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Film / Exotica

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Exotica is a 1994 Canadian drama film directed by Atom Egoyan, with most of the action taking place in a fictional Toronto gentleman's club called Exotica. It stars Mia Kirshner, Bruce Greenwood, Elias Koteas, Don McKellar, Arsinée Khanjian, Sarah Polley, and Victor Garber.

The plot centers on the interconnected lives of Thomas Pinto (McKellar), an exotic bird smuggler; Francis Brown (Greenwood), a tax auditor with a troubled past; Zoe (Khanjian), the owner of the club; Eric (Koteas), the club's emcee; and Christina (Kirshner), one of its dancers. The film does not reveal how all of these characters are linked until the final scene.

The film was marketed as an erotic thriller on its release in Canada and the United States and became a major box office success for English Canadian cinema. It received critical acclaim, winning a critics’ prize at the Cannes Film Festival and a nomination for Best Foreign Film at the Independent Spirit Awards.

Exotica contains examples of:

  • Ambiguously Bi: Zoe is pregnant by Eric, who is in a relationship with Christina (who isn't happy that Eric actually has a contract to impregnate Zoe), but she kisses Christina in a very affectionate way after the confrontation over her liaison with Eric. Whether Zoe is bisexual or a lesbian who simply needed a sperm donor is never clarified.
  • Anachronic Order: Through the film there are various flashbacks of two scenes that take place before the story; both are completed at the end of the film.
  • Blackmail: After Francis is thrown out of Exotica, he tells Thomas that Revenue Canada knows that he is running an exotic animal smuggling operation worth over $200,000 a year, but that if he goes into Exotica wearing a wire and gets Christina to explain why Eric set him up, Francis will tell his superiors he couldn't find enough evidence to charge Thomas. Things get worse for Thomas when Francis pushes him into trying to get himself thrown out by Eric so that Francis can shoot him; if he refuses, he goes to jail for smuggling and fraud, but if he accepts, he could go to jail for being an accessory to murder.
  • Carpet of Virility: When Thomas finally succeeds in giving his spare ticket to Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet to a man who goes home with him afterward, his date runs his fingers through Thomas' substantial chest hair and remarks that it's like touching a gorilla.
  • Catholic School Girls Rule: Christina dances in a schoolgirl uniform with a tartan skirt and stockings at the club, and Eric's DJ patter as he introduces her muses on why schoolgirls create such a fascination in adult men.
  • Color Motif: The color green recurs throughout the film, first appearing in the opening credits sequence with a slow pan over exotic plants. It is also the dominant color in the club scenes, as well as the color of the crusty fish tanks in Thomas’ pet store.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Francis is so upset about being set up by Eric to be permanently banned from Exotica that he sends Thomas back inside and tells him to touch Christina so that Eric will throw him out - where Francis will be waiting with a gun. But Eric is not working that night; instead, he approaches Francis outside the club and defuses his anger by revealing that he was the one who found the body of Francis' daughter Lisa. Francis breaks down crying in Eric's arms.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The title Exotica can refer to the name of the strip club where Christina dances, and it can also refer to the exotic birds that Thomas smuggles.
  • Flashback: One, to Eric and Christina participating in a police search in open countryside, shown in parts through the film and another, to when Christina was a teenager, at the end of the film.
  • Flashback Cut: Various through the film, mostly to the police search for which Christina and Eric volunteered (and during which they met and began their relationship), and most of which only last for a few seconds. The full significance of these flashbacks only becomes apparent in the final scene: Eric was the first person to find Francis' daughter Lisa's dead body.
  • Flashback Echo: When Eric tells Francis that he was the one who found Lisa's dead body, he gives the distraught Francis a Cooldown Hug. This is intercut with a flashback to Eric finding the body; when Christina sees Lisa, whom she used to babysit, Eric holds her in his arms as she sobs with grief.
  • Hidden Wire: After he is banned from the club, Francis blackmails Thomas into going to the club while wearing a wire in order to gain info on why Francis was kicked out.
  • Hyperlink Story: Major character connections are not revealed until the end of the film. Christina used to babysit Francis' daughter Lisa before the latter was kidnapped and murdered, and he became her confidant regarding her troubled home life. When the police recruited volunteers to search for Lisa, Christina and Eric were among the searchers, and Eric was the first person to find her body. We also don't learn until late in the film that Tracey, Francis' current "babysitter", is his niece, and her father Harold, Francis' brother, was sleeping with Francis' wife before the car accident that killed her and left Harold in a wheelchair.
  • Imaginary Love Triangle: Eric thinks there is a love triangle involving himself, Christina, and Francis, since the latter is a regular at Exotica but only ever asks for table dances from Christina. This awakens the Green-Eyed Monster in him, and he baits Francis into touching Christina during a dance, giving him an excuse to throw him out and prohibit him from returning. The truth is much sadder, all the more so because Eric knows it: Christina and Francis are not in love. Rather, he has known her since childhood, and she used to babysit for his daughter Lisa and eventually trusted him as a confidant for her troubled home life. After Lisa was kidnapped and murdered, Francis and Christina became co-dependent, but they never had romantic feelings for each other.
  • Leitmotif: An Enforced Trope; Eric plays Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" whenever he's introducing Christina.
  • Love Triangle: Eric, the club's DJ, is in love with Christina, a dancer, but he has also impregnated Zoe, the club owner.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Francis fell under suspicion from the police after his daughter Lisa went missing, as his wife had been having an affair with his brother Harold, and the police believed he suspected Lisa was really Harold's daughter. The film doesn't reveal the truth, although Lisa notably shares a talent for music with Tracey, whom we know to be Harold's daughter.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The film was marketed as an erotic thriller, emphasizing its strip club setting. However, the film is definitely not a thriller nor is it particularly titillating. It is more of a drama—a character study, to be precise. However, the marketing tactic was successful and the film turned a profit, becoming Atom Egoyan’s first box-office success.
  • Queer Establishing Moment: Thomas gives ballet tickets to men and longingly looks at them during the show; this is later made explicitly clear when he takes a guy back to his place.
  • Recurring Camera Shot: Early in the film there is an unexplained shot of people walking on a hill, including a younger Christina and Eric; this is revisited later when the scene progressively expands to reveal it's a flashback.
  • The Reveal: The film's final scene reveals how Christina and Francis know each other, and why they are both so upset over Eric baiting Francis into getting banned from Exotica. Christina was formerly a babysitter for Francis' family. A flashback shows a younger, bespectacled Christina being given a ride home by Francis, who can sense that all is not right in Christina's home life. Before she exits the car, Francis tells her that if there's anything she wants to confide to him, he is there for her. Christina thanks him and goes inside her home.