At the induction event for the latest batch of film students, our university organised a screening of Maps to the Stars with the cinema across the road. Given that we held a talk for the fresh recruits, me and a couple of friends were also granted entry. Our bit went swimmingly, we enjoyed the movie and the free booze afterwards, but I feel a massive pang of regret for not seeking out the fresher we overheard giddily chirping before the movie. Basically, I’d have given an arm to see her reaction to what she thought was going to be – no shit – Josh Boone’s box-office busting tearjerker The Fault in Our Stars; that poor lass must have felt violated beyond any reasonable measure.
I never condemned myself to watching Fault, but I can’t imagine it was anything like the freak-out fest we were subjected to. David Cronenberg’s latest movie is a meditation on Hollywood and its innate decadence, a harrowing portrait of a multi-billion dollar industry built upon a former desert wasteland. Every member of its ostensibly random cast is tainted with showbiz-induced psychosis to some degree, be it Julianne Moore’s vitamin-addled burnout or Mia Wasikowska’s stargazing pyromaniac, and Cronenberg seems to have just thrown all these disturbed characters into a gauntlet to see who sinks first. The result is a volatile, knife-edge pinball machine where trauma manifests in shocking outbursts of mind-bending behaviour.
Maps‘ characters are pushed to extremes and then some, for example the child star Benji Weiss (Evan Bird) who, as a nine-year-old, was making $300k a week. Now at the grand old age of thirteen and fresh out of rehab, Benji is suffering visions of an adoring fan he inadvertently humiliated on her deathbed, turning him from a Bieber-brat to a clockwork orange. But his status – socially and mentally – isn’t even microcosmic of the film’s fishhook assault; the grapple comes from the characters churning out bizarre statements in the most neutral, comfortable tones imaginable. They’re living in a community visible to most through media only, name-dropping household names as if they were neighbours and completely unaware of how ridiculous they sound. What’s more, most of them are actors, so who can blame them for losing track of the reality-fiction divide?
In light of this, Cronenberg doesn’t try to get inside their heads as much as highlight the inanity of their lifestyles and their rambunctious mental states. The majority of Maps is shot with total conviction, with the strangeness bleeding in through the script and the actors’ intense performances. Tensions build to a point where the film erupts into a series of overreactions and idiotic mishaps, creating an uneasy ebb-and-flow where the conventions of film are obeyed but logic is not. It’s hard to gauge whether Cronenberg is relying on shock-factor or using it to make his point, but what’s certain is that it’s impossible to expect exactly what he throws at you. Much of the appeal will be lost upon second viewing for sure, but Maps to the Stars is worth seeing just for how viscerally it’ll assault your sensibilities.