David Cronenberg’s recent directorial effort, Maps to the Stars, seesaws between hilarity and the horrific in an unsettling story of Hollywood extravagance. No punches were pulled in the making of it; Cronenberg and scriptwriter Bruce Wagner flesh out their characters well in putrid colours of envy, greed and all-encompassing lust for power. What makes it particularly interesting however, is its relationship with the state of the modern film industry. It is a bold subject choice to tackle so ferociously on film, as many of the people who were involved with its making are to some extent seeing aspects of their own lives or the lives of those they know too well mirrored on screen. Julianne Moore, who portrays a fading actress living in the shadow of her acclaimed deceased mother, in particular has stated using other people within the industry as direct sources for her role.
In recent years, film and television have often satirised and poked fun at the notion of 21st century celebrity, yet Cronenberg’s all-encompassing approach is something which perhaps should be considered separately. The combination of reflecting reality and using tropes of Greek tragedy (whether deliberately or not) has the effect of making Maps to the Stars feel somewhat exaggerated in the final outcome. However, this should not diminish how the film is firmly anchored in its realistic depiction of Hollywood tragedies and the extravagance of the characters’ lives.
Through reflecting the film industry in a film which exists directly within said industry, Maps to the Stars becomes a self-conscious spectacle. Many of the cast of this film already have something of a ubiquitous presence to the public through the pages of celebrity gossip sites and speculative column pieces amongst their acting work. It feels almost too fitting to have Robert Pattinson playing an unassuming limousine driver trying to make it as an actor – it’s likely that all throughout Pattinson’s career he will be a prominent feature of Hollywood gossip so casting him in the role of someone on the edge of the industry and all that it entails feels particularly poignant. The excess and narcissism of the characters he encounters are represented in such a framed and pointed way that Maps to the Stars may be indebted to the subject matter that it is critiquing through a fictional lens. It is this fiction that the film carries and exaggerates to a crescendo in the final 20 minutes that lifts the film away from being hypocritical by nature.
It would be too gratuitous to claim that Maps to the Stars will push for a re-evaluation of how the film industry functions at all its different levels. Neither do I think this is what Cronenberg was aiming for. It is an entertainment film about the inner workings of modern entertainment at its very core. However, through approaching the film under the guise of a fiction that very closely resembles the reality, Cronenberg and Wagner allow for a space to be created for the beginnings of new and further discussions on the topics of celebrity, Hollywood and the film industry in the 21st century.