Here in Hollywood, things are done strangely, as young Agatha has to realize upon her arrival. Her mission? Visiting family. But what if the craziness simply builds up and never stops?
David Cronenberg‘s latest invention does not disappoint in the one thing that everybody who has ever seen anything by him knows: it is beyond weird, it is creepy, and it is probably the most polarising film this year. You’ll love it, or you’ll hate it, but you’ll occupy a very specific stance towards it – and if your stance is ‘what the fuck did I just watch?’, that is probably quite an accurate one. The film shows the bad, corrupt, and absolutely crazy sides of Hollywood life – exaggerated, but not entirely unbelievable. After all, who hasn’t heard news about this celebrity or that one, the latest drug issues, nervous breakdowns, or maybe simply trying to get your attention? Mainly following the life of the Weiss family, Cronenberg throws one taboo after the other in your face, just when you thought you might have had enough. Incest? Sure, why not. Psychological traumas? We surely have some more space for that. Oh, and what about death, and murder, and suicide attempts, bad parenting and drug abuse? Just put them in a corner, we’ll pull them up in a second. In that sense, although the film surely has a certain calm, hypnotising quality to it, it’ll make you want to cover your eyes, and more often than not, your face will be crunched up in that typical ‘what the hell’ look that, no matter how prepared you are, you’ll practise several times during this one movie.
A masterpiece in character study
I wasn’t sure whether to watch it or not, because I was under the impression that the movie would be creepy, and I don’t do creepy that well – at least not in horror movies. But when a friend, who incidentally is just finishing up a Master thesis about Cronenberg, told me that it really isn’t ‘horror’ creepy, I gave it a try. – And certainly, it isn’t ‘horror’ creepy, though it does have its supernatural/drug-induced/craziness-induced elements. The real horror in this film lies in the characters, and their unnerving, frustrating, at times absolutely stupid behaviour. Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) appears to be a somewhat strange, but really sweet girl with a positive outlook – and yet she’s dragging secrets the size of several mountains behind her, secrets that might end up crushing that fragile character. Benjie (Evan Bird) is a childhood movie star trying to get his foot down after an unpleasant rehab episode, while at the same time his mother Christina (Olivia Williams) is trying to get the best profit out of her son, even though everything just seems a bit too much for her. And that’s only a few of them. Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), possibly the most obnoxious character in here, is a fading actress trying to come to terms with her abusive past – or was it really?
Cherish that confusion
And of course, if the film hadn’t been as unnerving as it was, it wouldn’t have been as effective. It’s a movie that makes you want to poke your eyes out at times, and at others, you simply want to sit in a corner and forget everything. Because it’ll stay with you – and hours after watching the movie, you’ll most likely still be deep in that story, trying to figure out the whats and hows, trying to place the blame for all that goes down. And how do the supernatural elements feature – and are they supernatural at all? How can anyone be content to live in such a way, while being clearly bad people? And even the only more or less sane anchor that you have, the limo driver/aspiring wannabe-actor Jerome (Robert Pattinson), is just plain weird – and Pattinson’s portrayal of him is brilliantly awkward and uncomfortable, and probably just as confused as you, but much more detached. That’s something all the characters have in common: they truly come to life through the brilliant acting, and especially Moore’s portrayal of Havana is beautifully disgusting and pathetic – a drowning woman – all in one. It’s hard to figure out whether to hate utterly unlikeable characters, or feel sorry for them – especially once you get a glimpse of what’s inside their heads.
Maps to the Stars is certainly not for everyone, and it doesn’t have to be. It may be one of the less weird Cronenberg movies, but looking at his oeuvre, that doesn’t actually say a lot. It’ll certainly provoke a strong reaction in you, and it’s definitely worth a watch, just to see what you might be missing – if you can stomach it. Because many times, the film will just go too far for your own comfort. And it won’t be an easy ride.