Mollie and I went to see ‘Maps to the Stars’ on Friday, directed by David Cronenburg, written by Bruce Wagner. If you need to read a good review, here is one. It’s a dark disturbing, actually revolting tale of incest, greed, lasciviousness and murder. Mollie usually likes dark stuff (she runs the Death Cafe in Hay and is no wimp when it comes to the macabre) but even she was somewhat taken aback by this film. ‘You know’ I said, as we watched the credits roll in the empty cinema, ‘Bruce Wagner was a pal of Carlos Castaneda..’ ‘Oh’ said Mollie. I got home and googled him. Yes, I was right, he wrote a seminal article about Carlos Castaneda when he started to appear in public after a silence, and, Wikipedia informed me, he had got involved with CC and even been the partner of Carol Tiggs! Carol Tiggs? She was the mysterious and potent ‘nagual woman’ in the books, the one who disappeared into the ‘second attention’ for years. Or, in another version, went off to have a couple of kids and have a normal life for a while.
I had to know more about Wagner, so I kept googling and found a long conversation on Sustained Reaction, a Castaneda-critical website about what kind of chap he was, whether he was gay, or bisexual, or a ‘dweep’ or an ok guy. It did my head in, so I had a look at Cronenberg. He lives in Toronto, doesn’t drink or do drugs and seems a decent, morally alive man. All his actors seem to love him. But there was one part of the post-show chat at Cannes which disturbed me: someone asked young (14 year old) Evan Bird, who plays a spoilt, corrupt young movie star in the movie, what he thought when he read the script. The kid coloured up and said the usual stuff about how the script was great but he had wondered how such words could be in a screenplay. He was fourteen years old and when I thought of him being part of this brilliantly told, hellishly graphic tale, I felt a bit sick. Is it right to expose a kid to that kind of stuff? I don’t know.
And, when I ask myself why someone would want to make such a film, I don’t find it easy to answer the question. It’s not like Tarantino’s luridly violent ‘Django Unchained’ which has rage against slavery at its heart, it’s not like ‘The Wire’ or ‘The Sopranos’ which takes you right into the hearts of the characters, good or bad – though no-one is entirely good or bad in these amazing series. It doesn’t seem to have a heart. It is about ‘dead’ people, by which I mean the kind of people who have sacrificed their human hearts to materialism and greed. You wouldn’t like to know any of them. They are already destroyed, already dead – except perhaps the young star, who may still have human elements in his being – but he ends up in a scene in which he ‘marries’ his big sister and they lie down together to die. Heavy stuff, and Cronenburg says its not just about Hollywood, but could be about lots of places. Could it be like mid-Wales, I asked myself? The answer has to be ‘yes’ because there is sex abuse, murder, incest, greed and gory suicide (a lot of that) round here. In the final analysis, I think it was a very provoking and interesting film – but I won’t be recommending it to my recently bereaved friend.
Castaneda was a big hero of mine when I was younger, and I still like some of his books, but his end is shrouded in dark speculation which has taken the sheen off him for many. I sometimes wonder whether, in the end, illness and sexual addiction destroyed his integrity. A depressing thought, but it does look like the world which he and Bruce Wagner shared in West Coast America, is pervaded by a particularly hellish miasma, which, on the whole, we don’t have here in mid Wales. Instead we have fog, we have ‘bright mist’ which Castaneda used as a metaphor for the place where the two sides of the brain meet, which we need to cross before we can fly into infinity as a warrior. Fine words. I wonder what the reality was. I don’t know. Maybe he lost the path with heart and stumbled off into the wastelands? The fog has cleared here now and it’s raining. May all who read this find their path with heart.