double bill on Thursday January 15, 7.30pm. All tickets $13
Written by Tara Judah for The Astor Theatre.