Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Do you have a lot of friends? [Not really…] Do you wish you did?"


Writer/director Atom Egoyan is one of a host of independent filmmaking luminaries to arise in the 1990s. He has a reputation for making deeply emotional, moody films that delve into the darker and more complex realms of the human condition. And Exotica is no exception.

Broadly, Exotica examines the individual lives of a set of disparate characters, all related in some way to the titular strip club. There is Francis, the IRS (or the Canadian equivalent of the IRS) auditor, who is obsessed with Christina, one of Exotica’s dancers. There is Eric, also obsessed with Christina and her former lover, the DJ/MC at Exotica. There is Zoe, the pregnant owner of Exotica, who has a vested interest in both Christina and Eric, beyond that of employer/employee. And finally, there is Thomas, the reclusive, socially awkward, and lonely gay pet store owner, who is dragged, somewhat unwillingly into Exotica’s world.

The characters are slowly fleshed out, not only through their actions in the present, but through the slow reveal of their individual histories. As the film progresses, we see how each of the individual characters’ stories are deeply entangled with one another, in ways both known and unknown to the characters. I don’t want to get much more into the plot than that. To reveal much more would ruin the impact of the story.

Unlike films such as Crash (the racism one, not Cronenberg’s auto accident fetishism one) or the films of González Iñárritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel), the interweaving story lines of Exotica are not the result of grand spectacular events (car crashes seem to be a popular one). In fact, with one exception, none of the relationships in the film take place during the film, the vast majority are revealed slowly through flashbacks and characters’ histories. Egoyan paints a vivid world that by the end seems so small, so claustrophobic, that it is not only natural that these characters’ lives have tangled themselves up with one another, it would be almost unbelievable if they hadn’t.

It is a testament to Egoyan’s story telling ability that he takes a concept (the interweaving storylines of seemingly unrelated characters) that is so inherently contrived, and manages to tell a story that is so naturally convincing. Rather than spectacular, sensational events, Egoyan reminds us that all of our lives are naturally tied to the lives of all those around us, either in profound ways, or ways so subtle that we are totally unaware of them.

Upon finishing the movie, I remember thinking something along the lines of “oh, well, that was pretty good,” but I’ve been thinking about it for days. The more I think about it, the more I realize how good it was. The story is so well constructed and so subtly presented, that the more I reflect on it, the more I grow to really appreciate how good it was. I’m actually pretty disappointed that I sent it back to Netflix the next day, rather than watch one or two more times. It’s the kind of film that gets under my skin, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

I would highly, highly recommend Exotica. It is a gloomy, moody, beautifully told story of how all life experiences, good, bad, and heartbreaking, impact everyone who comes in contact with it. Reminding us that all aspects of life are extremely fragile and their fallout contagious, spreading far and wide.

3 comments:

Brad said...

It's good that you make mention of how often these movies (that interweave characters' lives and stories) are so contrived. So, so contrived.

I was thinking that if I had to sit through another movie that aimed for profundity simply by showing oh my gosh how connected we really are and my goodness isn't life at once marvelous and mysterious that my word I was going to puke.

But I'm really liking the sound of this one. I'll have to remember to add it to my queue.

Brad said...

It's good that you make mention of how often these movies (that interweave characters' lives and stories) are so contrived. So, so contrived.

I was thinking that if I had to sit through another movie that aimed for profundity simply by showing oh my gosh how connected we really are and my goodness isn't life at once marvelous and mysterious that my word I was going to puke.

But I'm really liking the sound of this one. I'll have to remember to add it to my queue.

Brad said...

I posted that twice. I am dumb at internets?