Exotica – Character Analysis
Exotica – Character analysis
Atom Egoyan’s Exotica
“I wanted to make a movie about believable people doing believable things in an unbelievable way.” stated Atom Egoyan of his recent film The Adjuster. The Canadian director has recently been acclaimed for his imagination and originality, which is more than evident in his latest work Exotica. In this film Egoyan masterfully uses the popular technique of a multi-line plot in which the plot moves back and forth across time, so that links among events and characters surface slowly with increasing intensity. This creates some confusion for the viewer, and one is kept guessing about the relationship between the various characters in the film. However, as time goes on, their initial unconnected appearance evolves into an unbreakable chain of dependence. The characters seem completely real even while they appear to be acting without any apparent explanation – and then seem even more real when we understand them.
Exotica clearly illustrates the importance of character in film. It is common in the classic Hollywood film to simply portray one principle character and create the story around him/her. However, Egoyan’s Exotica differs in this respect, as he portrays five principle characters, each with separate desires, and unifies them via the complex and tangled narrative in such a manner that by the end, these people are so tightly wound up together that if you took one away, their world would collapse. After the first few scenes of the film, we are taken to club Exotica where we are introduced to Francis (Bruce Greenwood), the tax auditor. At first, we assume he is a typical man seeking entertainment of a sexual nature from the young and innocent, (as depicted by her “school girl” ensemble) Christina (Mia Kirshner). However, as the story develops we find that Francis has a more honorable reason for attending this club. The narrative slowly reveals a man torn by the murder of his daughter and the loss of his wife. He faces every new day with feelings of abandonment and pain. Francis fills this void in his life by using the other principle characters in the film as an outlet for his emotions. Be it through voluntary or involuntary means, Francis transfers his view of reality to these characters. The strip dancer, Christina, becomes the proverbial daughter, Eric (Elias Koteas) the DJ in the club becomes the proverbial killer by means of breaking the relationship between the father and the proverbial daughter, Thomas (Don McKellar) the gay pet-shop owner becomes the proverbial DJ by finding the proverbial daughter. The niece (Sarah Polley) becomes the babysitter, the babysitter becomes the dancer, and the dancer becomes the proverbial daughter. Evidently, a chain is created of real and imagined links, which essentially drives the narrative as it comes around full circle, just as everything comes around to a fitting whole at the end.
Francis is a very complex character who, like all other individuals in Exotica, holds back his true feelings and emotions. He is overcome with grief and pain due to the murder of his daughter. This is evident throughout the film, as he is constantly distracted while working as an auditor with visions of his daughter. In particular a scene in which his wife and daughter are playing the piano. He torments himself with these thoughts and therefore must find a source of relief. He finds this release at club Exotica where he pays an hourly rate for Christina, his former babysitter, to come and dance seductively at his table. However, Francis has neither the authority nor the desire to touch Christina. What he needs from her is not physical but merely mental alleviation. Christina represents the proverbial daughter as she acts as a reminder of Francis’ lost child through her “school girl” apparel as well as her ‘link’ in the past to his family. As Francis watches her dance he imagines her as his own daughter thus making his memory of her a reality. This is most evident in the scene in which he repeatedly asks “how could anyone hurt youhow could anyone take you away from me.” Christina undoubtedly understands the role she plays for him and it becomes evident that the two have a special bond. Christina comes from a broken household in which she once suffered a great deal of violation and abuse. At this time, Francis acted as her source of mental alleviation as he took the time to console and talk with her and essentially became the proverbial father. The two characters are both suffering and as they separately work through their pain and anguish, their paths converge. Christina took part in the search for Francis’ daughter Lisa, and she was the one who stumbled upon her dead body. When she found Lisa in the field, her detained anger from her lost youth was projected onto the child’s body, the girl that she used to baby-sit for. As she plays a schoolgirl in her striptease, she is empowered and can work through this anger. In a way, she is the….. embodiment of the dead daughter, but it is what Francis is projecting onto her thereby causing her confusion. This is involuntary on the part of Francis, however he is so desperate that it appears to be the only option available to him.
The mental relief that Francis gains by watching Christina dance is destroyed when the DJ Eric, tricks him into touching her. Eric was a former lover of Christina and he is jealous of the relationship she has with Francis. He therefore tempts him into touching her and then when he does he banishes him from the club as he violated the “no-touching” rule. In this way, Eric becomes the proverbial killer by means of breaking the relationship between the father and the proverbial daughter. This induces enormous anger within Francis, as he now has no place to release his inner pain and tension. He therefore decides he must kill Eric, just as he would kill the real man who murdered his daughter. This leads to another connection, or link on the chain, between the principle characters of the film. Francis turns to Thomas, the pet-shop owner whom he is currently auditing, for help. Francis is aware of a smuggling operation which Thomas has set up and therefore uses this information to his advantage. He comes up with a plan whereby Thomas would go to the club and touch Christina so that Eric would throw him out on to the street just as he had thrown Francis out, and while the DJ was outside, Francis planned to shoot him, in exchange for this favour, Francis promised to keep Thomas’s smuggling operation undercover. However, when the opportunity arises for Francis to kill Eric his state of mind is altered. They find themselves understanding one another as Eric explains how he was with Christina when they found his child. At this point Francis’ initial feeling of anger changes to one of pain, and he no longer wishes to kill Eric. The temperamental state of Francis is clearly evident as he attempts to work through his anguish through the use of the principal characters.
The technique of Francis to relieve his pain through the misrepresentation of the characters is further demonstrated through his niece Tracey (Sarah Polley). Tracey acts as a reminder of his abandonment, as her father Harold (Victor Garber) was having an affair with his wife, and was with her when she instantly died in a car accident. In the few scenes in which Harold and Francis are together there is an enormous amount of tension between them, providing evidence that not only has Francis not forgiven his brother for the past, but most likely still blames him for the loss of his wife. Francis uses Tracey to keep the memory of his daughter alive as he pays her to come and baby-sit for him although there is no baby to “sit” for. She takes on the role of the former babysitter Christina. This is made evident in the parallel scenes in which Francis drives the babysitter home. First we are shown scenes in which he drives Tracey home and he asks her to ask him more questions in the future. At the end of the film, when the complete story is revealed, we are shown an early scene in which Francis is driving Christina home and he spends the entire journey talking about his daughter. In this scene we see how both characters gain mentally and emotionally from these conversations, and therefore understand why Francis attempts to recreate this once-frequent event with Tracey. Once again, Francis uses the characters, in this case Tracey, to fill the void in his life and provide him with some peace of mind.
The murder of Lisa causes great disruption and turmoil within Francis thereby leading him through a period of mental instability. He therefore finds release and inner-peace by utilizing the other characters in the film as doubles for both the people and times he has lost. This produces a chain that flows in a complete circle linking all of the characters together and effectively driving the narrative forward. Francis once played the role of father for Christina, she returns the father by acting as a daughter for Francis, Eric represents the murderer causing Francis to turn to Thomas for help and he becomes the DJ as he retrieves the daughter (Christina), Tracey takes on the role of babysitter, the babysitter becomes the dancer, and finally returning to the beginning of the chain, the dancer becomes the proverbial daughter. It is only at the end of the film that we truly understand the connections and convoluted relationships between all of the principal characters. Atom Egoyan’s plot for Exotica coils back upon itself, revealing one layer of mystery after another. Essentially, it deals with people whose lives, once we understand them, reveal a need and urgency that only these mysteries can satisfy. The role of the character Francis in Exotica is fsevidently instrumental in propelling the narrative, as he links all of the characters together through his attempt to fill the void in his life marked by the loss of his wife and daughter.