Exotica

28/07/2012

Structures of Feeling

Atom Egoyan is well known for his capacity to explore faulty mourning, the manner whereby his characters frequently find a method with which to avoid confronting too directly their own pain. Examples include the accountant in Exotica who has lost his daughter and watches a young woman strip out of her schoolgirl uniform each night at a club, the lawyer in The Sweet Hereafter who can’t deal with his daughter’s drug addiction and loses himself in a court case, and the murderous son endlessly watching his late mother’s cooking programmes on TV in Felicia’s Journey.  But of course not all of his characters are grieving, and even the lawyer wants merely to escape complex feelings, not actually mourn a death, no matter if his daughter late in the film claims she has HIV.

Maybe a broader based approach to what Egoyan searches out is the complexity of sub-text, the sense in which our social selves constantly contain within them bundles of motives, secrets and areas of denial that make social interaction fraught, and an individual’s behaviour seem eccentric, cruel, peremptory or underhand. In Exotica, Francis, the accountant, explains to his niece, after she asks why her father seems tense around him, that when people get older they become more complicated, and out of these complications come tensions that make it difficult to be around other humans. The aptly named Atom manages to delineate the lives of others, as if taking Thoreau’s famous comment about living an existence of quiet desperation, and replacing it with the word alienation instead.

Yet at the same time Egoyan has no interest in leaving sub-text under the surface of the characters’ lives: his talent as a filmmaker is for narrative striptease. What he utilises here is a narrative form that pushes the story forward chiefly through the unravelling of character rather than the chronology of event. As it looks at the lives of six characters living in Toronto, so it creates less narrative suspense than situational tension, and slowly reveals the reasons for these sub-textual feelings. In the process, Egoyan manages to work with a certain originality of feeling, vaguely indebted to Hitchcock, a debt perhaps acknowledged in directing early in his career episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and insisting that Hitchcock was a master not only of suspense but also “the master of self-consciousness”. (The Village Voice) If Hitchcock was brilliant at putting the viewer into situations of identificatory culpability (with the murderousness of Norman’s ‘mother’ in Psycho and Norman’s complicity, with the two young men who’ve committed homicide inRope, the voyeurism of Jeff and Scottie in Rear Window and Vertigo,) Egoyan ups the perversity. Whether it is Francis (Bruce Greenwood) talking with one of the leading characters, young Tracey (Sarah Polley), in his car before we discover she is his niece, or Francis watching Christina (Mia Kirshner) , another of the film’s leading characters, stripping in the bar, we may wonder why we are being put sympathetically into the hands of a character who would seem to have paedophile tendencies. However, it is as though there is a twofold alibi on our part: we are implicated in Francis’s perversity, but equally don’t we feel that this is a character who happens to be troubled, and that while the film’s initial stages might be presenting him as a bored accountant with a subterranean interest in young girls, the film’s structure of feeling seems to be calling that ready assumption into question? As the film crosscuts between Francis and another leading character who owns a pet shop and smuggles exotic eggs into the country, Thomas (Don McKellar), so we sense a film that wants perversity of response to be mitigated by the film’s structure of feeling, by the film’s interest in exploring desire, but containing within it an epistemology. Egoyan’s striptease is more truth seeking than sexually arousing.

Is this the sign of the hypocrite or the subtly nuanced, one may ask, as we well know there are many films that ostensibly sell themselves as one thing, while finally seeking titillating gratification. How many Zalman King films search out a married woman in crisis (Lake Consequence) or a woman caught in a small town about to marry their comfortably off partner (Two Moon Junction), or assume high brow credentials without complexity of character and situation (Delta of Venus from Anais Nin)? But it’s as though Egoyan has always been interested less in sexual representation than psychological perversion, in trying to find in his characters an offence that goes beyond its representational givens. This means that any sexual images are likely to cause rather less problems than the emotional structure than contains them. Hence, in The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan provocatively proposes that a seemingly decent dad in the film happens to be someone who has sexual liaisons with his daughter, and films a tryst between them couched in romantic mise-en-scene. The nudity in Exotica is mainly in the background, as Egoyan is more interested in lingering over the moments where Christina, dressed, lap dances for Francis. In Felicia’s Journey, it is the rhythms of Bob Hoskins’ speech that is the creepiest thing in the film as he cajoles with verbal caresses young girls into his car and towards their demise. The film foregoes the representationally explicit for the emotionally implicit: as in William Trevor’s book, Egoyan wonders how cold the world must be for the clammy comfort of strangers to pass for kindness.

In Art and Fear Paul Virilio asks: “to demonstrate or to ‘monstrate’, that is the question: whether to practise some kind of aesthetic or ethic demonstration or to practise the cleansing of all ‘nature’, all ‘culture’, through the technically oriented efficiency of a mere ‘monstration’, a show, a blatant representation of horror.” Egoyan is interested in demonstration, in making the horror representationally suggestive and subsequently all the more haunting. Some might find the scene between the father and daughter in The Sweet Hereafter so subtle they could almost miss it, but it lies in Egoyan’s refusal to film it with moral assumption attached. As we get a brief moment of the father and daughter lying in a barn surrounded by candles, this is presented without the formal terror of strong images and a threatening soundtrack to emphasise the child abuse. It is a moment of quiet moral unease over noisy representational terror.

Egoyan is, then, taking into account Virilio’s terms, a demonstrative filmmaker, but he takes this further than most by also pushing the very language he uses into the abstract. If part of the structure of feeling is to eschew the sexually explicit, equally the dialogue never quite dramatises the situation: it holds to an aloof elaboration of theme as much as it offers the elaboration of event and character. In one scene between Francis and his niece, driving in the car through the rain after she’s been receiving music lessons at his house, Francis asks her about the idea that she feels she didn’t ask to be brought into the world, and says, “who did?” As he clarifies his point, the dialogue becomes even more ‘demonstrative’, even more thematic than dialogical: even more about pushing the film’s theme than dramatising the situation. Later, after Thomas and Christina seem to be getting close emotionally as Christina lap dances for him, Eric (Elias Koteas), her ex and MC at the club, follows Thomas into the toilets and asks “Have you ever noticed that some people drift into your life like you’ve known them forever?” Thomas is sitting on the toilet in the cubicle as Eric asks the question. There are various narratively pertinent details here – that Thomas has been paid by Francis to replace him in the club after he’s been thrown out by Eric, that Francis is listening to the conversation in his car on a radio mic – but what is most interesting for demonstrative purposes is that the dialogue isn’t dramatised but atomised. It is as though in Egoyan’s work characters don’t talk to each other but reveal their emotional temperatures, and this requires acting that could seem inadequate to the dramatic demands of the story, but very useful for Egoyan’s thematic ends. It is another example of his structure of feeling. There are numerous examples in Egoyan’s work: the head censor in The Adjustor justifying the arousal potential in the job, central character, insurance man Noah Render explaining to a couple whose claim he has worked on, how he feels that he doesn’t quite help people enough. When Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter insists somebody has to pay for the tragedy of the bus crash he is willing to go to court over, it is as if he is asking who should pay for the tragedy of his own life.

The great French scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carriere says “people do not realise that cinema has invented the whisper. It is impossible in the theatre, but the fact that you can whisper in a film is something that really belongs to that language (Sight and Sound, June 2012).” We can note that Egoyan is a great cinematic whisperer, yet of an unusual sort, as he incorporates a literary device, practising what would be called ‘indirect speech’. However, where in literature this indirectness is often framed by the narrator so instead of a character saying “I’ll be going to the pub”, the narrator says that “Michael said he would be going to the pub”, how does cinema offer an indirect style when it possesses no narrator in the literary sense? The most obvious approach would be to offer voice-over, and numerous French filmmakers, including, Robert Bresson, Eric Rohmer and Marguerite Duras have offered indirectness thus. However, Egoyan does something quite interesting by putting what another filmmaker might put in voice-over, into dialogue. One could easily imagine the scenes we have mentioned of Francis talking to Tracey in the car, and Eric talking to Thomas in the bathroom, as sequences in voice-over: they possess a whispered sense of intimacy, and a sense of the indirect. Francis could say that he felt distanced from his niece, that he wondered if she at all understood him, while Eric might say that he wanted to know who this person talking so freely with his ex-girlfriend as she danced on his lap happened to be.  But Egoyan seems to want to capture a space in between the private thought of voiceover, and the public expectation of speech. If Egoyan retreats from the sexually explicit, it is part of a broader project that refuses the dramatically explicit: his work is instead atomistically implicit – constantly looking for ways to unravel knotted feeling and giving it a quietly dramatic form.

This isn’t to say that there are no dramatic moments in his films. There is the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter; Francis being thrown out of the club by Eric here, house fires in The Adjuster. But these are not at all action set pieces; they retain a meditative pull stronger than the visceral impact of the event. Even the violent Where the Truth Lies, contains its moments of extremity within a flashback structure, as if teasing out the truth of the event rather than teasing the viewer with the inevitable promise of violent sequences. When we talk of the structure of feeling in Egoyan’s work, it is chiefly the manner in which he retreats from obligatory scenes, whether commercially demanded or dramatically conventional, for the truth-seeking potential he believes the story contains.

When he talks in interviews about Chloe (a potentially redundant remake of Anne Fontaine’s French film Nathalie), he says what interested him was that “the premise is kind of classic, the idea of tempting your spouse’s fidelity through some trick comes from Shakespeare. It is used a lot in these certain guises, and [this story] is very unique because it is about a woman tempting her husband’s fidelity, and also, in a very extreme way; most people wouldn’t go to a prostitute, they would go to a private investigator. There is a sense she is looking for something more; she doesn’t actually want to know whether or not her husband is having an affair, she wants to know who he becomes when he is having an affair.”  (Slant Magazine) A monstrative filmmaker would be more likely to see the dramatic potential in the material, see opportunities for scenes of great showdowns and melodramatic intensity as the wife tries to test her husband’s fidelity with an escort only to find she is attracted to the woman herself. The set-piece potential of a lesbian affair and jealous rages would be narratives of attraction, scenes to entice the viewer into the cinema.

If Egoyan retreats from the spectacle is it not because he wants to find within the image and within his characters secrets that need to be disclosed rather than revealed? To understand something of the difference we might usefully think of terms like plot and story, with story the chronological unravelling, and plot the order in which the film chooses to reveal the information. Egoyan’s films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereaftereschew chronological narrative for temporal rearrangement so that they can offer the intimacy of disclosure over the exposure of revelation. When a detective discovers the killer, when a cop comes across a stash of drugs, it is as if the story reveals information rather than the director or the character disclosing it. Occasionally there are more intimate ‘detective’ tales (like The Tell tale Heart and Crime and Punishment) that are chronological yet reveal the singularity of character as the characters in each constantly hint at their own culpability), but Egoyan offers a style that is complicit with the characters’ need to offload personal burdens, or at least finds a way of acknowledging the thoughts and feelings that characters cannot immediately express. Even when the film is, generally, chronological, like Family Viewing and The Adjuster, he will incorporate disclosures that play with our chronological expectations, demand us to flashback ourselves to earlier moments in the film. In Family Viewing, the woman whose mother is in a home, befriends a young man whose grandmother is staying there also, but late in the film we see that the job she does (she is a sex call worker) links her to the young man in strange ways: his father and his father’s partner use her for their own sexual fantasies. In The Adjuster, it transpires that Noah’s family isn’t his family at all: they are clients whom he adopts after they lose their house. Egoyan crosscuts through time as we see a house burning in the present and another burning in the past, as the film achieves circular revelation. When, in Exotica, Egoyan flashes back to the early moments between Eric and Christina, it helps make sense of his later comments to Thomas in the bathroom, where he talks of getting close to someone. When Francis talks of nobody being asked to be brought into the world, we find out he is saying this in the wake of his daughter’s death. He is saying it before we know of his daughter’s demise and the comment seems harsh, uncaring, but later we might look back on the remark and comprehend the pain contained within it. Now this doesn’t mean Egoyan expects us to be dismissive of Francis’s caustic tone in a number of scenes; more that there lies within his tone a human suspense that Egoyan’s narrative structures will set out to reveal. Francis isn’t presented as an irritating character (though his attitude must be exasperating for those around him), but problematic, and Egoyan’s purpose is to explain why this is so.

In various ways other characters are equally troubled and troubelsome. Eric’s comments from his box as he introduces Christina may lead us to think he is as sleazy as Francis is prickly, and while his comments are sleazy we might hold in abeyance the idea that he is also. Where a character at the beginning of the film who gets a cab back from the airport with Thomas is shown to be a jerk, fobbing off a couple of tickets for the opera on Thomas as his share of the taxi, what interests Egoyan are the characters who are neither good nor bad but intriguingly troubled: characters that are short with others because they are haunted within themselves. When Christina says to the owner of the club that not everyone in the club can choose what to do with their lives, she is referring to Eric but also implicitly talking about herself. Egoyan wants a narrative structure that can allow for these tensions to permeate a character, but that also hint at the disclosure of feelings which are tightly wound and awaiting release. Chronologically the suspense of the film would lie in Thomas’s story. He is less troubled than Francis, Eric and Christine, but in more trouble than any of them. He has after all been smuggling very lucratively exotic eggs into the country and Francis is the accountant sent in to look at his books, with the intention of a later arrest. But of course for Egoyan this would allow for the sort of narrative revelations of story but could leave relatively untouched the mysteries of character, and so instead of using Thomas’s story as the opportunity for creating tension in the tale, he transforms this potential suspense into an issue of character examination. After getting banned from the club for touching Christina as she lapdances for him, Francis does a deal with Thomas: in return for becoming his surrogate in the club, the miked up Thomas (with Francis listening from his car) won’t be prosecuted. Rather than pursuing the surface texture of event, Exotica, like most of Egoyan’s other films, searches out the suspense of character, and this is why we talk of disclosure rather than revelation. It is as if Egoyan wants to search out the most intimate corners of a life, not the contours of narrative suspense.

Yet are there not many films that want to hint at the private side of people’s lives, the social milieu in which they live, and utilise an event that will draw the characters together or blow them apart? Indeed Janet Murray has a term for the sort of films Egoyan ostensibly makes: hub stories. Here we notice “the proliferation of interconnected files is an attempt to answer the perennial and ultimately unanswerable question of why this incident happened.” Murray reckons in her book Hamlet on the Holodeck, that “these violence-hub stories do not have a single solution like the adventure maze, or a refusal of solution like the postmodern stories; instead they combine a clear sense of story structure with multiplicity of meaningful plots.” Egoyan’s films are close to this (The AdjusterExotica and The Sweet Hereafter, for example, all stem from hub events: the burning of the house in the former, the daughter’s death in Exotica, the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter), but there seems to be a large difference between Egoyan and a filmmaker like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu – the director of Amores Perros21 Grams and Babel. Inarritu also deals with hub stories – car crashes in the first two and a shooting in the latter – but he seems more given to revelation than disclosure. One sees this at the end of Babel, where we realize that the Japanese strand of the story connects to the others in North Africa and the US because of the Japanese man who originally owned the gun. Neither in narrative form nor characterisation does Inarritu create the type of intimate allusiveness that leads to the disclosure Egoyan seeks out, though they are equally predicated on hub events. Even 21 Grams, with its relatively intimate story of someone who falls in love with the wife of a man who died in a car crash and whose heart he now has, seek out revelation more than disclosure as the film’s play with time reveals the interconnections between the various characters. The hub story leads more to plot revelation than the personally disclosed.

Yet this doesn’t mean Egoyan is interested in the back story confessions of characters; it is more that he is complicit with characters whose inner tensions he wants to unknot; he is interested in finding forms in which feelings can be shared. Francis in Exotica and the lawyer, Stephens, in The Sweet Hereafter are figures whose faulty mourning is antithetical but whose feelings are not unalike. Francis may grieve through leisure and Stephens through work, but they’re companions in inner rage. Whether it is Francis’s short, abrupt tone, or Stephens’ insistent projection onto the families of the bus victims, as he insists someone is responsible, somebody has to pay, Egoyan finds a form in which subtle feeling is paramount over dramatic event, as the demonstrative proves more significant than the monstrative. Another filmmaker would see this rage in both instances as narratively useful: an opportunity to create hot heads for dramatic ends. This can result in great cinema (Taxi Driver) or the opportunistic (Falling Down), but it is filmmaking that chooses to reveal chronologically rather than disclose empathically. When we acknowledged a certain debt Egoyan owes to Hitchcock in making the viewer subtly culpable as he put us inside slightly perverse identificatory relationships, maybe this doesn’t tell us enough about Egoyan’s singularity. (Doesn’t Scorsese’s great films do likewise, as we’re caught in a complex push-me, pull-me relationship with Bickle?) But this is where our comments on the structure of feeling help us out, as Egoyan structures many of his films, and none more so than Exotica, around comprehending states that other filmmakers would be inclined to use in administrating dramatic mayhem.

It is as if Egoyan has taken the Aristotelian elements of catharsis, peripeteia, and anagnorosis and turned them inside out: made the cathartic less significant than the others and consequently made his films less dramatic. Central to catharsis lies the creation of strong feeling that will then allow for the release of tension, and in this sense many filmmakers push towards the monstrative to guarantee cathartic release. Is this not why many an action film, war film or western tends to have show-downs or set-pieces in the closing act? Catharsis would seem to be the most affective dimension of the triad, with peripeteia and anagnorosis concerned chiefly with knowledge over feeling. The former is usually defined as a reversal, where a key element of the story turns out not to be as we assumed. Many contemporary films have offered these radical peripeties, evident for example in A Beautiful Mind, where we realize that we are seeing what Stephen Nash sees from a subjective position only to then be shown his ‘objective’ madness, and Nine Queens, where at the end we discover that a huge ruse has taken place. This is narrative as volte face where, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, “A reversal is a change of the actions to their opposite”. Anagnorisis, meanwhile, is where one recognizes the truth as ignorance gives way to knowledge. If Chinatown, for example, seems so much more weighty and significant than films that practise radical peripety (The Game, Sixth Sense and Fight Clubare other examples), then it lies in offering not a narrative rug pulled out from under the audience, but as very understandable ignorance, on JJ Gittes’s part, giving way to knowledge. The audience doesn’t feel played partly because though we realize that actions are the opposite of what we came to expect (as we come to understand that Noah Cross is the father of what we assumed was his granddaughter), the narrow narrative perspective where we see events from Gittes’s point of view means that we haven’t been cued to expect it, while equally it comes as no false surprise. It’s been brought to light out of a darkness the audience couldn’t easily have assumed, but which is entirely plausible in retrospect. It fits well with Aristotle’s claim concerning complex plots that seems absent from the other films. “By “complex” I mean an action as a result of which the transformation is accompanied by a recognition [anagnorosis], a reversal (peripeteia) or both.” If we feel that many films push the catharsis and cheat on the peripety, then it may lie in the relative absence of anagnorisis. If Chinatown is a great film it lies in its Aristotelian combination of the three elements. Come the end of the film we are as horrified as Gittes, struggling to cope with the truth but acknowledging the awful inevitability of it.

Egoyan’s work is also significant but unlike Chinatown does not suggest the classical; it rests on the importance of anagnorosis as disclosure, as it subdues catharsis and shows little interest in peripety. Where Cross sleeping with his daughter in Chinatown is cathartically shocking, the father sleeping with his daughter in The Sweet Hereafter is dedramatized, even romanticised, as we see this is just one of many secrets in the small town where the bus accident took place. It’s as if Egoyan wanted the scene not as perversion in itself, but to register the perversity, from Stephens’ perspective, of the daughter’s decision near the end of the film. As the only surviving child of the bus crash, Nicole’s testimony is vital to Stephens’ demand for compensation. But she chooses to tell a story that isn’t true and makes the case for compensation fall apart. As Stephens says to her father afterwards,“right now, Sam, the thing you’ve got to worry about is why she lied. Any daughter who’ll do that to her father is not normal Sam.”  When Egoyan says in an interview in Cineaste that one cannot get “warm and cuddly” with his films, that one “can’t simply sit back and have a story told to them and identify and lose themselves” (Cineaste, Vol. XXIII, No. 2), one might couch it equally in terms of the resistance to catharsis and the emphasis on anagnorosis. It’s as though there is a question within the answer, that the sort of revelations allowing for narrative completion and emotional release are in Egoyan films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter often turned into disclosures that throw a question back at the viewer concerning the nature of character. When we become aware that Christina has been in an incestuous relationship in Exotica, and Nicole in The Sweet Hereafter, this doesn’t lead to narrative revelation, but instead to another layer of characterisation. One wonders what lies beneath the motives of Nicole’s lie and Christina’s work as a stripper donning a schoolgirl uniform.

What we have here is not the emotional release of categorical event, but the unease attached to another level of personal meaning. When we noted Francis discussing near the beginning of Exotica the knotted emotional lives that put tension into social situations, how could Egoyan in good faith believe his films could unravel the knots? His structure of feeling doesn’t want cathartic resolution, but instead the anagnorosis of further knowledge. As David Pike in Bright Lights Film Journal astutely notes that Egoyan retreats from easy representation, he says “what had set Egoyan’s previous films [prior to Ararat] apart from the exploitative potential inherent in their charged material of paedophilia, incest, and serial murder was his ability to invest only a certain set of images with the full power of that material”, we would add vital to this is that the images do not become cathartically charged but instead examples of a revelatory hall of mirrors. If images like the club in Exotica, the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter and the murders in Felicia’s Journey are all mediated through aesthetic aloofness, then this doesn’t lie only in an aesthetic prudence on Egoyan’s part. It contains within it an epistemological question that such images cannot answer. Egoyan may say in the Cineaste interview that for the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter he could have gone for the “Hollywood money-shot point of view which would be to cover that accident from as many angles as possible and to try to experience the visceral effect of what it would be like to be in the bus.” However, this rejection isn’t just filmic politesse; it allows for one to accept that this type of retreat is part of a bigger gain, a gain that returns us to our notion of plot and story but to see how Egoyan works a complicated plot structure not to reveal the story but to find ways in which he can disclose aspects of a complex self.

This leads to our final point, and one that concerns identification versus empathy. Often the two are cinematic Siamese twins, joined at the hip of character convention, as a film dramatically plays out a story that insists on dramatic identification of character, and the consequent feeling of empathy that comes from this dramatization. In very fine films like The GodfatherOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Passenger, we can see that in each instance empathy comes through identification of situation: with Michael Corleone, McMurphy and David Locke all passing through narrative events that create empathy not simply through fellow-feeling (and in certain moments we would decidedly not share a fellow-feeling with them) but through what we might call dramatic co-feeling. When Michael loses his wife in Sicily, when McMurphy fails to get to watch the World Series, when Locke is frustrated that he can’t get his Land Rover out of the desert, this is dramatic identification more than empathy. That filmmakers can create co-feeling through dramatic identification is noticeable in films where we may temporarily side with the actions of a character for whom one might not empathise: the two murderers in Rope who have a body in the trunk, Norman tidying up after his ‘mother’ has murdered Marion Crane in the shower in Psycho.  It returns us to Hitchcock, but this is a side of the director’s work that Egoyan hasn’t been interested in pursuing. While Hitchcock would create brilliant set-pieces of suspense, Egoyan makes clear that usually he eschews such devices, evident in the potential tension to be created out of the bus sequence in The Sweet Hereafter, Francis being thrown out of the club in Exotica, and the murders in Felicia’s Journey and so on.

Instead of dramatic identification he searches out radical empathy, an empathic feeling that is consequently about anagnorosis rather than catharsis, about comprehending the nature of character and crisis over drama and event. In this sense films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter don’t conclude; they disclose a piece of information that can seem like we have been watching the ‘wrong’ film. Both Christina and Nicole are peripheral characters in each, but the conclusions make them central to the problem of knowledge: we might know exactly why our most central character Francis has been going to the club each night, but do we know really enough about Christina’s actions? Equally, at the end of The Sweet Hereafter we have a clear sense of Mitchell Stephens’ need to involve himself in other people’s miseries legally as he escapes his own emotional entanglements; but Nicole remains inexplicable. We empathise with their situation perhaps all the more for its relative absence as dramatic event. It is this notion of watching the wrong film that one believes is vital to Egoyan’s originality. There have been numerous films over the last twenty years that have taken non-linearity as a given (The Usual SuspectsPulp FictionMementoAmores Perros, 21 GramsThe Edge of Heaven), as well as many that have worked from Murray’s notion of a hub event. These are obviously important elements in Egoyan’s work, but it is as though most of the other directors have chosen non-linearity for the purposes of reshaping the story through complex temporal plotting. Egoyan however seems to reshape for complex temporal characterisation. If everybody has their reasons, then a film cannot possibly show these reasons, these locked in areas of tension that Francis talks about, but Egoyan more than most finds a way in which to explore and allude simultaneously, and never more so than in Exotica. It is the Egoyan film, perhaps, from which all the others (the ones before it like Next of KinFamily ViewingSpeaking Partsetc., and after it, The Sweet HereafterFelicia’s Journey, Adoration…) can be found.

© Tony McKibbin

Tony McKibbin Tony McKibbin

Exotica

Structures of Feeling

Atom Egoyan is well known for his capacity to explore faulty mourning, the manner whereby his characters frequently find a method with which to avoid confronting too directly their own pain. Examples include the accountant in Exotica who has lost his daughter and watches a young woman strip out of her schoolgirl uniform each night at a club, the lawyer in The Sweet Hereafter who can't deal with his daughter's drug addiction and loses himself in a court case, and the murderous son endlessly watching his late mother's cooking programmes on TV in Felicia's Journey. But of course not all of his characters are grieving, and even the lawyer wants merely to escape complex feelings, not actually mourn a death, no matter if his daughter late in the film claims she has HIV.

Maybe a broader based approach to what Egoyan searches out is the complexity of sub-text, the sense in which our social selves constantly contain within them bundles of motives, secrets and areas of denial that make social interaction fraught, and an individual's behaviour seem eccentric, cruel, peremptory or underhand. In Exotica, Francis, the accountant, explains to his niece, after she asks why her father seems tense around him, that when people get older they become more complicated, and out of these complications come tensions that make it difficult to be around other humans. The aptly named Atom manages to delineate the lives of others, as if taking Thoreau's famous comment about living an existence of quiet desperation, and replacing it with the word alienation instead.

Yet at the same time Egoyan has no interest in leaving sub-text under the surface of the characters' lives: his talent as a filmmaker is for narrative striptease. What he utilises here is a narrative form that pushes the story forward chiefly through the unravelling of character rather than the chronology of event. As it looks at the lives of six characters living in Toronto, so it creates less narrative suspense than situational tension, and slowly reveals the reasons for these sub-textual feelings. In the process, Egoyan manages to work with a certain originality of feeling, vaguely indebted to Hitchcock, a debt perhaps acknowledged in directing early in his career episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents and insisting that Hitchcock was a master not only of suspense but also "the master of self-consciousness". (The Village Voice) If Hitchcock was brilliant at putting the viewer into situations of identificatory culpability (with the murderousness of Norman's 'mother' in Psycho and Norman's complicity, with the two young men who've committed homicide inRope, the voyeurism of Jeff and Scottie in Rear Window and Vertigo,) Egoyan ups the perversity. Whether it is Francis (Bruce Greenwood) talking with one of the leading characters, young Tracey (Sarah Polley), in his car before we discover she is his niece, or Francis watching Christina (Mia Kirshner) , another of the film's leading characters, stripping in the bar, we may wonder why we are being put sympathetically into the hands of a character who would seem to have paedophile tendencies. However, it is as though there is a twofold alibi on our part: we are implicated in Francis's perversity, but equally don't we feel that this is a character who happens to be troubled, and that while the film's initial stages might be presenting him as a bored accountant with a subterranean interest in young girls, the film's structure of feeling seems to be calling that ready assumption into question? As the film crosscuts between Francis and another leading character who owns a pet shop and smuggles exotic eggs into the country, Thomas (Don McKellar), so we sense a film that wants perversity of response to be mitigated by the film's structure of feeling, by the film's interest in exploring desire, but containing within it an epistemology. Egoyan's striptease is more truth seeking than sexually arousing.

Is this the sign of the hypocrite or the subtly nuanced, one may ask, as we well know there are many films that ostensibly sell themselves as one thing, while finally seeking titillating gratification. How many Zalman King films search out a married woman in crisis (Lake Consequence) or a woman caught in a small town about to marry their comfortably off partner (Two Moon Junction), or assume high brow credentials without complexity of character and situation (Delta of Venus from Anais Nin)? But it's as though Egoyan has always been interested less in sexual representation than psychological perversion, in trying to find in his characters an offence that goes beyond its representational givens. This means that any sexual images are likely to cause rather less problems than the emotional structure than contains them. Hence, in The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan provocatively proposes that a seemingly decent dad in the film happens to be someone who has sexual liaisons with his daughter, and films a tryst between them couched in romantic mise-en-scene. The nudity in Exotica is mainly in the background, as Egoyan is more interested in lingering over the moments where Christina, dressed, lap dances for Francis. In Felicia's Journey, it is the rhythms of Bob Hoskins' speech that is the creepiest thing in the film as he cajoles with verbal caresses young girls into his car and towards their demise. The film foregoes the representationally explicit for the emotionally implicit: as in William Trevor's book, Egoyan wonders how cold the world must be for the clammy comfort of strangers to pass for kindness.

In Art and Fear Paul Virilio asks: "to demonstrate or to 'monstrate', that is the question: whether to practise some kind of aesthetic or ethic demonstration or to practise the cleansing of all 'nature', all 'culture', through the technically oriented efficiency of a mere 'monstration', a show, a blatant representation of horror." Egoyan is interested in demonstration, in making the horror representationally suggestive and subsequently all the more haunting. Some might find the scene between the father and daughter in The Sweet Hereafter so subtle they could almost miss it, but it lies in Egoyan's refusal to film it with moral assumption attached. As we get a brief moment of the father and daughter lying in a barn surrounded by candles, this is presented without the formal terror of strong images and a threatening soundtrack to emphasise the child abuse. It is a moment of quiet moral unease over noisy representational terror.

Egoyan is, then, taking into account Virilio's terms, a demonstrative filmmaker, but he takes this further than most by also pushing the very language he uses into the abstract. If part of the structure of feeling is to eschew the sexually explicit, equally the dialogue never quite dramatises the situation: it holds to an aloof elaboration of theme as much as it offers the elaboration of event and character. In one scene between Francis and his niece, driving in the car through the rain after she's been receiving music lessons at his house, Francis asks her about the idea that she feels she didn't ask to be brought into the world, and says, "who did?" As he clarifies his point, the dialogue becomes even more 'demonstrative', even more thematic than dialogical: even more about pushing the film's theme than dramatising the situation. Later, after Thomas and Christina seem to be getting close emotionally as Christina lap dances for him, Eric (Elias Koteas), her ex and MC at the club, follows Thomas into the toilets and asks "Have you ever noticed that some people drift into your life like you've known them forever?" Thomas is sitting on the toilet in the cubicle as Eric asks the question. There are various narratively pertinent details here - that Thomas has been paid by Francis to replace him in the club after he's been thrown out by Eric, that Francis is listening to the conversation in his car on a radio mic - but what is most interesting for demonstrative purposes is that the dialogue isn't dramatised but atomised. It is as though in Egoyan's work characters don't talk to each other but reveal their emotional temperatures, and this requires acting that could seem inadequate to the dramatic demands of the story, but very useful for Egoyan's thematic ends. It is another example of his structure of feeling. There are numerous examples in Egoyan's work: the head censor in The Adjustor justifying the arousal potential in the job, central character, insurance man Noah Render explaining to a couple whose claim he has worked on, how he feels that he doesn't quite help people enough. When Stephens in The Sweet Hereafter insists somebody has to pay for the tragedy of the bus crash he is willing to go to court over, it is as if he is asking who should pay for the tragedy of his own life.

The great French scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carriere says "people do not realise that cinema has invented the whisper. It is impossible in the theatre, but the fact that you can whisper in a film is something that really belongs to that language (Sight and Sound, June 2012)." We can note that Egoyan is a great cinematic whisperer, yet of an unusual sort, as he incorporates a literary device, practising what would be called 'indirect speech'. However, where in literature this indirectness is often framed by the narrator so instead of a character saying "I'll be going to the pub", the narrator says that "Michael said he would be going to the pub", how does cinema offer an indirect style when it possesses no narrator in the literary sense? The most obvious approach would be to offer voice-over, and numerous French filmmakers, including, Robert Bresson, Eric Rohmer and Marguerite Duras have offered indirectness thus. However, Egoyan does something quite interesting by putting what another filmmaker might put in voice-over, into dialogue. One could easily imagine the scenes we have mentioned of Francis talking to Tracey in the car, and Eric talking to Thomas in the bathroom, as sequences in voice-over: they possess a whispered sense of intimacy, and a sense of the indirect. Francis could say that he felt distanced from his niece, that he wondered if she at all understood him, while Eric might say that he wanted to know who this person talking so freely with his ex-girlfriend as she danced on his lap happened to be. But Egoyan seems to want to capture a space in between the private thought of voiceover, and the public expectation of speech. If Egoyan retreats from the sexually explicit, it is part of a broader project that refuses the dramatically explicit: his work is instead atomistically implicit - constantly looking for ways to unravel knotted feeling and giving it a quietly dramatic form.

This isn't to say that there are no dramatic moments in his films. There is the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter; Francis being thrown out of the club by Eric here, house fires in The Adjuster. But these are not at all action set pieces; they retain a meditative pull stronger than the visceral impact of the event. Even the violent Where the Truth Lies, contains its moments of extremity within a flashback structure, as if teasing out the truth of the event rather than teasing the viewer with the inevitable promise of violent sequences. When we talk of the structure of feeling in Egoyan's work, it is chiefly the manner in which he retreats from obligatory scenes, whether commercially demanded or dramatically conventional, for the truth-seeking potential he believes the story contains.

When he talks in interviews about Chloe (a potentially redundant remake of Anne Fontaine's French film Nathalie), he says what interested him was that "the premise is kind of classic, the idea of tempting your spouse's fidelity through some trick comes from Shakespeare. It is used a lot in these certain guises, and [this story] is very unique because it is about a woman tempting her husband's fidelity, and also, in a very extreme way; most people wouldn't go to a prostitute, they would go to a private investigator. There is a sense she is looking for something more; she doesn't actually want to know whether or not her husband is having an affair, she wants to know who he becomes when he is having an affair." (Slant Magazine) A monstrative filmmaker would be more likely to see the dramatic potential in the material, see opportunities for scenes of great showdowns and melodramatic intensity as the wife tries to test her husband's fidelity with an escort only to find she is attracted to the woman herself. The set-piece potential of a lesbian affair and jealous rages would be narratives of attraction, scenes to entice the viewer into the cinema.

If Egoyan retreats from the spectacle is it not because he wants to find within the image and within his characters secrets that need to be disclosed rather than revealed? To understand something of the difference we might usefully think of terms like plot and story, with story the chronological unravelling, and plot the order in which the film chooses to reveal the information. Egoyan's films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereaftereschew chronological narrative for temporal rearrangement so that they can offer the intimacy of disclosure over the exposure of revelation. When a detective discovers the killer, when a cop comes across a stash of drugs, it is as if the story reveals information rather than the director or the character disclosing it. Occasionally there are more intimate 'detective' tales (like The Tell tale Heart and Crime and Punishment) that are chronological yet reveal the singularity of character as the characters in each constantly hint at their own culpability), but Egoyan offers a style that is complicit with the characters' need to offload personal burdens, or at least finds a way of acknowledging the thoughts and feelings that characters cannot immediately express. Even when the film is, generally, chronological, like Family Viewing and The Adjuster, he will incorporate disclosures that play with our chronological expectations, demand us to flashback ourselves to earlier moments in the film. In Family Viewing, the woman whose mother is in a home, befriends a young man whose grandmother is staying there also, but late in the film we see that the job she does (she is a sex call worker) links her to the young man in strange ways: his father and his father's partner use her for their own sexual fantasies. In The Adjuster, it transpires that Noah's family isn't his family at all: they are clients whom he adopts after they lose their house. Egoyan crosscuts through time as we see a house burning in the present and another burning in the past, as the film achieves circular revelation. When, in Exotica, Egoyan flashes back to the early moments between Eric and Christina, it helps make sense of his later comments to Thomas in the bathroom, where he talks of getting close to someone. When Francis talks of nobody being asked to be brought into the world, we find out he is saying this in the wake of his daughter's death. He is saying it before we know of his daughter's demise and the comment seems harsh, uncaring, but later we might look back on the remark and comprehend the pain contained within it. Now this doesn't mean Egoyan expects us to be dismissive of Francis's caustic tone in a number of scenes; more that there lies within his tone a human suspense that Egoyan's narrative structures will set out to reveal. Francis isn't presented as an irritating character (though his attitude must be exasperating for those around him), but problematic, and Egoyan's purpose is to explain why this is so.

In various ways other characters are equally troubled and troubelsome. Eric's comments from his box as he introduces Christina may lead us to think he is as sleazy as Francis is prickly, and while his comments are sleazy we might hold in abeyance the idea that he is also. Where a character at the beginning of the film who gets a cab back from the airport with Thomas is shown to be a jerk, fobbing off a couple of tickets for the opera on Thomas as his share of the taxi, what interests Egoyan are the characters who are neither good nor bad but intriguingly troubled: characters that are short with others because they are haunted within themselves. When Christina says to the owner of the club that not everyone in the club can choose what to do with their lives, she is referring to Eric but also implicitly talking about herself. Egoyan wants a narrative structure that can allow for these tensions to permeate a character, but that also hint at the disclosure of feelings which are tightly wound and awaiting release. Chronologically the suspense of the film would lie in Thomas's story. He is less troubled than Francis, Eric and Christine, but in more trouble than any of them. He has after all been smuggling very lucratively exotic eggs into the country and Francis is the accountant sent in to look at his books, with the intention of a later arrest. But of course for Egoyan this would allow for the sort of narrative revelations of story but could leave relatively untouched the mysteries of character, and so instead of using Thomas's story as the opportunity for creating tension in the tale, he transforms this potential suspense into an issue of character examination. After getting banned from the club for touching Christina as she lapdances for him, Francis does a deal with Thomas: in return for becoming his surrogate in the club, the miked up Thomas (with Francis listening from his car) won't be prosecuted. Rather than pursuing the surface texture of event, Exotica, like most of Egoyan's other films, searches out the suspense of character, and this is why we talk of disclosure rather than revelation. It is as if Egoyan wants to search out the most intimate corners of a life, not the contours of narrative suspense.

Yet are there not many films that want to hint at the private side of people's lives, the social milieu in which they live, and utilise an event that will draw the characters together or blow them apart? Indeed Janet Murray has a term for the sort of films Egoyan ostensibly makes: hub stories. Here we notice "the proliferation of interconnected files is an attempt to answer the perennial and ultimately unanswerable question of why this incident happened." Murray reckons in her book Hamlet on the Holodeck, that "these violence-hub stories do not have a single solution like the adventure maze, or a refusal of solution like the postmodern stories; instead they combine a clear sense of story structure with multiplicity of meaningful plots." Egoyan's films are close to this (The Adjuster, Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, for example, all stem from hub events: the burning of the house in the former, the daughter's death in Exotica, the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter), but there seems to be a large difference between Egoyan and a filmmaker like Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - the director of Amores Perros, 21 Grams and Babel. Inarritu also deals with hub stories - car crashes in the first two and a shooting in the latter - but he seems more given to revelation than disclosure. One sees this at the end of Babel, where we realize that the Japanese strand of the story connects to the others in North Africa and the US because of the Japanese man who originally owned the gun. Neither in narrative form nor characterisation does Inarritu create the type of intimate allusiveness that leads to the disclosure Egoyan seeks out, though they are equally predicated on hub events. Even 21 Grams, with its relatively intimate story of someone who falls in love with the wife of a man who died in a car crash and whose heart he now has, seek out revelation more than disclosure as the film's play with time reveals the interconnections between the various characters. The hub story leads more to plot revelation than the personally disclosed.

Yet this doesn't mean Egoyan is interested in the back story confessions of characters; it is more that he is complicit with characters whose inner tensions he wants to unknot; he is interested in finding forms in which feelings can be shared. Francis in Exotica and the lawyer, Stephens, in The Sweet Hereafter are figures whose faulty mourning is antithetical but whose feelings are not unalike. Francis may grieve through leisure and Stephens through work, but they're companions in inner rage. Whether it is Francis's short, abrupt tone, or Stephens' insistent projection onto the families of the bus victims, as he insists someone is responsible, somebody has to pay, Egoyan finds a form in which subtle feeling is paramount over dramatic event, as the demonstrative proves more significant than the monstrative. Another filmmaker would see this rage in both instances as narratively useful: an opportunity to create hot heads for dramatic ends. This can result in great cinema (Taxi Driver) or the opportunistic (Falling Down), but it is filmmaking that chooses to reveal chronologically rather than disclose empathically. When we acknowledged a certain debt Egoyan owes to Hitchcock in making the viewer subtly culpable as he put us inside slightly perverse identificatory relationships, maybe this doesn't tell us enough about Egoyan's singularity. (Doesn't Scorsese's great films do likewise, as we're caught in a complex push-me, pull-me relationship with Bickle?) But this is where our comments on the structure of feeling help us out, as Egoyan structures many of his films, and none more so than Exotica, around comprehending states that other filmmakers would be inclined to use in administrating dramatic mayhem.

It is as if Egoyan has taken the Aristotelian elements of catharsis, peripeteia, and anagnorosis and turned them inside out: made the cathartic less significant than the others and consequently made his films less dramatic. Central to catharsis lies the creation of strong feeling that will then allow for the release of tension, and in this sense many filmmakers push towards the monstrative to guarantee cathartic release. Is this not why many an action film, war film or western tends to have show-downs or set-pieces in the closing act? Catharsis would seem to be the most affective dimension of the triad, with peripeteia and anagnorosis concerned chiefly with knowledge over feeling. The former is usually defined as a reversal, where a key element of the story turns out not to be as we assumed. Many contemporary films have offered these radical peripeties, evident for example in A Beautiful Mind, where we realize that we are seeing what Stephen Nash sees from a subjective position only to then be shown his 'objective' madness, and Nine Queens, where at the end we discover that a huge ruse has taken place. This is narrative as volte face where, as Aristotle says in the Poetics, "A reversal is a change of the actions to their opposite". Anagnorisis, meanwhile, is where one recognizes the truth as ignorance gives way to knowledge. If Chinatown, for example, seems so much more weighty and significant than films that practise radical peripety (The Game, Sixth Sense and Fight Clubare other examples), then it lies in offering not a narrative rug pulled out from under the audience, but as very understandable ignorance, on JJ Gittes's part, giving way to knowledge. The audience doesn't feel played partly because though we realize that actions are the opposite of what we came to expect (as we come to understand that Noah Cross is the father of what we assumed was his granddaughter), the narrow narrative perspective where we see events from Gittes's point of view means that we haven't been cued to expect it, while equally it comes as no false surprise. It's been brought to light out of a darkness the audience couldn't easily have assumed, but which is entirely plausible in retrospect. It fits well with Aristotle's claim concerning complex plots that seems absent from the other films. "By "complex" I mean an action as a result of which the transformation is accompanied by a recognition [anagnorosis], a reversal (peripeteia) or both." If we feel that many films push the catharsis and cheat on the peripety, then it may lie in the relative absence of anagnorisis. If Chinatown is a great film it lies in its Aristotelian combination of the three elements. Come the end of the film we are as horrified as Gittes, struggling to cope with the truth but acknowledging the awful inevitability of it.

Egoyan's work is also significant but unlike Chinatown does not suggest the classical; it rests on the importance of anagnorosis as disclosure, as it subdues catharsis and shows little interest in peripety. Where Cross sleeping with his daughter in Chinatown is cathartically shocking, the father sleeping with his daughter in The Sweet Hereafter is dedramatized, even romanticised, as we see this is just one of many secrets in the small town where the bus accident took place. It's as if Egoyan wanted the scene not as perversion in itself, but to register the perversity, from Stephens' perspective, of the daughter's decision near the end of the film. As the only surviving child of the bus crash, Nicole's testimony is vital to Stephens' demand for compensation. But she chooses to tell a story that isn't true and makes the case for compensation fall apart. As Stephens says to her father afterwards,"right now, Sam, the thing you've got to worry about is why she lied. Any daughter who'll do that to her father is not normal Sam." When Egoyan says in an interview in Cineaste that one cannot get "warm and cuddly" with his films, that one "can't simply sit back and have a story told to them and identify and lose themselves" (Cineaste, Vol. XXIII, No. 2), one might couch it equally in terms of the resistance to catharsis and the emphasis on anagnorosis. It's as though there is a question within the answer, that the sort of revelations allowing for narrative completion and emotional release are in Egoyan films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter often turned into disclosures that throw a question back at the viewer concerning the nature of character. When we become aware that Christina has been in an incestuous relationship in Exotica, and Nicole in The Sweet Hereafter, this doesn't lead to narrative revelation, but instead to another layer of characterisation. One wonders what lies beneath the motives of Nicole's lie and Christina's work as a stripper donning a schoolgirl uniform.

What we have here is not the emotional release of categorical event, but the unease attached to another level of personal meaning. When we noted Francis discussing near the beginning of Exotica the knotted emotional lives that put tension into social situations, how could Egoyan in good faith believe his films could unravel the knots? His structure of feeling doesn't want cathartic resolution, but instead the anagnorosis of further knowledge. As David Pike in Bright Lights Film Journal astutely notes that Egoyan retreats from easy representation, he says "what had set Egoyan's previous films [prior to Ararat] apart from the exploitative potential inherent in their charged material of paedophilia, incest, and serial murder was his ability to invest only a certain set of images with the full power of that material", we would add vital to this is that the images do not become cathartically charged but instead examples of a revelatory hall of mirrors. If images like the club in Exotica, the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter and the murders in Felicia's Journey are all mediated through aesthetic aloofness, then this doesn't lie only in an aesthetic prudence on Egoyan's part. It contains within it an epistemological question that such images cannot answer. Egoyan may say in the Cineaste interview that for the bus crash in The Sweet Hereafter he could have gone for the "Hollywood money-shot point of view which would be to cover that accident from as many angles as possible and to try to experience the visceral effect of what it would be like to be in the bus." However, this rejection isn't just filmic politesse; it allows for one to accept that this type of retreat is part of a bigger gain, a gain that returns us to our notion of plot and story but to see how Egoyan works a complicated plot structure not to reveal the story but to find ways in which he can disclose aspects of a complex self.

This leads to our final point, and one that concerns identification versus empathy. Often the two are cinematic Siamese twins, joined at the hip of character convention, as a film dramatically plays out a story that insists on dramatic identification of character, and the consequent feeling of empathy that comes from this dramatization. In very fine films like The Godfather, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Passenger, we can see that in each instance empathy comes through identification of situation: with Michael Corleone, McMurphy and David Locke all passing through narrative events that create empathy not simply through fellow-feeling (and in certain moments we would decidedly not share a fellow-feeling with them) but through what we might call dramatic co-feeling. When Michael loses his wife in Sicily, when McMurphy fails to get to watch the World Series, when Locke is frustrated that he can't get his Land Rover out of the desert, this is dramatic identification more than empathy. That filmmakers can create co-feeling through dramatic identification is noticeable in films where we may temporarily side with the actions of a character for whom one might not empathise: the two murderers in Rope who have a body in the trunk, Norman tidying up after his 'mother' has murdered Marion Crane in the shower in Psycho. It returns us to Hitchcock, but this is a side of the director's work that Egoyan hasn't been interested in pursuing. While Hitchcock would create brilliant set-pieces of suspense, Egoyan makes clear that usually he eschews such devices, evident in the potential tension to be created out of the bus sequence in The Sweet Hereafter, Francis being thrown out of the club in Exotica, and the murders in Felicia's Journey and so on.

Instead of dramatic identification he searches out radical empathy, an empathic feeling that is consequently about anagnorosis rather than catharsis, about comprehending the nature of character and crisis over drama and event. In this sense films like Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter don't conclude; they disclose a piece of information that can seem like we have been watching the 'wrong' film. Both Christina and Nicole are peripheral characters in each, but the conclusions make them central to the problem of knowledge: we might know exactly why our most central character Francis has been going to the club each night, but do we know really enough about Christina's actions? Equally, at the end of The Sweet Hereafter we have a clear sense of Mitchell Stephens' need to involve himself in other people's miseries legally as he escapes his own emotional entanglements; but Nicole remains inexplicable. We empathise with their situation perhaps all the more for its relative absence as dramatic event. It is this notion of watching the wrong film that one believes is vital to Egoyan's originality. There have been numerous films over the last twenty years that have taken non-linearity as a given (The Usual Suspects, Pulp Fiction, Memento, Amores Perros, 21 Grams, The Edge of Heaven), as well as many that have worked from Murray's notion of a hub event. These are obviously important elements in Egoyan's work, but it is as though most of the other directors have chosen non-linearity for the purposes of reshaping the story through complex temporal plotting. Egoyan however seems to reshape for complex temporal characterisation. If everybody has their reasons, then a film cannot possibly show these reasons, these locked in areas of tension that Francis talks about, but Egoyan more than most finds a way in which to explore and allude simultaneously, and never more so than in Exotica. It is the Egoyan film, perhaps, from which all the others (the ones before it like Next of Kin, Family Viewing, Speaking Partsetc., and after it, The Sweet Hereafter, Felicia's Journey, Adoration...) can be found.


© Tony McKibbin