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The Map to my Heart

An interview with MAPS TO THE STARS director, David Cronenberg.


This has been David Cronenberg’s year. In November of 2013, TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto unleashed a massive exhibition of the Canadian auteur’s work that examined his evolution as a filmmaker, from his fascination with horrors of the body to his contemporary movies that examine humanity itself. Alongside Cronenberg: Evolution, as the TIFF exhibit was called, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) displayed two exhibits, one curated by TIFF, featuring artwork by artists who share Cronenberg’s inspirations, entitled “Transformation” and a second exhibit, “Through the Eye”, curated by Cronenberg himself. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

This past May saw the world premier of Cronenberg’s latest film, MAPS TO THE STARS, starring Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson, at the Cannes Film Festival. And just as that critically acclaimed film is about to hit Canadian theatres, Cronenberg has released his first novel, Consumed, which encompasses his fascination with the body and technology, coupled with dense politics and philosophy. From Forest Hill in Toronto to a small Korean village, this book was literally all over the place, but rest assured, it is Cronenbergian in every sense and does not disappoint.


Amongst all the exhibitions, premiers and book tours, I was able to get a moment of Mr. Cronenberg’s time to ask him about his latest movie, MAPS TO THE STARS, and I will admit I was incredibly nervous, so much so that I hardly slept the night before. This was the man who basically introduced me to horror movies when I was just an susceptible young boy after all. My first impression of the man who gave us THE FLY and DEAD RINGERS is, well, that he is incredibly relaxed and soft spoken. I’m not sure what I was expecting but I can’t even begin to express the sense of relief I felt when he shook my hand.

Upon first viewing of MAPS TO THE STARS, it seems as though Cronenberg has something to say about Hollywood and the studio system he has been working outside of his entire career. A closer look reveals that it is in fact a family drama, albeit an unusual one, that just so happens to be trapped in the belly of the Hollywood monster, a point which Cronenberg concurs with completely.


“In one of the French newspapers, the headline above the article about the film was “Je ne deteste pas Hollywood” because they felt I must hate Hollywood and I’ve been waiting for years to attack Hollywood and I said ‘absolutely not’; I have no particular desire to attack Hollywood; I don’t even think of the movie exactly as an attack on Hollywood,” Cronenberg tells me when we meet at a Toronto restaurant called Montecito. “Basically I’ve never been a Hollywood filmmaker so I haven’t had that kind of experience. But I have had many meetings with studio heads and some of those were so absurd and more ridiculous than anything you see in the movie. So I knew when I read Bruce Wagner’s script that this is true; it is not a satire; this is reality and the feedback I’ve gotten from all kinds of directors and studio people is exactly that, ‘This is our life; you’re right; this is the life we live.’”

I had wondered if Cronenberg and Wagner shared the same sense of humour about Hollywood. After all, to make this kind of film, there must be a certain amount of feeling towards the subject matter.


“Well, it’s about the absurdity of the human condition. Again it’s not unique to Hollywood; any human endeavour has those aspects. Look at Wall Street or Silicone Valley or Dilbert, you know the cartoon? I don’t have that experience but the absurdity is absolutely real, even if it is exaggerated,” Cronenberg clarifies. He then continued on about their relationship, “Bruce and I, for whatever reason cross sensibilities and in fact, now that I’ve written a novel, and I’ve read his novel Dead Stars, I saw amazing connections in our two books, references, touchstones you know? We aren’t copying each other; we are just responding to the same zeitgeist with the same antenna. We’ve been friends since I read his first novel in 1992 and we’ve been looking to do something ever since and this is the first time we’ve managed to do it.”

It’s no secret that MAPS TO THE STARS took over 10 years to make. There is some speculation that it had to do with the subject matter itself but Cronenberg explained to me that it was simply a matter of it taking 10 years to update the script so it wasn’t dated.


“[Bruce] wrote the script 20 years ago and his references were very current and I always worried about that because I thought it would date itself, but he has never worried about that. So what that meant was that we were updating it right to the last minute of shooting because that last reference in the last draft wasn’t on the internet anymore, you know?”

I do know but something was still not sitting right in the back of my mind, like there was some sort of hesitation to make MAPS, that there would be a certain backlash from Hollywood, but in the end it turns out that just isn’t true. Cronenberg explains the real reason it took so long to get made, and it is far less interesting than I thought.

“It was very pragmatic stuff; it had to do with the treaty between Germany and Canada. In a co-production you are very limited to the kind of actors you can have and the money that you can spend. So it really had to do with that; all those years trying to find a way around that, it had nothing to do with the subject matter because there were always people who thought it would be good and they were never Americans mind you”


Laughing at this, I really start to feel more relaxed. I’m surprised (although I have no real basis to think otherwise) at how welcoming he is. Cronenberg is eloquent and offers up more than I could have ever expected. Having just read his novel, Consumed, I had so many questions I wanted to ask about it because it feels like a return to his “body horror” roots. “I don’t really see Consumed that way,” he responds, quite directly. “And it didn’t feel like anything I could have written as a younger filmmaker when I was making horror films.”

But there is a clear element of that old school Cronenbergian body horror with one of the main characters of his novel who has delusions of an infestation of bugs in her breast. There is also a fictionalized STI called Roiphe’s Disease that affects the characters too, and this seems an awful lot likeCronenberg’s 1975 film, SHIVERS, except the disease isn’t contained in a high rise building in Montreal. This isn’t Cronenberg extracting influence from his past; in fact it is quite the opposite. Even though his films have moved away from things like RABID and THE BROOD and seem more tame, he explains that this is just the type of dark thinker he is.

“That’s just where my mind goes, what can I say?” We both laugh at this.


“First of all ‘body horror’ is not my term, that’s something that stuck. I’m thankful because at least I’ve created a genre, even though I don’t know what it is because I don’t think it’s horror of the body at all; it’s kind of fascination. But I never really felt I’ve turned my back on the genre; I have many other interests. Consumed for me had really nothing to do with my movies, and that sounds ingenuous when I say it but I really mean it. It’s of course part of being a critic that you look at the whole work, but as a filmmaker and a creative person, that doesn’t actually give me anything.”

Cronenberg is clearly as Canadian as they come; polite and friendly with a terribly twisted sense of humour. The subject matter of his films has changed over the years, but that is just the evolution of the filmmaker and now novelist. His zeal has never wavered though; when speaking to him, I could tell through his tone of voice and his mannerisms that he truly is passionate about his art. All his films may not be for everyone but you cannot ignore the impact he has had on film  enthusiasts around the world, including this one right here.

MAPS TO THE STARS will be released in Canada on October 31st.

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