Near the end of the film Maps to the Stars,
is out by the swimming pool when she suddenly erupts into flames. I never understood how/why that happens - is it some sort of accident? Does she perform self-immolation?
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According to Jon Campfens, co-founder of Switch VFX:
During the sequence, Dr. Stafford Weiss discovers that his wife, Christina, has set herself on fire. He proceeds to push her into their swimming pool with a deck-chair to try and save her. Beau Parsons, one of our on-set supervisors, attended the shoot along with Brandon Rogers, a member of our CG team and lead for the department that would be using Fume FX.
What direction did you receive from David Cronenberg regarding the action by the pool?
It was expressed to us by David during the prep stages that the performance comes before anything else. Despite our suggestions that shooting fire elements or using a stunt double would provide more realistic fire, David wanted to go the CG route in order to preserve Olivia’s performance. I am not a great lover of CG fire, but it was the only way to proceed in order to get what David wanted. It was important to him that the audience knew it was really her and not a stunt double using fire retarder – which has a very reflective quality to it.
I presume the reason why she set herself on fire is this (from the plot as described on Wikipedia):
Agatha visits her mother, Cristina, and reveals that before she set the fire she had discovered that her parents were brother and sister, making Agatha and Benjie children of incest.
(Her parents are Dr. Stafford Weiss and Cristina.)
Written by Bruce Wagner and directed by David Cronenberg, Maps to the Stars turns on three central motifs: incest, fire and disfigured flesh. (Did I mention it was directed by David Cronenberg?) According to the movie, familiarity breeds self-annihilation – indeed, for one character, it arrives via self-immolation.
Her death is also a combination of various motifs running through the film:
These ghost are in the(ir) elements, fire and water, death by drowning (little Micah, played by Domenic Ricci) and death by fire (Havana’s mother, Agatha and Benji); Christina even manages to combine both.
Plus a reference to another classic movie:
The corpse in the pool alludes, of course, to Sunset Boulevard’s (1950, dir. Billy Wilder) famous opening scene, the floating body who is also the narrator, recounting this story of mental disintegration and social corruption, film noir’s equivalent to the Gothic novel’s skeleton in the closet or the waxwork of a decaying body behind the veil in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794). And just as in Radcliffe’s novel, in Maps to the Stars we never see the body of the burnt/drowned Christina in the pool.