Incestuous Los Angels in “Maps to the Stars” (2014)

Fire, drugs, incest… And two angry ghosts.

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Maps to the Stars is a tour into the heart of a Hollywood family chasing fame, one another, and the relentless ghosts of their pasts. The film is meant to be a kind of parody of Hollywood and it’s stars, and is really over the top. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be the way it turned out!

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The film is a satire of contemporary Hollywood depicting a communal nervous breakdown in a town so enclosed and incestuous that everyone is part of the same symbolic sibling-hood of fear. This is one, big, unhappy dysfunctional family, in which guilty souls are afraid of failure and haunted by the return of the repressed.

Maps to the Stars and its dissection of celebrity culture is ultimately more shocking than entertaining. In fact, I sat staring at the screen with my mouth slightly open quite a lot during this movie. Mostly when Julianne Moore strutted around the screen, delivering probably the filthiest performance of her career.

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Agatha Weiss (Mia Wasikowska), an odd-seeming teenage girl covered in burn scars, arrives in Hollywood on a bus from Florida with something like stars in her eyes. She splurges on a chauffeured limousine and asks her driver Jerome Fontana (Robert Pattinson) to take her on one of those “Maps to the Stars” tours one often sees advertised in certain parts of Los Angeles. He talks her out of it, but she’s able to find one star’s house on her own, or at least what’s left of it: The childhood home of Benji Weiss (Evan Bird), a teen superstar made famous by a popular film franchise called “Bad Babysitter,” which Agatha claims was based on her.

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The attention-starved Agatha sets immediately to work on inserting herself into Benji’s world. She does so by way of a previously established Twitter friendship with Carrie Fisher. Agatha lands a job as personal assistant for Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), an entitled actress who is desperate to play her famous dead mother in a remake of the movie that made her famous. At the same time, she’s working out her issues, stemming from what she says was childhood sexual abuse at the hands of that very mother. She has sessions with Dr. Stafford Weiss (John Cusack), a caricature of a celebrity psychologist who also happens to be the father of Benji, the child star with a drug habit.

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Everyone’s a mess, and the film itself is a train wreck with director David Cronenberg at the helm, driving it off the rails.  Cronenberg seemed to have had a fucked-up to do list of what he wanted in this movie:

Incest – check
Rape between mother & daughter – check
Asphyxiation – check
Ghosts – check
Murder – check

This movie, much like its characters, seems to be on drugs. It is so out there, it is kind of ridiculous at times. It was like a leftover stew, full of everything you could throw into a movie; drugs, sex, excessive cursing and a lot of incest! That included mother/daughter incest (although nothing is shown) and two instances of brother and sister incest.

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This film’s very literal use of incest as a metaphor for Hollywood was really brilliant, but also a bit far fetched. Perhaps by virtue of its shock value alone, incest is a preoccupation in Maps to the Stars; real, imagined, hidden and suspected. Evidence of incest purports to explain the pathologies of the film’s most messed-up characters, but it doesn’t explain it sufficiently to convince us of which came first.

There’s something bubbling under the surface of the movie that is interesting, but unfortunately these ideas never come to fruition. However, when you’re watching a movie about how incestuous and literally inbred Hollywood is, there’s a decided charge to seeing Carrie Fisher show up as herself.

There’s a lot of energy dedicated to the way people process memory as literal ghosts, and I’m not kidding when I say that incest and inbreeding is a big part of the puzzle.

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Wasikowska portrayal of Agatha is better than the film around her. She seems to get the weird, bruised heart of this girl and as she reveals her secrets, little by little. She makes the frankly outlandish plot seem a bit more credible and real.

The plot surrounding Agatha and the incestuous turns it took were so crazy. I realize that it is all a metaphor for the incestuous ways of Hollywood where always the same people are involved and it feels like incest is the closest those people will ever get to loving themselves. But sometimes less is more.

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Here is an interesting excerpt from an Interview with David Cronenberg about his incestuous version of L.A.

…The other major theme of Maps to the Stars is incest.

“Shown is a particular type of incest. When it comes to incest, everyone thinks the relationships father / daughter or mother / son and in a few rather than brother / sister, especially when this involves two kids. The world of cinema by its very nature is quite incestuous, if you pass me the comparison: it is mostly a small group of people that you meet all the time, and who share the same problems. And Hollywood is a community even smaller. Incest in Hollywood is in the business, the sensitivity and creativity. The results are then under the eyes of all: the largest movie studios are nothing more than the result, often deformed, with many problems, of an incestuous union. In Maps to the Stars, there is a family drama but is within a well-defined family, which in some way is the family of Hollywood.”

Click here to watch the trailer.

Have you seen the film? What did you think?

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Categories: Brother/Sister, Film, mother x daughter | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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