Hollywood loves pointing the camera on itself but not since The Player has the selfie provided such a wonderfully sadistic portrait of Tinsel Town. At the centre of David Cronenberg’s film is a Hollywood family — played by John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Evan Bird. Orbiting them are a former big name actress (Julianne Moore) and a burn victim (Mia Wasikowska), whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets. The terrific performances and decidedly un-Hollywood feel of this, the most Hollywood of Cronenberg’s films, make Maps a compelling psychological thriller.
Hollywood — self-obsessed child that it is — enjoys turning the camera on itself, but with Maps to the Stars, director David Cronenberg uses the city as a palette to paint a picture of the stupid, venal and stratospherically self-involved behaviour that goes on behind the scenes in Beverly Hills’s gated communities and back lots.
At the centre of the film are the Weisses, a Hollywood family (John Cusack, Olivia Williams and Evan Bird) with more secrets than TMZ’s too-hot-to-handle file, Havana Segrand (Julianne Moore), a former big name actress who is now as messed up as she is washed up and Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a burn victim with schizophrenia whose presence threatens to expose closely guarded secrets.
This may be the most sun-dappled film Cronenberg has ever made, but don’t let the light fool you; it’s also one of his darkest. I say one of his darkest because the 71-year-old director has frequently visited what Victor Hugo called “night within us,” provoking Village Voice to call him, “the most audacious and challenging narrative director in the English-speaking world.”
Spider, a trip into the mind of a severely mentally disturbed man starring Ralph Fiennes, is a case in point. Called “Cronenberg’s most depressingly bleak film,” by critic Ken Hanke, the 2002 film sees Fiennes deliver a virtually dialogue-free performance as the title character. But it is Miranda Richardson as several characters — all the women in Spider’s life — who really steals the show. It’s a spooky, cerebral thriller.
The Brood is probably Cronenberg’s most traditional horror film. Featuring murderous psychoplasmic kids, experimental psychotherapist Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar as a fetus-licking mother, it is the very stuff that nightmares are made of. It’s lesser seen than The Fly or Dead Zone and way more down-and-dirty, but for sheer scares it’s hard to beat.
A Dangerous Mind, the tautly told story of two psychoanalysts you’ve heard of, Dr. Carl Jung (Michael Fassbender) and Sigmund Freud (Viggo Mortensen), plus one you’ve probably never heard of, Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley), sees Cronenberg combine a love story and birth of modern analysis.
The almost total lack of physical action means the focus is on the words. Some will see a film rich with dialogue, others will see it as verbose. But that’s the kind of duality the movie explores.
Finally, in Cosmopolis, Cronenberg takes us along for an existential road trip through the breakdown of modern society. Based on a novel by Don DeLillo and starring Robert Pattinson as a controlling and self-destructive billionaire money manager, the movie covers the gamut of human experience, from haircuts, money and infidelity to asymmetrical prostates and mortality.