Exotica

Screening Tuesday November 8 at 1:30

 

Atom Egoyan’s 1994 film Exotica tells the intimate story a group of people whose lives are all tied together in ways they do not understand, and the interactions they have at a strip club named Exotica. The film is characterized by its unconventional character progression and a growing sense of tension throughout. The plot progresses as Francis, a father grieving the loss of his daughter, has an altercation with a stripper, Christina, who he typically hires for private dances. The film reaches its climax as all of the characters’ relationships and connections to one another are revealed to both them and the audience.

The slow building tension throughout the film is fueled by its ambiguity. The motivations of the characters are mostly left hidden until the end. The audience is compelled to view the film in order to learn the reasoning behind what they are seeing, such as the reason Francis hires a babysitter despite that fact his daughter has died. This slow process of unveiling details of the story is the most compelling part.

Despite this slow and tense flow of information being largely what fuels the film, the information shared during the last 20 minutes ties the characters together but seemingly comes out of nowhere. Learning the motives for Francis’s relationship with Christina does not make his actions any less disturbing, and instead of providing closure makes the character more unlikeable and off-putting. Every other character’s conclusion is either contingent on Francis’ or it is insignificant, and as a result these characters feel discounted and unimportant in the end. Furthermore the extreme ambiguity of the meaning of the ending reduces the build-up to a mere tease.

Exotica is otherwise thought-provoking and visually thrilling, capturing the eroticism of the performers and their performances well. The elements of voyeurism investigated through the strip club’s two-way mirrors function as a reminder that we too are watching. Many of the ways in which the club’s workers are depicted throughout the film are incredibly objectifying. Since the film is set mostly at this strip club and is in part about a stripper, maybe this is intentional. The elements of voyeurism assure that the erotic elements of the film are almost always uncomfortable. In one scene, Christina is dancing for Francis. The viewer is shows this through one of the 1-way mirrors located in the club as an other character watches. The presence of the voyeur as another viewer makes the audience of their own possibly objectifying view. The objectification serves the purpose of critiquing objectifying nature of viewership.

While Exotica at first thrives on and builds tension with its ambiguity, it is ultimately what makes the film a little disappointing in the end. The final reveal seemed as if it were supposed to make the viewer pity or understand Francis but instead made me extremely uncomfortable and perhaps left me with more questions than answers. While Egoyan’s stringing and bringing together of characters is interesting to watch and a thought provoking basis for a film, it’s final, open ended revelations ultimately feel disappointing.

Tess Smith (‘18) is a Film/Media Studies and Women’s and Gender Studies double major. Her primary filmic interests are documentary media and queer cinema but she also enjoys films of all kinds. As an audiophile she is deeply interested in sound design.