Monday, May 11, 2015


Warning: Spoiler Alert. This is a critical essay on David Cronenberg's Maps to the Stars, not a review, therefore many crucial plot points are revealed for the purpose of analysis. 

A treasured volume in my library is a hardbound copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology, gifted to me by my sweetheart countless birthdays ago. This entertaining, exhaustively encyclopedic collection of classical Greek and Roman myths (with the mysteries of the universe interpreted and scaled to human dimensions) is something of a folkloric map to the stars itself. Here, the inexplicable is named, given human form, and all that is mysterious and random in the galaxy is attributed to the capricious whims and petty rivalries of an incestuous clan of demigods and goddesses holding forth from their thrones in the heavens. At their core, these ancient fables are operatic family dramas and morality tales about overindulged gods & goddesses with too much power and too few boundaries. Leading insular lives of emotional inertia, these mythical deities manipulate the elements (e.g., fire and water) for amusement, and are not above creating chaos out of boredom.

The unfettered moral license of these gods (who have the power to reward favored mortals by turning them into constellations) leads to the marrying of siblings; the abandoning of their temperaments to fervid jealousies and rivalries over imagined slights; and, more often than not, the sort of violent and bloody final-act retribution that gives Greek Tragedy its name.

All of this filled my mind and fueled my thoughts while watching David Cronenberg’s brilliant Maps to the Stars. A modern mythological family tragedy set amongst the flawed, emotionally disfigured gods and goddesses of contemporary pop culture (movie stars) from the airless heights of that insulated Mount Olympus known as Hollywood. 
Julianne Moore as Havana Segrand
Mia Wasikowska as Agatha Weiss
Olivia Williams as Cristina Weiss
John Cusak as Dr. Stafford Weiss
Robert Pattinson as Jerome Fontana
Evan Bird as Benjamin Weiss

Havana Segrand (Moore) is a Hollywood falling-star suffering the first pangs of impending obsolescence, and, consequently, lives in a near-constant state of naked desperation. A desperation not quelled by yoga, meditation, narcotics, age-regression therapy, or “purpose fucking” (sex with well-placed industry types for the purpose of their putting in a good word for you when they can). In a town where the question, “Isn’t she old?” ‒ the definitive dismissal ‒ is asked in relation to 23-year-olds, Havana literally clings to her prominently-displayed Genie (Canadian Film Award) while discussing dwindling career options with her pragmatic agent, whose name is, oddly enough, Genie. 

Hungry for career rejuvenation, Havana fixates on landing the starring role in Stolen Waters, a reimagining (Hollywood-speak for remake) of a 60s cult film which starred her late mother, actress Clarice Taggart (Sarah Gadon) who died tragically in a fire in 1976. Havana’s desire to be cast in a role that would in effect have her playing her mother, is an obsession unabated by claims on Havana’s part that she was a victim of her mother’s physical and sexual abuse as a child. Nor the distressing fact that her mother – abusive as ever  –  has begun to appear to her as a ghost. 
Clarice Taggert in Stolen Waters

This film within a film, which gets its title from the biblical proverb "Stolen waters are sweet, bread eaten in secret is pleasant," figures prominently in the lives of several characters in Maps to the Stars
The film itself, which seems to be about a seductive, schizophrenic patient at a mental institution, not only carries allusions to the character of Agatha (Wasikowska), but reminded me a great deal of the 1964 Jean Seberg/Warren Beatty film, Lilith. In that film, Seberg plays a schizophrenic patient in a mental institution and Beatty a therapist who's doomed by his obsession with her. In Hebrew mythology, Lilith is the name for a female demon representing seduction and chaos.

Astronomy maps may reveal the gravitational interlink of star clusters in the heavens, but the boulevards and intersections on those geographical maps to the stars’ homes sold on Los Angeles street corners can’t begin to chart the inbred network of aligned interests and commingled gene pools that make up Hollywood. In Maps to the Stars, Havana’s central storyline is orbited by a cast of characters whose lives at first seem unrelated, but later reveal themselves, in almost Altmanesque fashion, to be just as incestuously interconnected as everything else in the City of Angels.

First, there’s Benjie Weiss (Bird), the obnoxious child star of a lucrative movie franchise. A recovering drug addict at thirteen, Benjie is already beset by the fear of being replaced by a new and younger model, and his nights are haunted by visions of the ghosts of two dead children. His ambitious stage mother (an anxiously flinty Olivia Williams) dotes on him as one would a valuable commodity, while his narcissistic father (Cusak) is too busy managing his career as the nation’s best-selling self-help guru (“Secrets Kill!”) to be of much help to anyone beyond his high-profile clients.
The Magical Child
The ghosts that appear to Benjie are those of the drowned child of a rival (another of Havana's manifest wishes - like the fiery death of her mother), and a cancer victim whose body in death is adorned with tattoos of maps to the stars. Tattoo patterns that look unsettlingly similar to Agatha's disfiguring burns.

The mysterious catalyst for joining these individuals is Agatha (Wasikowska), a schizophrenic teenage burn victim of mysterious origin who comes to town to, in her words, Make amends,” but serves as the narrative’s uniting thread and unwitting agent of chaos. Representative of the interrelated nature of this city of beautiful grotesques itself, Agatha is biologically linked to some characters, spiritually linked to others.
 Agatha’s journey from Florida to Los Angeles by bus suggests a meagerness of funds contradicting her engagement of the film’s final character, Jerome Fontana (Pattinson), the limousine chauffeur with the celebrity-ready name, to escort her to a particularly significant Hollywood site upon arrival. Fontana, like everyone else in Hollywood who isn’t already actually in the film business, is a wannabe. In this case a wannabe actor/screenwriter hired to drive the chariot for someone who turns out to be this modern myth’s angel of doom/redeemer.
A cast-out *angel surveys the ruins of Mount Olympus (aka the Hollywood Hills)
*After I posted this screencap, my partner brought my attention to the fact that the holes in Agatha's top create "wings" on her back (or the scars of the wings lost after breaking the rules of heaven) did I miss that? 

Written by one-time Hollywood chauffeur Bruce Wagner (who penned 1989s rather awful but marvelously titled, Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills), Maps to the Stars has the wittily bilious tone of the work of a Hollywood barely-insider: someone close enough to get the details right, but not so favored by the gods as to have been ensnared and blinded by the intoxicating siren song of fame, wealth, and status.

Less a Hollywood satire than a fame culture fable with elements of magic realism, Maps to the Stars is my kind of movie…which isn’t the same thing as saying it’s a slam dunk crowd-pleaser I’d recommend to everyone. Like a great many of David Cronenberg’s films, your appreciation of it has a lot to do with how comfortable you are being made uncomfortable.
But like the dream fantasies of Robert Altman (Images, 3 Women) or Polanski’s raw glimpses into the dark nature of relationships (Venus in Fur, Carnage), Maps to the Stars is an exploration of the condition I find most compelling in films: humanity in extremis.
Worshiping at the Altar of Fame

Whether a genuine part of Cronenberg’s vision or merely a projection born of my fondness for Greek mythology (I suspect it’s a little of both), I love the idea of Maps to the Stars being something of a modern take on the classic Greek tragedy. 
Hollywood, with its temporal gods and goddesses engaged in hollow conflicts in pursuit of ignoble victories, makes for a terrific modern-day Mount Olympus, just as the town’s self-centeredness and overabundance of swimming pools suggest the reflective springs of Mount Helicon which seduced (and ultimately drowned) Narcissus. 
Wash Away My Sins
Plagued by guilt and the burden of secrets, Cristina suffers an emotional breakdown. The dual elements of fire and water - to either purify or destroy - are recurring motifs running throughout Maps to the Stars

In the interwoven stories of the protagonists, all the elements of Greek tragedy are there: Secrets, ambition, incest, jealousies, violence, ghosts, visions, morality, purification through self-immolation, redemption, liberation, and the godlike summoning of the elements of fire and water. 
Agatha, whose name means “good” in Greek, arrives in Hollywood dressed in a manner to conceal the scars from burns suffered in a fire she started as a child. Among the Hollywood trendoids, she looks as if she's from another planet. In fact, when asked where she’s from, she responds, “Jupiter. We know she's been institutionalized for arson in Florida, so we take it to mean she’s from the city of Jupiter, Florida. But Jupiter is also the name of the Greek god who married his sister, Juno. And as we later learn, Agatha is a child born of incest.
Carrie Fisher as Herself
A central theme of Maps to the Stars is the incestuous nature of Hollywood. Havana Segrand is an actress haunted (literally) by her actress mother, yet longs to play her in a film. Carrie Fisher, daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds, wrote Postcards from the Edge, a semi-autobiographical book and film about the troubled relationship between an actress and her considerably more-famous mother. The presence of Carrie Fisher in the film can't help but also evoke thoughts of Star Wars and all those incestuous Leia/Luke/Vader familial subthemes. 

Maps to the Stars reminds me so much of those 70s films that made me fall in love with movies in the first place. Of course, a major selling point from the getgo is the absence of anything Comic-Con suitable in the narrative, but I really found the characters and the film’s attempt to say something real about our culture incredibly fascinating. It's a funny, frightening, ugly, sad, brutal film that is ultimately very moving (and touching). And the film earns bonus points for doing so in a way that refuses to spell everything out. 
Best of all are the performances of the uniformly excellent cast. John Cusak oozes smug menace, Evan Bird’s repellent child star shows the wounds of neglect, and in the film’s least-developed role, Robert Pattinson (this is the first film I’ve ever seen him in) is so good you wish he’d been given more to do.
However, Maps to the Stars really belongs to the women. Oscar-winner Julianne Moore gives one of those totally raw, risk-taking performances that's likely to divide audiences. Me, I've met my share of Havana Segrands in my time, and Moore seriously nails it in her willingness to “go there” in her searingly naked depiction of the ugliest aspects of what it has come to mean to be a movie star.
False idol?
Havana's Genie award plays too significant a role in her life.
Incidentally, director David Cronenberg is a five-time Genie Award winner 

I first saw Mia Wasikowska many years ago on the superb HBO series, In Treatment. She impressed me then, as she does now, with her natural presence on the screen. A calming presence that nevertheless has an edge to it. An edge bordering on mystery, vulnerability, and a lurking sense of something perhaps unsavory in her nature. She's quite hypnotic here, appearing open yet as closed off as a clam.
Love how when we first see her she is cloaked in a souvenir crew jacket for "Bad Babysitter," Benjamin's endangered movie franchise. Of course, we later discover find out Agatha herself was the ultimate bad babysitter; almost killing her brother when they were children and he was left in her charge.
Rounding out this trifecta of female perfection is Olivia Williams. Long one of my favorite actresses, Williams balances out Moore's scattered self-enchantment and Wasikowska's cloaked inscrutability with an intense characterization of a woman hanging on by a thread on the verge of an abyss. As one of those armies of bright, intelligent women whose every waking moment is devoted to the career of her child (Hollywood is loaded with them), Williams is a vibrating livewire of frustrations and barely contained tensions, Williams is both terrifying and heartbreaking as the stage mother whose fatal flaw is that, deep beneath her steely facade, she may not be quite soulless enough to survive in Hollywood. 

A major asset to any film is having a director in control of what message they’re trying to convey. Like many films set in the world of privilege and power, Maps to the Stars is an indictment of the malignant allure of wealth and fame and its potential to foster delusions and corrupt the soul. But Canadian-born David Cronenberg - this is his first film [partially] shot in the US - succeeds where Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street so miserably failed: he’s able to depict the excesses of extensive wealth without simultaneously glamorizing it.  
On the Rodeo Road to Recovery
Havana (seen here with brand-new personal assistant, Agatha) self-medicates
by spending $18,000 on clothes at Valentino

As a longtime LA resident who’s worked for many years as a personal trainer in the same peripheral capacity to celebrities as Map to the Stars’ interchangeable chauffeurs and “chore whores” (personal assistants); trust me, there’s nothing satiric or exaggerated about the details of celebrity life depicted in this movie.
The grotesquely oversized homes feel sterile and devoid of inhabitants; the children who act like adults, the adults who like children; entire identities are invested in one’s desirability or employability (often one and the same); and everybody feels so guilty for living lives of such undeserved privilege they seek absolution in self-serving spirituality, health foods,  narcotics, holistic drugs, and alcohol. Better than any film I’ve seen in recent years, Maps to the Stars captures the isolated, bubble-like existence of Hollywood’s rich and famous. A space so airless and devoid of perspective or self-awareness it actually could be what so many already assume it to be…another planet.
Stafford Weiss, self-help shaman-to-the-stars, guides Havana through one of her body's
"Personal history points." *Note the barefoot shoes - an instant douchebag signifier

Maybe it’s just me, but movies set in Hollywood seem to take on a mythological quality without even trying. The stuff of Greek tragedy: fate, love, loss, retribution, redemption, ambition, hubris, abuse of power – sounds like your typical studio pitch meeting!

What makes Hollywood so ripe for mythologizing is the city, in its present incarnation anyway, represents something of a Paradise Lost. It's a place blessed by the gods with ideal weather and sublime vistas, yet it's also a community of artists with the potential to globally elevate and inspire (figuratively speaking, people in the film business make dreams for a living). But what is Hollywood in reality? A place where everyone has smiled into the face of the devil and allowed themselves to be blinded by the golden glare of fame and wealth.
Inner Peace
Movie stars tend to use spirituality as a means to justify self-absorption and rationalize materialism.
Here Havana's tranquility takes a major hit with the news that she's lost out on a coveted movie role 

David Cronenberg, master of the “body horror” genre, parallels Agatha’s external disfigurement (which she goes to great pains to conceal) with the internal spiritual decay of Hollywood’s beautiful people (which they make no effort to conceal at all). Agatha’s arrival is disruptive because her desire to make amends really means forcing others to confront and/or expose their secrets.  
Just as Havana’s regression therapy is a means of confronting her past through the reliving of it; Agatha ritualistically recites Paul √Čluard’s poem, Liberty, while one pair of siblings ceremoniously restages the wedding of another pair of siblings (their parents), in order to free themselves from the toxic damage of that bond. To free themselves from the chain of addiction, cycle of abuse, legacy of mental illness, and the curse of ghostly hauntings.
Dressed for A Date With Destiny
The burning of Los Angeles is a vivid metaphor of purification in Nathanael West's classic novel, The Day of the Locust. In that book and in the brilliant 1975 film, West depicted a Hollywood devoid of love and undeserving of redemption. David Cronenberg finds contemporary Hollywood to be at least as monstrously grotesque as West did back in 1939, but he also posits the possibility that it is a city capable of reclamation.
"Love is Stronger than Death"

On my school notebooks
On my desk and on the trees
On the sand and on the snow
I write your name

On all the flesh that says yes
On the forehead of my friends
On every hand held out
I write your name


Copyright © Ken Anderson  2009 - 2015


  1. Okay Ken - I HAVE to see this movie! Thank you.

    1. Hi Cathy
      So flattered if my essay sparked interest in this film. A film you might not otherwise have noticed or heard much about. Thank you for reading and remember, this is a Cronenberg've been warned!

  2. A fantastic essay about a film I'd heard little about. It's going on my Netflix queue ASAP!

    1. Ha! Much appreciated, Deb! And once again, I'm flattered if this piece has sparked curiosity about a film not given much promotion and whose entire budget was less than the craft-services bill on an Avengers film.

  3. Argyle, here. Very excited that you have covered this. Have wanted to see it since reading early reviews, but it hasn't made it to my 'burg. It's really hard not to read your essay!! Aaaaargh!! Cronenberg, Wasikowska, everybody else. A reason to go to an actual movie.

    1. Hi Argyle
      Even here in LA it was given an "Art film" narrow release and came and went without much noise. Most people have strong negative reactions to it, but as you said in your comment, I found it to be the first "actual movie" I've seen in a long while.
      Not market researched, buffed out, and pitched to the's a very unusual film that is so singular a vision, i responded to it immediately.
      Like a Ken Russell film, it has something to say and isn't interested in fitting audience expectations. I've seen it four times now (rental) and have to buy it. Not saying you will, but I found it remarkable.

  4. Ken, thank you for elevating this new film to its status of instant cult classic--I was also floored when I saw it a couple months ago. Cronenberg is the master of the juxtaposition of Ugly/Beautiful, and this is an unflinching look at the underbelly of our beloved Dream Factory...his best work in many years.

    Julianne Moore won her Oscar this year as much for this film as for Still Alice...I am positive just about every voting Acdemy member saw this movie too--narcissistic Hollywood LOVES movies about it itself! Moore's self-centered star is absolutely chilling--my favorite scene is when she literally dances with glee at the tragedy that gives her a coveted movie role...

    My best friend, another movie lover, was appalled by this movie; he really hated it, and it is indeed nihilistic in tone. But he loved another of my recommendations, the creepy Lindsay Lohan film Canyons, which has a similar feel and tone. Have you seen it?

    Brilliant of you to point out the mythological allusions in the film--our stars and celebrities are indeed the gods most worship these days...we are all total pagans as we follow TMZ, Perez Hilton, E News and worship at the throne of beauty, youth and fame...

    Your blog gets more and more provocative and engaging, thank you for your wonderful work!

    1. Hi Chris
      A big "Me Too!" on being floored when I first saw it! I thinnk it's hard not to be a socially-aware film fan and not have a kind of love-hate relationship with Hollywood. They create so many amazing, even life-changing films...yet as a city, culture, and people, you'd have to look far to find a more superficial, morally bankrupt and materialistic group.
      You're right in saying Hollywood loves movies about itself, and after seeing this, I'm of the same mind as you: Moore was rewarded for her body of work in 2014. She's soooo good!
      Most everyone I know hates this film, by the way. not dislike...hate!
      "The Canyons" was on cable the other night and I flipped it on for a second...I was thrown by how old Lohan looks and how weedy her costar was (It looked like a Cinemax movie from the 80s) so I didn't linger. Maybe I should give it more of a chance (at least see it from the start!)
      It's intriguing to me that you liked this film because from your movie articles you strike me as infinitely more positive in outlook than myself. It's says a great deal about your perspective as a film fan that you weren't turned off by the kind of dark strokes this film paints with.
      Happy you liked the post, and I thank you again for the generosity of your compliments!

    2. Hi Ken, I DO have a positive outlook but ADORE black comedy and unflinching looks at the dark side of life...that's why among my TOP favorite films I count The Honeymoon Killers, Andy Warhol's Bad, Carrie and The Shining, The Player, Happiness (talk abt DARK), Network, Ninth Gate and of course, our mutual all-time favorite, the glorious Rosemary's Baby!! You can't enjoy the light without the dark, and vice versa!! ;-)

    3. Hi Chris
      That's quite an impressive list of dark films! I totally agree that an appreciation for the dark side of humanity (empathetically conveyed) makes one appreciate the light.
      One reason why I think "sunny" stars like Doris Day and Mary Tyler Moore so good with heavy material.

  5. Dear Ken: Hi! Thanks for another wonderful and provocative essay! You are a very fine and insightful writer.

    I had not heard of this film and, based on your description, I probably won't see it. The reason is, I work as a therapist at a community mental health center, and the vast majority of my clients are survivors of extensive trauma. When I leave work, I try to avoid films, books, news articles, etc. that remind me of what I spend my daytime hours doing. I've found that's the best way to avoid burnout.

    But even though I haven't seen the film, I enjoyed your essay immensely. I too loved reading mythology when I was growing up (Edith Hamilton's Mythology was my favorite). And the comparison between the classical Green and Roman deities and today's celebrity culture is an apt one.

    I find as I age, though, I have less tolerance for the self-mythologizing of Hollywood, even in classic films, which I generally love. The Judy Garland-James Mason "A Star is Born" used to be one of my favorite films. And today I still can appreciate it as a very accomplished piece of film-making. But I have a hard time viewing the story as an epic tragedy. Today, when Mason sinks into depression because his film career is over, I want to shout, "Just get a job doing something else!!"

    But I guess that's unfair. For so many performers (including, it sounds like, Moore's character in "Maps"), their career is their life. And I guess that makes sense. As an actor, your livelihood depends on your face, your body, and your voice. When any of those start to lose their appeal or bankability, I guess it's natural the actor would feel like his/her very life is over.

    That's why I particularly admire stars like Irene Dunne, Doris Day and others who found significant and fulfilling "second lives" for themselves once their show business career was over. I would rather see my screen favorites as happy, fulfilled people than as sad victims chasing a futile goal of eternal youth and success.

    1. Hi David
      You're very kind! And you make a lot of provocative points yourself. One of them is in calling attention to the diverse purpose of films for audiences. One of the reasons I think I enjoy dark movies so much is because, as a dance instructor and personal trainer, a great deal of my life is focused on body expression and rather lighter emotional outlets. A movie like this offers contrast for me. But for you, I completely can see why a film like this would be the last thing you'd want to 'entertain" yourself with.
      One of the things I liked about the 70s was that there seemed to be enough escapist films and dark films to go around. Now movies cost so much they have to appeal to a broader audience, and frankly, few people care to plunk their dollars down to be made to feel miserable. That's why "Maps to the Stars" took me by surprise...there's nothing the least bit marketable about it.

      Fair or not, it’s difficult for me for me when movies attempt to depict the suffering of actors as somehow heroic. Hollywod films only work for me when they are like “Day of the Locust” or “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?”: when Hollywood is presented as a particularly plastic and pernicious arm of the American Dream. That’s why this film is so great. The characters are literally killing themselves to produce garbage. They don’t want to be good, they want to be famous and they want to be rich. It depicts the glamorous movie star as not much more than a narcissistic industrialist.
      I love movies a great deal, but I've never been fond of the position actors hold in our culture. So a film like "Maps to the Stars" -is 100% up my alley.
      Thanks, David, for opening up the discussion to a fascinating topic for film fans to ponder: Do we like actors on pedestals or as real people? Do we like to think of them as well-adjusted and happy? What's the payoff to seeing them as damaged?

  6. Reading this made me wonder if you had read other novels/comics by Bruce Wagner or seen the films/TV series that were adapted from them.

    All the themes you highlight are very well worn in Wagner's output (the monstruous child star and the incest in 'Wild Palms', the cruelty of fading in Hollywood in 'I'm losing you', ...). I was very excited to see Maps because I was a Wagner fan but he did not do anything new with his usual tropes.

    I also knew that the movie had been financed with very little money and was curious about how it would look onscreen. De Palma once said he was disappointed in the movie adaptation for 'American Psycho', which I love, because 'it didn't look obscenely wealthy enough' (and De Palma should know about spending obscene amounts of money on- and off-screen with 'Bonfire of Vanities'...).

    That the movie looks very flat is an understatement to say the least (a simple look at the screencaps you chose will tell you that). I understand that you experienced first-hand the elite's need for 'emptiness' in their decor but I felt those rooms and mansions should have been at least double or triple their size to actually work satisfyingly visually and as a metaphor.

    Finally I don't like this latter period of Cronenberg's oeuvre ('M. Butterfly' was the last film of his that I enjoyed) and I thought he barely put any effort into this. I thought beforehand that he would be excited to depict a milieu that he has very little knowledge about (working outside of Hollywood and mainly without their 'stars') but the filming and editing looked very television-level to me (and not the cable TV kind, the bland network kind).

    One of the recent times I was genuinely excited when going to movies only to leave very depressed afterwards by what I had just witnessed.

    1. Hi Mangrove
      Thanks for sharing your comments on your experience of the film. Sounds like it wasn't quite the winner for you.

      It’s my prior familiarity with Wagner (Wild Palms, Dead Stars, and that Jaqueline Bisset film) is what contributed to my enjoyment of “Maps to the Stars.”
      I liken it to seeing a Hitchcock film, his obsession with blondes, his thing for spectacles, preoccupation with innocent men being framed- they could all be called overworked tropes. But I tend to be intrigued when an artist has something so heavily on his/her chest they find themselves revisiting it song after song, movie after movie, or poem after poem. They don’t strike me as covering the same territory so much as delving deeper and understanding with each creative endeavor. Which is how “Maps to the Stars” struck me.
      Weber’s work feels to me more like an artistic expression that grows from a whisper to a scream.

      You make some interesting points, especially about the look of the film, which, to me, is one of the areas where it's most successful. I'm of the mind that our nation's celebrity wealth culture is so pervasive and instinctual, that to make a film about wealth look "polished" is to subtly condone it. The flat look of the film you speak of may well be a result of budget, time, or even having to settle for Canadian homes rather than LA mansions; but the cold, flat, clinical look of these interiors feels right. I'd have found the film amoral (as I did "Wolf of Wall Street" and the recent "Gatsby") had anything looked even remotely pretty.

      So even though we had polar opposite experiences of the film, it’s always a valuable when for visitors to this blog are reminded, by way of contrast, how large a part subjective opinion plays in the assessment of a film.
      In a world where Marvel comics have superhero movies mapped out years and years ahead, you're not likely to hear criticize too harshly a director who makes movies about people and feelings.
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment!

    2. Your point about Wagner's apparent obsession with certain narrative devices is really interesting in lights of Joel's recommandation for 'The Empty Chair': maybe MTTS finally 'cleansed' Wagner?

      Hitchcock I feel could re-examine certain themes over and over, but at least the milieu and the protagonists' backgrounds changed with each film. Wagner couldn't until recently I feared.

      I also liked your remark about the 'amorality of Hollywood prettiness of the richs' in movies: personnally I thought that Gatsby and WOWS looked positively vulgar.

      Now I don't know anymore if that was the filmmakers' intention from the start or if it's only a by-product of big-budget movies' lack of taste.

      But I still think Cronenberg was lazy in his directing for this.

    3. I think regard to the good point you made about Wagner and repeated themes, perhaps, now that I think of it, Woody Allen would have been a better choice for me to reference than Hitchcock.
      You're right that he was able to change the "type" of film enough to make it feel as if he was approaching similar material from different angles; but Woody Allen seemed like he kept going back to the plight of the neurotic Manhattan-ite until fans and critics alike begged him to get it out of his system.
      Although I'm not that familiar with all of Weber's work, he does seem to want to capture Hlollywood the same way Allen wanted to capture NY- the same essential themes revisited over and over.
      The whole wealth/vulgarity thing is funny because it reminds me of what I've been seeing on the Red Carpet lately in Hollywood, and perhaps this is what comes through in film.
      I think some critic I believe made the observation that the pricey designer clothes on stars wear to the Osacars and Met Galas today look more like the sleazy, Fredericks of Hollywood stuff porn stars wear to those adult film awards.
      Vulgarity (what I think is vulgar anyway) has actually become an aesthetic a great many young people have come to see as beautiful.
      Because the very rich (but unfamous) in LA have cornered the market on ostentatious vulgarity, the sort of cold, rather off-putting minimalism you'll find in chic hotels like The Standard is what many movie stars seem to gravitate to (in self defense...god forbid their homes look just like the millionaire dentist or plastic surgeon next door!).
      Even though the film didn't really do it for you, mangrove, can't tell you how terrific it is for you to share those thoughts in this mini-forum! Nice to see a film I thought only I liked discussed with so many interesting points introduced.

  7. I had to return to share one more thing: regarding the reference to dieties and their on-going entanglements. I think I've commented before about how, when I was in my teens (the 1970s), I would read Rona Barrett's Hollywood Magazine and I'd always be intrigued by how many actors had children by multiple actresses (and vice-versa) and I'd wonder if all those half-siblings knew each other. It's funny that Carrie Fisher should show up in this movie because she was one of the ones I used to wonder about: did she know or interact with Eddie Fisher's children by Connie Stevens?

    I should add, I had quite a sheltered childhood. I never knew anyone whose parents were divorced until I was 11. When my aunt divorced her unfaithful, abusive husband in about 1973, it was considered a family scandal! Perhaps that's what intrigued me about those oft-married stars of Hollywood--the casual ease with which they changed partners.

    1. Although my parents divorced when I was about 10, I don't know if I met another kid from a "broken home" until I was in high school...and not even that many then (Catcholic school, y'know).
      That whole thing about movie stars and their many offspiring is weird because when i was growing up, I though Bing Crosby had only one family and one set of kids (always on his TV specials), only later did I learn of a previous wife and kids he almost had nothing to do with.
      And who ever talk's about Vincente Minnelli's kids after Judy Garland divorced him? Apparently Liza is VERY invested in portraying herself as his only daughter.
      When I really think about the incestuous side of Hollywood, my mind goes mostly to nepotism. Every director with a child seems to have handed their kid a career somewhere in the industry.

    2. As the old saying goes, "The son (or daughter) also rises."

  8. I have been circling around this film for a while. I admire Cronenberg, find the subject fascinating and the cast is, obviously, compelling. But I missed Maps to the Stars when it was in release here and, being tight-fisted about paying additional $ to Comcast, have, even as a good friend (whose movie tastes are close to mine) has urged me to see it, let it go at that. Your take on the film and its themes, and your enthusiasm for it, have provided the extra push I apparently needed. Thanks, Ken.

    1. Hello Eve
      So flattered that this enthusiastic rave helped "push" you into giving "Maps to the Stars" a look! That it was also recommended by close friend makes me feel that whether you like it or not, you will have a take on it that I hope you share with us. Happy watching! (If happy is the right word to use...)

  9. The Guardian had a good package about the film last September.

    1. Thanks Rick!
      Wow! What wonderful, in-depth pieces I'd not seen. I especially got a kick out of Cusak's take on the film. I avoided looking around the net when I was writing this post, but these articles make me want to see what other things are out there. Thanks!

    2. Have you seen this?

      The Los Angeles Magazine

    3. Thanks, Joel...just now saw your link!

  10. Ken, I've never read you before (I came to your essay because of my fascination with this film); I'm grateful that I did, your piece is brilliant. It's so satisfying to read something that truly reflects the intelligence and boldness of "Maps to the Stars", the depth of its vision - both the pathology AND the pathos (the poetry). I don't know how many times you've seen "Maps"; I've watched it multiple times (the advantage of a blu-ray), but you've invoked the essential ingredients without really giving too much away. It's been frustrating to read reviews from critics, or lay folk, who may offer high praise (Peter Bradshaw, Mark Kermode, Robbie Collins, etc.), but seem to have only been aware of, or focused on, the most obvious, external parts, the dark humor, which I also love (maybe they just don't want to get into the subtle, celestial areas). As you've said, it definitely isn't for everyone; many will see it as an alien visitation, will have no idea what's going on, be repelled, and hate it (Cronenberg and Bruce Wagner would be shocked if they didn't). The fact that you begin your essay from the mythic angle of Greek tragedy, and then dig down deeply from there, is evidence of your insight, and your fearlessness to go for the gold (by the way, I also didn't make that fallen angel connection with the holes in Agatha's top - your partner has keen vision). So, I want to express my appreciation for your effort, along with your ability as a writer, which is worthy of this brilliant, outrageous, multilayered, film. Also I thought "Maps" had superb acting from ALL, from Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore (the subtle, and the hysterical) at the top, all the way down to the minor roles (the actress playing Genie, the agent, is perfection). "Maps to the Stars" really is a mixture of the sublime and the ridiculous, the sacred and the profane, and it's apparent to me you received its message.

    1. Hi Joel
      I'm gratified your fascination with this film brought you to this blog, for it's wonderful to hear from someone who has probably seen this film more times than I (4 times now, but I had to send it back to Netflix. Plan on buying a copy soon), and appears to revel in the complexity of Cronenberg's vision.
      Of course I'm VERY flattered by your compliments (A very sincere thanks!) but I really enjoyed reading how you embraced film's fearlessness, outrageousness, and even its repellent side. The few people I know who've seen "Maps to the Stars" all hated it, so I've never had a chance to get much of a sense from anyone but my partner whether or not anything beyond the black comedy/satire angle ever resonated with anyone. I see from your comments that some of the film's subterranean themes did indeed hit their mark with viewers.
      My piece was already so overlong and there were so many omissions, so I am especially happy for your calling attention to Havana's agent, Genie (Dawn Greenhalgh). She was terrific!
      So thanks for reading and commenting, Joel. Don't know how you found this hidden blog, but very glad you did!

  11. Plot question. I've watched it twice over the weekend and I still don't understand how Olivia Williams caught fire.

    1. Hi Rick
      Well, I can't say what really happened or even that my interpretation is correct or the only one, but I took Williams' to have be an act of self-immolation.
      There’s the Greek mythology angle in which setting fire to oneself is a ritual of atonement / protest /reclamation.; but it also fits with so many characters in the film spouting barely-understood Buddhist beliefs.
      For me, Williams' character suffers a very acute level of guilt for having "committed crimes," and, in fitting with the ritualistic nature of Agatha’s quest and recital of that poem, I think Williams engages in a very ancient, almost mystical form of suicide to either punish or purify herself of her guilt.

      That the origin of her death (accidental or intentional) is not made explicitly clear seems to fit the film’s themes of death by fire. We never know exactly how Havana’s mother died on Christmas, 1976, but her ghost says something like “You blame yourself….” Similarly, Agatha insists that she did not intend to hurt Benjie in the fire she set, inferring perhaps that it was her intention to set only herself on fire.
      So like these “secrets” that have no answer, Williams’ death becomes another of Hollywood’s myths unexplained.
      Anybody else out there have a different take? It would be interesting to hear other impressions on this plot point.

    2. Hi Ken
      I have to agree with your take on Christina's (Olivia Williams) death by fire, her self-immolation as a ritualistic act of atonement and purification (she was aware of having a soul to lose). I saw this incident as you did (as I seem to have seen the whole film). There are many esoteric, mystical ideas expressed throughout "Maps" - a kind of intuition over reason that reflects the paradox of a zen koan:

      Benji, "I AM the franchise",
      Stafford, "Goo goo g'joob".

      Everyone is SO messed up, SO hypocritical; they're caught up in false idols of consumerism and outward validation, masking any actual awareness or fear of death; they're egocentric and materialistic, like our culture (except for Agatha). I think Christina had enough of her fish tank existence, of feeling "exposed". There are many layers in "Maps", a lot to peel back; it takes a number of viewings to pick up the patterns and to connect all the "stars" that individually burn and implode, but that when viewed from a distance, form a greater constellation.

      You're really going to enjoy having that blu-ray.

    3. Hey Joel
      Thanks for contributing your take on that rather disturbing sequence. it does appear that we share similar views of the film, which is surprising since, like you, the few reviews I read seemed to only focus on what they took to be a Hollywood satire.
      Hollywood has grown so obscenely grotesque over the years that it resists lampooning. Sensing overkill, no wonder American audiences failed to respond.
      Anyway, you express an appreciation of this film that is very enlightening to read. Not just because we're in agreement, but you also point out things that I thought no one else took notice of (your zen koan comment). As per the "Maps" symbolism, I like your comment:
      "It takes a number of viewings to pick up the patterns and to connect all the "stars" that individually burn and implode, but when viewed from a distance, form a greater constellation." That's great!

      I haven't had a contemporary film that paid off with multiple viewings since Polanski's "The Ghost Writer"...i will be looking forward to the DVD.
      Thanks, Joel!

    4. Ha, thanks - the "greater constellation" lines I lifted from my own short, impressionistic, Amazon review that I wrote after seeing "Maps" the first time (I sensed that there was a lot left to unpack in the film). For me it's a metaphor for another aspect of "Maps" that portrays a decaying culture, a burning out, the chaotic end of a cycle, which also reflects a celestial aspect, the life and death cycle of a star (astronomically speaking), burning and imploding. In this sense, Agatha is also similar to the goddess Kali, who in Hindu scripture, is the goddess of destruction, who comes at the end of a cycle, but who provides a great service by clearing away the old order and making way for renewal. There are many connections like this; also the original meaning of Lucifer (the angel cast out of heaven) being the Bringer of Light, the Bringer of Dawn. Agatha can be seen as the rejected, feared one who has returned to reveal the darkness - to cast light on all that's repressed and hidden.

      And, Ken, not only are you not alone in seeing these spiritual/mystical subtexts in the film, your brilliant essay shows that you've actually tapped into it's core meanings. These interpretations are not far-fetched at all; Bruce Wagner, who wrote the screenplay, is not just a long time observer of Hollywood, he's a long time student and practitioner of Buddhism, Hindu teachings and other mystical texts. This spiritual seeker aspect is also embedded throughout much of his writing - check out "The Empty Chair", which is stunning, outrageous and ultimately, incredibly moving.

    5. hi Joel
      I don't know "The Empty Chair" but I think I'll pay a visit to Amazon. You make it sound like a worthwhile read. There I'll look for your review of "Map to the Stars" as well. Sounds fascinating...thanks!

    6. The burning body suddenly appears in "Maps To The Stars" and raises a number of points. I do not have definite answers, but I postulate that to me this burning moment can be seen as part answer to the question: what happens in Hollywood when your dreams fade and collapse? Given the shallow-rooted lives we have observed, with their backstabbing, mean outlooks and grasping for fame and fortune the characters lack sufficient wisdom to bring a mature closure to this stage of their lives; for them there are two ways out – the two paths are (in twisted ways) either ‘go forward’ or ‘go back’: either ‘flame out’, using alcohol and drugs; or sink into suicide. Thus Olivia Williams’ immolation is a symbol of a larger theme – it is a quick rendition of failed actors and schemers who burn themselves down – her dreams have collapsed and her sudden immolation is a recognition that she sees her life as having reached the stage of extinguishment; the other approach is to take drugs to escape via suicide as Agatha and Benjamin do. At the end we think of the words of Hamlet
      … to die, to sleep
      No more; and by a sleep, to say we end
      The Heart-ache, and the thousand Natural shocks
      That Flesh is heir to? 'Tis a consummation
      Devoutly to be wished.

    7. This is probably the best theory I've seen so far as to the meaning of the sudden burning sequence, as not only does it happen in a VISUALLY surreal fashion (the much-pointed out 'purposely' ridiculous effects used), but the situation itself is unreal...there's no clear source of the fire, no struggle, she's instantly incinerated, Cusack's character becomes catatonic from it, etc. I simply couldn't accept the scene as a non-symbolic, literal "Well, she lit herself on fire and died cos she was depressed", and this explanation of how it ties into the larger theme makes a lot of sense

  12. Ken, every time I read one of your reviews, I have to add a few more movies to my Netflix queue and jot down the name of a book or artist ; )

    Also, I always love reading your readers' comments, as well.

    32 comments later, there's not too much left to say.

    I am a sucker for movies about Hollywood, and I thought Maps to the Stars was fascinating. Some little things that struck me:

    Julianne Moore's "look" in Map to the Stars made me flash on Sharon Tate's "Jennifer North" in Valley of the Dollls... if she had made it to middle age!

    Mia Wasikowska's Agatha reminded me of another Mia...Farrow, in "Secret Ceremony!" Right down to peering creepily out of her bangs ; )

    Finally, in my "She reminds me of..." sweepstakes, I had never seen Olivia Willams in anything before, and wondered at first if it was Judy Davis (who I haven't seen in anything for ages...) They have the same profile and same worried eyes.

    I'm sure I will be watching this one again!
    Oh, here's one for you... I have "Summer and Smoke" from Netflix. Tennessee Williams ruminating on desire versus decorum, Geraldine Page as a neurotic spinster, Laurence Harvey as a cad, how could I resist? ; )

    Wonderful work, as always, Ken.
    Your reviews would make a wonderful book collection.

    1. Hi Rick
      Thank you so much! I like your "Reminds me of..." because as a fan of classic film, I frequently catch myself doing the same thing when I watch contemporary movies. The image of Svannah Segrand (the weird/terrible names of the characters in "Maps to the Stars" feels like a motif) as a middle-aged Jennifer North is really inspired. As is the spot-on "Secret Ceremony" similarity in Wasikowska's character (Farrow cornered the market on this kind of role in her time).

      Hollywood movies are always interesting because no one seems to make them from a happy place. I really don't like when they have personal axes to grind (like Blake Edwards' S.O.B.), but I do like when a screenwriter has a perspective Hollywood lacks about itself.

      "Summer and Smoke" is a big favorite of mine and I actually watched it about a month ago. Another period film with Laurence Harvey strolling around looking up-to-the-minute, 1960s.
      Glad you enjoyed the post and like reading the terrific comments of others. You all contribute immeasurably by being so knowledgeable and so enthusiastic about film. Looking forward to hearing form you again!

  13. I just watched it yesterday,and loved it,so sick and twisted

    1. Hi Thomas
      Not to drop names (but I will, and frequently do) Olivia Williams took my class two weeks ago, and when i told her how much I loved it, the very words she used to describe it were exactly your own: "Isn't it so sick and twisted?"
      So I think it's safe to say you "got" the film. Glad you liked it, and thanks for stopping by to comment!

  14. Just caught the movie on TV late last night, came here hungry for some fellow analysis, was not disappointed. Definitely a lot of mythological/classic tragedy under (And over) tones running all throughout this movie, and you hit alot of 'em on the head. There's so many things going on in this film, but one of them is about realizing that sometimes you are trapped, by being just a piece in the puzzle, in something much larger than yourself...a phrase usually used for comfort, but here taken a darker route. As Agatha frequently says to characters such as her brother, "We're all a part of this great...mythology". They are characters in a story they didn't write

    1. Thanks for commenting Rob!
      In the late 60s and 70s, it became something of a fashion for directors like Godard, Chabrol, and Bunel (and the American directors they influenced) to make films with ambiguous narratives open to multiple it is a return to that style.
      It's a film people can read many different ways and all can be valid and existing at the same time.
      IMDB tends to get impatient with the concept and I read people DEMANDING that each and every aspect of the film be explained and clarified to their satisfaction.
      Not possible and certainly not useful.
      I've enjoyed reading so many of the comments here because the subjective experience of film is reaffirmed. No wrong answers, no right answers, just "What did the film say to me?" discussion.

      Glad that you chose to share your thoughtful insights here and that your exploring what others saw in it as well.
      Thanks for participating in the dialog!


  15. Nice post. What you said may be correct. I wanted to share that Maps fascinates me for another, plot-driven reason. I have a theory about Maps plot that I am fairly certain is correct. As a fan of the film you may be interested in hearing it. My post is so long I had to post in in multiple parts:

    Part 1:

    I interpret this film as Cronenberg’s Mulholland Dr., a fantasy of a diseased mind in Agatha’s. The real events are Agatha successfully killed her parents in the fire and drugged her brother to death to “marry” him. What we see in the film is her fantasy, perhaps as many years later in the future after the fire as its set and perhaps in a place like a mental hospital. The last act of the film recreates in her fantasy the night of the fire. In the fantasy she catches Jerome sleeping with Havana, goes crazy and kills Havana, her mother is immolated to death and her father catatonic, then her and Benjie have a marriage ceremony and kill themselves. My belief of the real events: Agatha caught Benjie sleeping with someone, thus proving he did not share her incestual feelings and her dream of marrying Benjie would never happen. This caused her to break and set the fire that killed her parents, then kill her brother and marrying his dead body.

    Let’s start with the Jerome/Agatha plot as a clue. If the plot is played straight, I consider the Jerome plot to be contradictory. The rest of this film points towards Agatha being in love with Benjie. She reads a poem implying there’s one love for her, there’s the incest theme coming from her parents and she ends the film marrying him and killing herself for him. What’s up with her sleeping with Jerome and caring enough emotionally to snap and kill Havana when he cheats? But in my theory, Jerome is adult Benjie. There’s physical similarities and they are actors. Except unlike the real Benjie, Jerome wants Agatha and gets to please her sexually. She is his fantasy. Now Agatha snapping so much when fantasy Jerome sleeps with Havana makes sense, if he really represented Benjie.

    One of the biggest clues that set me off to my theory is Agatha’s mother’s death. It’s not played realistically. She burns to a black charred skeleton within seconds (and is still moving), the CGI is over the top, etc. We don’t see who sets the fire. Some have speculated it’s a guilt suicide, but again, why not show it if that’s what Cronenberg intended? Later, Agatha’s father is catatonic when Benjie takes the ring. Another thing to consider is this scene takes place after Agatha kills Havana, and then tells Benjie to get the ring, and is followed by the marriage/suicide. A scene with Christina killing herself could’ve happened anytime. But it comes after Agatha going crazy and in the middle of all this other Agatha momentum. What makes a lot more sense to me is if this is Agatha killing her mother to death in his mind. Nobody sets the fire, because Agatha mentally made her self-combust. The death is unrealistic and far too fast because it’s not a real world. Like how Agatha burned her mother to death in real life, she does in her fantasy. As for Dr. Weiss being catatonic afterwards, perhaps it represents him getting taken out by the smoke instead of the fire before his death in real life. Or in her fantasy Agatha just didn’t hate him enough to burn him to death like her mother.

  16. Part 2:

    Another thing that’s important to me is where this scene takes place. If Cronenberg wanted to show Christina killing herself he could’ve put the scene anywhere. But in the context of this film the scenes are: Agatha catches Jerome/Havana and kills Havana, gets Benjie to go get the right, Christina burns to death, Agatha/Benjie marriage. The Agatha kills Havana scene sets off the momentum that carries us the rest of the film. If the film’s plot is played straight, her mother’s suicide put in there, is an awkward fit. If the film is a fantasy its placing is beyond perfect. It comes right after she goes crazy and kills Havana, and thus this burst of craziness, causes her to set her mom on fire in her mind. The placing of the scene and the preceding and following ones is perfect for my theory that real life Agatha caught Benjie screwing a skank, went crazy and killed her parents in a fire and then married a dead Benjie.

    Another big clue is the ghosts. If the film is played as a straight plot, it’s hard to explain really what Cronenberg is going for here. My theory is the ghosts are part of Agatha’s sub-conscience trying to wake her up and ruin her fantasy. A big clue: Agatha says that the night of the fire children were telling her to do it. You know who else sees ghost children this whole film? Benjie. So this is a sign that the Benjie we see in the film is part of Agatha’s mind, and is visited by those same children. A subtle yet important clue: Benjie at one point is visited by Mika, the boy who drowned. How is this possible, because Benjie didn’t meet him to know what he looks like, plus it’s supposed to be a secret outside of Havan and Agatha that he’s dead. But if all in Agatha’s head, the Mika who’s part of Agatha/Havana’s storyline crosses over to Benjie’s no problem.

    I wanted to run through some clues in Agatha and Benjie’s in the trailer that reveals a whole lot of little clues about the real events and this being a fantasy. First off, Agatha more or less reveals that the target of the fire is her parents. She says “I didn’t want anything to happen to you” and then immediately jumps to a line of “Did you know about them? About who we are, did we tell you” referring to the parents Vincent. The connection of these two lines to me has Agatha saying that she set the fire to kill her parents. She says she didn’t do it to kill Benjie, then talks about her parents and trying to justify their lies as a reason to set the fire, implying they were the target. After saying that the children told her to do it, she said they got them to go away with “With this ring I am consecrated to you” and tells Benjie he’s part of a mythological script. While these may not seem like major clues my question is why is Cronenberg including this if he intended the plot to be read straight up? He’s trying to say SOMETHING about the children in Agatha’s head and that line making them go away, I presume. There’s also a point in the scene where Benjie asks what she used to drug him. Instead of Cronenberg just saying sleeping pills, he makes Agatha say “Vitamins, pills, something for sleeping I guess”, the non-answer implying she doesn’t really know what she used, she forgot, or is lying.

    Again I ask, if Cronenberg intended this film to be a straight plot, why not just say sleeping pills? Why not tell us how Benjie survived when he was drugged on sleeping pills and Agatha didn’t save him, which is also revealed in the scene when Benjie says “Why I am having trouble with the I didn’t want anything to happen to you part”, implying he knows that Agatha coming back isn’t how he survived. On top of this there’s also the clue of why Agatha has burns and Benjie doesn’t. Considering he was drugged with sleeping pills in a fire wouldn’t he be the one who barely survived?

  17. Part 3:

    Again there’s just so little exposition by Cronenberg here when nobody would’ve blamed him for saying just what happened that night. But if a fantasy not telling us how they got saved makes sense, because they died. Not telling us that Agatha used sleeping pills makes sense, because she didn’t use sleeping pills, because what she used was to kill him, not put him to sleep.

    Havana is somewhat tricky to place in this theory. There’s connections to Agatha such as her mother dying in the fire, her connection to the poem Agatha repeats, and having an abusive past like Agatha.

    There are some other clues as well. For example isn’t it weird how Benjie isn’t interested in any teenage girls his own age? A young actor like that isn’t screwing around? Yet if in Agatha’s head, her making him faithful to her makes plenty of sense. Another one is that Agatha’s plan for Benjie to go back to her house to get her father’s ring is incredibly illogical if this isn’t a fantasy, where she knows what will happen and is controlling it. Wouldn’t there be the risk of authorities catching him when he went back? And how do you steal the wedding ring off off of Dr. Weiss’ hand if the man is alive and walking around and there to turn Benjie in the moment he sees him? It’s a silly, crazy plan that would normally lead to Benjie getting caught, and Agatha not getting her wedding. But it makes perfect sense because after killing Havana everything is set into motion in her fantasy ending with the marriage suicide pact her way.

    1. Hi Julian
      Whew! Thanks for sharing your interesting and well-thought-out theory of "Maps to the Stars" with us!
      I don't adhere to there being a single "correct" or even"wrong" interpretation to the film, open as it is to multiple ways of responding to its story and themes.
      It's just fun to hear the myriad interpretations possible to extract from cronenberg's fluid narrative. Thanks for contributing!

  18. Cronenberg said he wanted to isolate the characters within the frame. Like they were all in their own bubble. That explains the film's flat look.

    The first 20 min of the film is shockingly hilarious, then once we learn about everyone's past it transforms into tragic territory.

  19. How kind! I'm glad you enjoyed it...thank you very much!

  20. Thanks Ken for the review. Took five years plus to come across this film and just watched it. Thought it was brilliant! Now searching for the layers of meaning and thrilled to come across your critical reflection. Thinking of the Carrie Fisher reference also made me think of hollywood siblings John / Joan Cusack and the connection to cast John makes so much sense in blurring fact / fiction. Thanks again.

    1. The pleasure's mine. I'm happy that in your search for further thoughts on this film (still such a favorite) you came across this post.
      There's so much food for though/ room for interpretation in MAPS TO THE STARS. I hadn't thought of the further allusions to siblings that John Cusack brings to the movie.
      Thanks for that contribution, and thanks you for reading this and taking the time to comment!

  21. This is a brilliant page about a film that has so much going on in it. Might I raise a completely different level? What do we know about real life inspirations for any of the material in it? What dark Hollywood stories - notorious or only known to insiders - have fed into what Wagner/Cronenberg crafted? By way of comparison, there is another Hollywood satire (Ivans XTC) that at one level is a modern version of a Tolstoy short story but which also draws on the real life death of a well-known CAA agent.

    1. Thanks for reading this post and I'm glad you enjoyed it. There is indeed a great deal going on in MAPS TO THE STARS, a great deal of it having the feel of veracity, in spite of the film being darkly satiric and infused with magic realism.
      I suspect there are some real-life inspirations for these characters, but I've yet to come across a review or interview with Cronenberg to offer any hints.
      The tone of it all is just so knowing and insider, in that truth-is-stranger-than-fiction way.
      I have not even heard of "Ivans XTC" but in reading about it online, it sounds very interesting and perhaps a worthwhile movie to check out.
      Thanks for bringing it to my attention, and again, thanks for your intriguing comments! Cheers!

    2. Many thanks. I wonder if there are clues in the novel? In any case I can certainly recommend Ivan’s XTC for fans of eg Maps To the Stars, Mulholland Drive etc.