In “Maps to the Stars,” David Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner depict Los Angeles in 2014 by following the lives of several showbiz characters. There’s aspiring actor and limousine driver, Jerome (Robert Pattinson), a fading screen star, Havana (Julianne Moore), her “chore whore” assistant who’s also a schizophrenic pyromaniac, Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), Agatha’s estranged brother, teen star Benjie (Evan Bird), and the siblings’ parents, Benjie’s manager Cristina (Olivia Williams) and self-help guru Stafford (John Cusack). Each of these characters has an agenda that seeks to advance their career, status, or otherwise secret goals, and the only thing stopping them is ethics or good taste.
As the film follows them during their daily lives, Cronenberg and Wagner drop in moments of dialogue (not to mention casually explicit sexual encounters) that are shockingly callous before escalating to full-on cruelty. While just about any other film would heighten its satire by contrasting the characters’ public and private personas, Cronenberg and Wagner make a point of demonstrating how these people barely mask themselves in public, even Benjie, who clearly has no qualms about being rude in front of a fan who’s literally dying of cancer.
As Cronenberg told The Guardian in 2014, it’s this tonal approach that separates “Maps to the Stars” from the typical satiric mold:
“The movie is obviously a work of fiction, it’s not a documentary on how Hollywood works; it uses compression, exaggeration, all those techniques. But both Bruce and I would resist calling it a satire. Jonathan Swift’s ‘A Modest Proposal’ is a satire, but this movie is too realistic to be a satire. In fact, Bruce has said that every line of dialogue in the movie he has heard spoken by someone. He could probably tell you who.”