Exotica (1994, Atom Egoyan) Movie Review
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Don McKellar
From the very opening shot, Exotica gives its viewers a taste of what’s to come. A hypnotizing pan while Mychael Danna’s “Something Hidden” plays melodiously in a somber yet jazzy tone. This atmosphere carries on as the film introduces entirely different characters going through various challenges in their life—Thomas is a man who tries to find a living by owning and handling a shop with exotic animals, and is thereafter found watching productions of Romeo and Juliet as if he’s looking for someone, and Francis is a seemingly ordinary accountant who, mostly every night, visits this high-class strip club called ‘Exotica’ to exchange conversation with a stripper dressed like a school girl named Christina.
The film is like a tease, there are quite a lot of mysterious subplots unfolding around the characters, but it never bothers answering any of them. It is a puzzle that leaves everything up to the viewer to connect its strange pieces; people view it as a murder mystery, but I view it more as a testament to the mystery of human nature. It is very much well established from the start that these characters seem to have so few in common, but there’s this potential gravity that seems to pull them together, and that is the mystery the film tries to exhibit. How the human nature is unorthodox, and how everything feels so arbitrary until the lives of two people intersect, and in this case, in a classy and jazzy Toronto strip club.
There are six main players in this story—Thomas, Francis, Christina, Eric, Zoe, and Tracey. Everyone is caught up with their own lives at the start until strange little coincidences mysteriously put each in their own respective relativity from each other. The entire film has a very eerie tone of dolefulness, as if there is something going on behind the curtain. This is emphasized by the two-way mirror, and as the film progresses, it gradually reveals characters backgrounds and histories thought to be concealed, and by the time it reaches its third act, the artfulness of its mystery hit me in a profound manner as I realized the subjective reasons on why characters did some eccentric decisions during the rising action. Again, this is all theory, as the film never fully gives any answer, but the thought is there; the idea of how a past tragedy can creep up on one like a smooth finger tracing one’s spine, how the idea of sex and paid prostitution can never heal the scars of the past, and how prejudice can quickly lead to anger, and soon, murder.
The way this film deals with its themes of loneliness are handled maturely with elements of trying to replace that feeling with physical pleasures. Everyone might seem ordinary at the start, but once it reaches the end, it shows how everyone is scarred, how everyone has dealt with tragedy and is trying to cope with it by trying to live life’s entertainment. Each of these characters has something to say, and the grayness of each just astounds me. From the seemingly young and innocent girl to the older but experienced DJ, these set of characters is a prime example of excellent characterization bounded by human nature, not human caricatures.
At what at first seems like a murder mystery-themed Showgirlsturns into something deep and sincere. Exotica is certainly not what I expected it to be, but in the best way possible. It explores something hidden, a plethora of mature themes affecting a group of seemingly unrelated people while still being in that atmosphere of surreal jazziness and peculiarity as if there’s something not right, as if there’s something out of place. The entire film is like an artwork waiting to be interpreted; every single detail is in there but merely judging it at a first glance won’t do, as single-handed prejudice leads to more bewilderment that spirals down into a rabbit hole of hypnotic dancing accompanied by Danna’s smooth and unfurling tones of a gloomy and murderous ambiance of something-not-right in the air.