Interview: Expanding the Maps to the Stars with David Cronenberg
Intriguing, disturbing, unsubtle, and hilarious are just some of the words that have been used be used to describe David Cronenberg’s latest film Maps to the Stars. The film is seemingly lacks complexity but upon further inspection one can find that there is much more to the film than meets the eye. Cronenberg hasn’t stopped working since his 1969 feature debut Stereo, consistently turning out a film every couple years since then. This year, Cronenberg not only released Maps, but also his first novel “Consumed”.
After reaching the top of the stairs to the second floor of Ivan Reitman’s downtown restaurant Montecito, it was impossible not to spot Cronenberg sitting across the room in a throne-like chair. Almost immediately after our conversation begins, Cronenberg is quick to set one thing straight. “I have no desire to attack Hollywood. I don’t even think of the movie exactly as an attack on Hollywood. Hollywood doesn’t owe me anything,” the director explained; and he has a point. With the exception of A History of Violence, all of Cronenberg’s films have been made away from the Hollywood system as Canadian/European co-productions. Nevertheless, Cronenberg is certain of the validity of his content, as he confidently remarks, “I knew when I read Bruce’s script that this was true. That this is not a satire: this is reality. And the feedback that I’ve gotten from all sorts of directors and studio people says exactly that.” Quoting some of the responses he has received, Cronenberg added, “You’re right. This is our life. This is the life we live.”
“That’s not unique to Hollywood. Any human endeavor has those aspects. Look at various forms of pop culture that can skewer any business, be it Wall Street, or Silicon Valley, or Dilbert, the cartoon.” Says Cronenberg, who confidently feels that the situations in Maps can be applied elsewhere. He clearly doesn’t consider the film to be an independent filmmaker’s middle finger to the Hollywood system.
Novelist Bruce Wagner wrote the screenplay for Maps over twenty-years ago, but for various logistical reasons it took quite a while to get made. Regardless, Wagner made sure to update the script as the years went by. “His references, as you can tell, are very current. He’s talking about recent TV shows and recent cultural events and stuff, and he’s been very fearless about that. I always worried about that because I thought it would date my films, but he was never worried about that. But what it meant was that we were updating it right until the last minute of shooting.” In discussing working as an independent filmmaker, Cronenberg observed that had he been working for a studio, last minute changes to the script would have been impossible.
Cronenberg’s new novel, “Consumed”, finds him in territories he has trotted before; both literally and thematically, as the globetrotting story does make a stop in Toronto. The book has many body horror elements that can be found in his earlier films. “I don’t really see Consumed that way, you see. It didn’t feel like anything that I could’ve written as a younger filmmaker when I was making horror films. I couldn’t have written that.” Cronenberg says, disagreeing with me. I’m quick to clarify that I in no way meant to imply that Consumed is a step back for him. I remarked that the politics and philosophy in the film is quite dense, but at the same he couldn’t avoid the term “body horror” in a novel which features a character who is certain that a sack of insects are inhabiting her left-breast. “That is just where my mind goes. What can I say?” he replies jokingly.
“First of all, ‘body horror’ is not my term. It has stuck and now I’m the creator of the ‘body horror’ genre so I think I’m thankful. At least I’ve created a genre, even though I don’t know what it is. I don’t think it’s horror of the body at all, it’s kind of a fascination with the body, yes, but that’s a whole other discussion.” A fascination with the body may be the best way to describe it.
Even without the horror element, the physical body itself is essential in every Cronenberg film. Whether it is the mob tattoos in Eastern Promises or Julianne Moore’s lengthy toilet scene in Maps, the body is always present. Cronenberg’s fascination with the body is essential in making each of his films what they are and moviegoers will be glad if things stay that way.