Atom Egoyan 1960-
Canadian screenwriter and director.
The following entry presents an overview of Egoyan's career through 1999.
Egoyan is a Canadian screenwriter and director known for his innovative, postmodern dramas that focus on the nature of family, assimilation, identity, and alienation. His films typically feature fragmented, nonlinear storylines with characters who are isolated and emotionally paralyzed. A contemporary of Canadian film auteur David Cronenberg, Egoyan often uses video as a metaphor for memory and technology as a social filter through which his characters relate. He is best known for Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997), an adaptation of the Russell Banks novel, which received two Academy Award nominations. Several film critics have included Egoyan among the best directors of his generation, applauding his experimental style and his refusal to compromise his personal vision.
Egoyan was born on July 19, 1960 in Cairo, Egypt, to parents of Armenian descent. His parents were both formally trained artists, and his father owned a successful art gallery. They named their son Atom after atomic energy. In 1962 the family immigrated to Canada, where Egoyan's parents managed a furniture store in British Columbia. Egoyan faced difficulties assimilating into a community with few Armenian families. During this period, he rejected his native culture, refusing to speak Armenian altogether. Egoyan eventually became interested in theatre and began to write experimental plays. He attended the University of Toronto, graduating with a B.A. in international relations from Trinity College in 1982. While he was in college, Egoyan's creative interests expanded into the world of filmmaking. He produced his first short film, Howard in Particular, in 1979, and it won a prize at the Canadian National Exhibition's film festival. Through the 1980s Egoyan directed television episodes and made-for-television movies for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, as well as American television programs filmed in Toronto. He used his salary from his television work, along with private money and government grants, to produce several independent films that he wrote and directed. His first full-length feature film was Next of Kin (1984). As Egoyan's body of work expanded, his films became increasingly popular with critics and audiences in Canada and Europe, and he won the Moscow Film Festival award for The Adjuster (1991). Egoyan used the prize money from the award to fund his next film, Calendar (1993). In 1994, he received considerable praise for Exotica, which earned the International Film Critics Award at Cannes and numerous Genie awards. His next film, The Sweet Hereafter, brought Egoyan both critical and commercial success, including Academy Award nominations and several Cannes Film Festival awards. Egoyan has continued to direct short films—including one starring famed cellist Yo Yo Ma—and has directed and written the scores of several operas. He is married to Armenian actress Arsinee Khanjian with whom he has one son.
Throughout a career spanning more than two dozen films, Egoyan has created a highly recognizable visual and narrative style. He often revisits themes of alienation, estrangement, and dysfunctionality, particularly in family relationships. In Next of Kin, the main character flees his birth family and pretends to be the lost son of a local Albanian immigrant family in order to receive the emotional support that has been lacking in his life. The father and son in Family Viewing (1987) are engaged in a bitter power struggle: the son, Van, wants his father, Stan, to help take care of his grandmother, but Stan is content to leave her in a retirement home. Van's mother left them several years earlier, and Stan is methodically recording over their old family videos with scenes of him having sex with his mistress. Egoyan has consistently used video as a metaphor for memory, exploring the ways in which characters attempt to shape and possess their past. He portrays recorded images as a tool that his characters use to communicate with each other. In Speaking Parts (1989), one of the main characters is a screenwriter who “visits” her dead brother through a video mausoleum. The characters in Egoyan's films are often emotionally distant and unable to make personal connections. The Adjuster features a couple who live together in the same house, but who are emotionally isolated from each other. The husband, Noah, is an insurance adjuster who experiences a voyeuristic thrill in getting involved in the personal lives of his customers. His wife, Hera, works for the National Film Censor Board and secretly copies the pornographic films that she classifies. Exotica focuses on five characters whose lives center around the erotic dancers at a local nightclub. One of the characters, Francis, is a father who cannot find closure after his daughter's death. His daughter's former babysitter, Christina, is a dancer at the club, and Francis becomes emotionally dependent on watching her dance. Even while interpreting the work of others—such as his adaptations of Russell Banks's The Sweet Hereafter and William Trevor's Felicia's Journey—Egoyan consistently revisits his recurring themes and crafts his plots in a unique style. Egoyan's narratives often recount events in nonlinear order, mixing incidents from various time frames and omitting essential details about characters and plot events until the conclusion of the film.
Critics and peers alike consider Egoyan one of the leading independent filmmakers in Canada and have compared his unusual style to those of Cronenberg, David Lynch, and Peter Greenaway. Reviewers have noted that audiences either seem to love or hate Egoyan's works, with little room in-between. His critics have argued that his films are too fragmented and that his characters lack emotional depth or passion. Other reviewers have criticized his adaptations—such as The Sweet Hereafter—for being too focused on Egoyan's own agenda and not doing justice to the source material. However, even his harshest critics have complimented Egoyan's films for their complexity and thought-provoking material. Many reviewers have applauded Egoyan for his careful attention to detail, skillful use of editing, and continuing development of his recurring cinematic themes. Egoyan has been commended by critics for his rejection of false sentimentality and his refusal to emotionally manipulate his audiences. While some reviewers judge his characters as cool and detached, others consider them realistic and unexaggerated. Characterized as an “uncompromising” filmmaker, Egoyan and his body of work have developed a strong cult following in Canada and abroad.
Howard in Particular [also director] (screenplay) 1979
Next of Kin [also director] (screenplay) 1984
Family Viewing [also director] (screenplay) 1987
Speaking Parts [also director] (screenplay) 1989
The Adjuster [also director] (screenplay) 1991
Calendar [also director] (screenplay) 1993
Exotica [also director] (screenplay) 1994
The Sweet Hereafter [also director and adaptor; from the novel by Russell Banks] (screenplay) 1997
Felicia's Journey [also director and adaptor; from the novel by William Trevor] (screenplay) 1999
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SOURCE: “Unhappy Families,” in New Statesman and Society, October 7, 1988, p. 46–47.
[In the following review, Moore praises Egoyan's exploration of the nature of family in Family Viewing, but finds fault with his use of prostitution to suggest alienation.]
All is not well in the heart of that most sacred bastion of society—the family. If you believe what you read you will know that this most fundamental institution is under attack from a multitude of directions. Promiscuous single parents, campaigning homosexuals, morally-irresponsible television programmes and, of course, feminists who claim that the family is the site of woman's oppression par excellence, are all seen to threaten normal family life. You might wonder how something as supposedly natural and institutionalised can feel itself to be so fragile and flimsy.
This week's films may in part provide the answer. For although they are “about” families, they all point to the emptiness of traditional family life.
Family Viewing is an extraordinary film from a Canadian director, the wonderfully-named Atom Egoyan. As far as video technology is concerned it would appear that the family that plays together is erased together. At the centre of this blackest of comedies are father and son, Stan and Van. Stan is a semi-catatonic video salesman who can only be turned on when the camera is switched...
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SOURCE: “Memories of Overdevelopment: Up and Atom,” in Film Comment, Vol. 25, No. 6, November–December, 1989, pp. 27–29.
[In the following essay, Taubin explores Egoyan's use of technology as a metaphor in Speaking Parts and Family Viewing.]
The very voluble Atom Egoyan is hesitant to say how small the budget was for Speaking Parts, his third feature. He has a theory about recent independent films—that by conforming to Hollywood production standards, they've begun to attract a broader audience. Broader, that is, than the audience for grimy, grainy 16mm. With its gracefully arcing camera movement, spookily luminous interiors, and arresting, though totally unknown, actors, Speaking Parts looks a lot more expensive than its “well under a million dollar budget,” which is as close to specific as Egoyan's willing to get now that the film is making the festival circuit and a U.S. opening is likely around the New Year.
It's questionable whether your average viewer will find attractive visuals and subtle acting a sufficient reward, given Speaking Parts evasive, fragmented narrative, shifty-eyed, narcissistic characters and morbidly chill tone. Actually the film's most appealing quality is its gallows humor, to which the New York Film Festival audience made frequent, audible response. In short, Speaking Parts is not exactly sex, lies, and...
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SOURCE: A review of The Adjuster, in Sight & Sound, Vol. 2, No. 2, June, 1992, p. 38.
[In the following review, Romney praises Egoyan's work in The Adjuster, particularly his skillful use of repetition.]
[In The Adjuster,] Noah Render, an insurance loss adjuster, lives in the only occupied house on an uncompleted estate with Hera, her sister Seta and their son Simon. Called out to the scenes of fires, he arranges for clients to be lodged in a motel while they wait for their claims to be sorted. On the subway, Hera witnesses an incident involving Bubba and Mimi, a rich couple who stage elaborate sex charades for Mimi to star in. Hera works as a film censor, classifying acts in pornographic films and videotaping them for Seta to watch at home.
At the motel Noah reassures an anxious client Tim, with whose wife he is having an affair. He also embarks on an affair with his latest client Arianne, who has allowed her house to burn down because “something had to change.” Bubba visits the Renders posing as a location scout and persuades them to allow him to use their house for filming.
Hera is caught videotaping by Tyler, a young censor, who reports her to their boss Bert. The latter is delighted to hear that Hera shares their excitement at watching the films, but is disappointed when she explains that she does it so that Seta can learn about her...
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SOURCE: “Burning Down the House,” in Sight & Sound, Vol. 2, No. 2, June, 1992, pp. 18–19.
[In the following review, Taubin explores the recurring themes common in The Adjuster and Egoyan's earlier films.]
The protagonist of The Adjuster, Atom Egoyan's discomforting fourth feature, is named Noah Render. “The allusions are so obvious, they're hysterical,” says Egoyan during an interview. “What satisfaction could there be in analysing such a name?,” he scoffs. “So what if you realise that the motel where Noah boards his clients is like his ark?” Without pausing for breath, he does an about face and gleefully runs through dictionary definitions of the word ‘render’: “to represent, to break down into simple forms … What I like about ‘render’ is that it has so many contrary meanings.”
Or, as he remarked on another occasion: “If I have a set of concerns and a set of conflicting attitudes, then I have a film. I don't subscribe to a Messianic view of film-making and I don't disguise the fact that I haven't reached a conclusion. I encourage the audience to be aware that I am photographing people and to be deeply suspicious of my reasons for doing so.”
With its wide-screen format, velvety lighting, and speaker-taxing, low-frequency musical effects, The Adjuster (1991) is more sumptuous than Egoyan's earlier features....
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SOURCE: A review of Calendar, in Christian Century, Vol. 110, No. 7, March 3, 1993, pp. 227–28.
[In the following review, Wall discusses the central plot and thematic material in Calendar.]
Canadian director Atom Egoyan is a quiet man who avoided a press conference after the initial screening of his sixth feature film, Calendar. A few of us caught up with him just outside the theater where he willingly chatted about his picture, which deals with a photographer, played by Egoyan, who like the director is from an Armenian family but doesn't speak the language. His wife plays the role of Egoyan's movie wife, but she does speak the language—which sets up the film's drama of failed communication and experiences not shared.
The couple travels to Armenia to take pictures of churches for a calendar. (The film is co-produced by the Armenian government, a German television company and Egoyan's Canadian company.) The film's premise is simple: a local guide drives the photographer and his wife to remote church sites and describes the significance of the architecture and history of the buildings. (In one delightful exchange he refers to a point of “energy” which determined the location of the structure.) The wife translates for her husband, but it soon becomes obvious that she is also developing a rapport with the guide; they share a love for the country and its churches, and...
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SOURCE: “Ruined,” in Film Comment, Vol. 29, No. 6, November–December, 1993, p. 73.
[In the following review, Chang describes the history behind Egoyan's Calendar and explores the film's major plot elements.]
Atom Egoyan won the Moscow Prize for The Adjuster in 1991. The award took the form of one million rubles in production funding and came with the stipulation that the work be done in the (then) Soviet Union. As location, Egoyan chose Armenia, his ancestral home—then saw his budget devalued, by secession and independence, to some ＄4,000 U.S. Last-minute assistance from German television allowed him to get on the plane with a limited budget, strict completion timeline, no script, and three ideas: 1) The film would be improvised. 2) A photographer on assignment shoots images of churches for a calendar. 3) A relationship disintegrates. As a friend of mine remarked, “All filmmakers should be forced to work this way.”
In Calendar, Egoyan himself plays the photographer, his onscreen wife is played by his offscreen wife, Arsinée Khanjian, and Ashot Adamian plays their Armenian guide. Landscape photography marks another stage in the Egoyan film canon's continuing fixation on desensitized voyeurs and sentient cameras, and playing the eye that looks through the camera makes a fitting acting début for this director. It also increases the waffled subjectivity...
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SOURCE: A review of Speaking Parts, in University of Toronto Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 1, Winter, 1994, pp. 238–41.
[In the following review, Testa argues that the published script of Speaking Parts fails to support Egoyan's reputation as a leading postmodern director.]
The publication of scripts of English-Canadian films is regrettably a rarity. Coach House's Speaking Parts, the script of Canadian film director Atom Egoyan's 1989 film, is a model of how a script should be presented. In addition to the script, there is an introductory essay by Professor Ron Burnett of McGill University, an interview with the director conducted by film critic Marc Glassman, a short piece by the director, and a well-prepared filmography.
The appearance of the book raises several issues. The first is the necessity of its elaboration, which is a bit saddening. Since his mid-twenties, Egoyan, now thirty-three, has frequently been declared to be the leading English-Canadian director of his generation. However, no critic has come forward with a cogent account of why he is to be so highly regarded. The writing on Egoyan is little more than press publicity and, for a director of his notable intellectual and artistic ambition, this must be a disappointment. For those of us less impressed by the idea of Atom Egoyan projected by the press—and who have never been able to see that idea realized...
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SOURCE: “Exotic Atom: With Exotica, Atom Egoyan Has Become the Most Celebrated Canadian Filmmaker of His Generation,” in Maclean's, Vol. 107, No. 40, October 3, 1994, pp. 44–47.
[In the following essay, Johnson explores Egoyan's career, influences, and the filmmaker's concerns about his future.]
Rolling up to a movie premiere in a limousine is a familiar ritual. But at the recent Toronto International Film Festival, Canadian director Atom Egoyan elected to walk to the North American premiere of his new movie, Exotica. Egoyan knew that refusing a limo could seem as pretentious as accepting one—but he had taken the luxury route two nights earlier with absurd results. After the festival's opening-night party, he and his partner, actress Arsinee Khanjian, found themselves ushered into a preposterously long stretch limo. “I was ready to jump into a cab,” recalls the film-maker, but his handlers at Alliance Releasing “had insisted we ride around in these limos.” He directed the chauffeur to Riverdale, on the eastern edge of downtown, where Egoyan, Khanjian and their one-year-old son, Arshile, share a modest semi-detached house on a narrow little street—so narrow that the driver could not get around the corner. “He spent 15 minutes trying to negotiate the turn,” Egoyan laughs. “You could see the dismay in the driver's face. He started to think maybe he'd taken the wrong...
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SOURCE: “This Director's Got a Brand Noir Bag,” in Los Angeles Times, March 12, 1995, pp. 21–23.
[In the following review, McKenna explores the differences between Exotica and Egoyan's earlier films.]
“People often describe my work as cold and clinical, but I just can't see it that way—to me it's about nothing but emotion,” says Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan.
“True, the people in my films often try to deny their emotions and usually have a hard time understanding what they're feeling. Nonetheless, the emotions are always bubbling away in there at an almost operatic level.”
The reason critics often describe Egoyan's work as cold could have something to do with the tendency in his films for the “operatic” emotions to implode rather than explode—and the fact that the media are usually positioned as central characters in his narratives.
From his 1984 feature debut, Next of Kin, to his recently released sixth film, Exotica, Egoyan has looked with a cool eye at our willingness to hand the reigns of our consciousness over to technology and at the barrage of images that have invaded human experience.
Those ideas are percolating away in Exotica, but the film is a departure in other ways. Egoyan's works have always been provocative—and Exotica, doesn't disappoint on that...
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SOURCE: “Imaginary Images: An Examination of Atom Egoyan's Films,” in Film Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 3, Spring, 1995, pp. 2–14.
[In the following essay, Harcourt, who teaches at Carleton University in Ottawa, traces the themes and cinematographic techniques characteristic of Egoyan's films and places the director's work in a Canadian context.]
I'm attracted to people who are lost in a world that I can navigate.1
There is a sequence in Exotica, the latest film by 35-year-old Canadian film-maker Atom Egoyan, that makes me think of Andrew Wyeth. There is a long shot of an extended grassy field. In the distance, a number of people appear on the horizon, walking in unison. They are looking for something. As in Wyeth's “Christina's World,” there is a surreal combination of beauty and dread. Are they on a ramble, these people, looking at flora and fauna? Or are they looking for something else? Not until well into the film, as we continually return to this particular sequence, will we receive an answer to these questions.
Like other Egoyan films, Exotica (1994) interweaves three narrative elements. Images are established, characters are introduced; but their relationship to one another is unclear. This is Egoyan's form of cinematic suspense. Like other Egoyan films,...
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SOURCE: “Exploitations,” in Sight & Sound, Vol. 5, No. 5, May, 1995, pp. 6–8.
[In the following review, Romney offers a negative assessment of Exotica, criticizing Egoyan's style of filmmaking as unfulfilling.]
Atom Egoyan makes bitterly disappointing films. They begin by stirring our curiosity—our desire to play detective or analyst, or simply our prurient longing for a glimpse of the louche, the exotic. And when finally they deliver what we're looking for, they invariably frustrate us—all we discover is that revelation can never be satisfactory. We learn that there are always more layers to the onion, or that it was never really an onion in the first place. As Egoyan's new film Exotica makes explicit, this director's work resembles the consummate art of male frustration that is striptease—we await the moment of laying bare only to have it dawn on us that the body is the one thing we don't want to see (just yet). His films are structured to exemplify a full-blown erotics of cinema, with all the attendant play of sadism and masochism. In that sense, his is the most profoundly anti-erotic cinema imaginable.
Egoyan's first feature Next of Kin (1984) began with the image of an unidentified bag going round on an airport carousel. It immediately poses the key questions that underlie his films. Whose baggage is this? Where's it from? What do...
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SOURCE: “Family Romances: An Interview with Atom Egoyan,” in Cineaste, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 1997, pp. 8–16.
[In the following interview, Egoyan discusses the nature of the film industry, his approach to filmmaking, and the influence of Canadian identity.]
Widely regarded as Canada's leading independent filmmaker, Atom Egoyan is frequently hailed as brilliantly innovative and occasionally damned as a purveyor of arid cinematic parables. Egoyan's wry self-deprecation, however, allows him to view both acclaim and derision with a jaundiced eye. In fact, the critical response to Egoyan's films often seems several steps behind the director's unsparing assessments of his own work. Egoyan's personal modesty has never interfered with his professional assurance, enabling him to explore a cluster of interrelated themes—the erosion of ethnic identity in the face of modernity, the relationship between technology and alienated sexuality, and the black humor that can be derived from the travails of irrevocably dysfunctional families.
Egoyan's debut feature, Next of Kin (1984), typifies the absurdist tenor which suffuses his work. A lighthearted film which provides a glimpse of darker ironies, Next of Kin focuses on an elaborate wish-fulfillment fantasy concocted by Peter, a nondescript young WASP who flees his affluent middle-class family to effortlessly become part of a warm...
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SOURCE: “How Sweet It Is: His New Film Signals a Change of Direction for Egoyan,” in Maclean's, Vol. 110, No. 36, September 8, 1997, pp. 60–61.
[In the following review, Johnson compares The Sweet Hereafter with Egoyan's previous works, stating that Hereafter features more natural and fully developed characters.]
Inevitably, directors get tired of their own movies. And after finishing The Sweet Hereafter, Atom Egoyan watched it so many times that by the time it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May, he no longer knew what to make of it. But last month—rested after vacationing in Italy with his wife, actress Arsinee Khanjian, and their four-year-old son, Arshile—the Canadian film-maker was ready to take a fresh look at The Sweet Hereafter. The occasion was a private screening in Toronto for the Directors Guild of Canada. Halfway through, the fire alarm went off. There was no fire, but the theatre was soon filled with firemen. “It was so bizarre,” recalls Egoyan. “Usually firemen are all, like, ‘Everybody leave the building now!’ But they were so casual. They were thrilled because they'd read about the film. So I ended up doing a photo session with all these firemen. They all wanted pictures, and they gave me their cards.”
If Atom Egoyan is hot stuff in the fire hall, perhaps it is official that he has finally made his mark in the...
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SOURCE: A review of The Sweet Hereafter, in Sight & Sound, Vol. 7, No. 10, October, 1997, pp. 60–61.
[In the following review, Rayns argues that Egoyan's failure to sustain a sense of community in The Sweet Hereafter detracts from the film's overall impact.]
In The Sweet Hereafter, Lawyer Mitchell Stephens arrives in Sam Dent, a small town in British Columbia, where the community is paralysed by a recent accident: the school bus, driven by Dolores Driscoll and carrying 22 children, went off an icy road and plunged into a lake, causing 14 deaths. Stephens hopes to mobilise the bereaved parents into a class-action lawsuit against the bus company; he will act without a fee, against one-third of any settlement reached. (Stephens himself has deep emotional problems; divorced from his wife Klara, he keeps his drug-addicted, drop-out daughter Zoe at arm's length.)
He turns to the local motel owners Wendell and Risa Walker for advice on which grieving parents to approach. He also meets Dolores (and her husband Abbott, victim of a stroke) and hears her account of the day of the accident. The first to sign up for his class action are the Ottos, Hartley and Wanda, who lost their adopted son Bear. Risa is the next, followed by Sam and Mary Burnell, whose daughter Nicole survived the accident but is now wheelchair-bound. (Stephens provides a computer for Nicole, to sweeten...
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SOURCE: “The Great White (North) Hope,” in Los Angeles Times, November 23, 1997, pp. 8, 94–95.
[In the following review, Turner argues that Egoyan's past works inform The Sweet Hereafter and notes ways in which the film deviates from his earlier works.]
The taxi pulls into a narrow lane in downtown Toronto's western fringes, where artists' lofts share the neighborhood with storefront restaurants and converted warehouses.
On the north side of the street, a red-brick, Victorian-era duplex unmarked by any sign houses the headquarters of Atom Egoyan, at 37 an icon of the Canadian cinema and a writer-director edging toward the center of the Hollywood radar screen.
The interior gives off a dormitory feel, with film posters covering the walls, cardboard file boxes stacked on the floor, old props leaning against walls, and doors flapping with the passage of young and youngish employees. The atmosphere had been described perfectly a few weeks earlier by New York author Russell Banks, whose novel The Sweet Hereafter, as filmed by Egoyan, is gaining critical acclaim. Entering Egoyan's office, Banks said in an interview during the New York Film Festival, “I felt like I was visiting a bunch of funky, brilliant graduate students, all deeply serious and very funny at the same time.”
This is a long, long way from Hollywood—and we're not just...
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SOURCE: “Atom Egoyan's Particles of Faith: Director of The Sweet Hereafter Believes in Smart Audiences for His Complex Films,” in Washington Post, December 14, 1997, p. G10.
[In the following essay, Waxman notes that viewers must work to unravel the plot elements in The Sweet Hereafter.]
Watching Atom Egoyan's new film The Sweet Hereafter can be rather like living through the turbulent events it depicts.
The film tells the story of a school bus accident in a small rural Canadian town and the big-city lawyer—himself a tormented soul—who arrives looking for a lawsuit.
As the film wends its way through the town's heartbreak, it focuses on several families—some hippies who lose an adopted Indian son, a widower who witnesses the crash and loses his twins, a talented teenage girl who survives but is scarred by incest. With no regard to time frame or context, the scenes flow from flashback to present day and back again.
It sounds confusing, but, instead, this approach immerses the viewer in the community's confused anger and grief, denial and, ultimately, a wounded sort of acceptance—which is what Egoyan intended.
“You want things to be loaded, to know that there is more going on than meets the eye,” he said after a recent screening of the film. “The characters themselves are drifting, trying to understand...
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SOURCE: “The Sweet Hereafter: A Cry of Hope,” in Washington Post, December 25, 1997, p. C01.
[In the following review, Hunter suggests that The Sweet Hereafter's ambiguity and unusual chronology are among its strengths, but notes that these elements may bother some viewers.]
Here's one way to look at it: Man is a meaning-seeking creature.
Pitiful being, he cannot accept the random cruelty of the universe. That is his biggest failing, the source of his unhappiness and possibly of his nobility as well. He paws through disasters with but one question for God: Why? And God never answers.
He certainly doesn't answer in Atom Egoyan's superb The Sweet Hereafter, which watches a mad, vain scrambler seeking to impart his own meaning on someone else's terrifying disaster. As derived from the intense Russell Banks novel, the story follows lawyer Mitchell Stephens (Ian Holm) on his peregrinations through a western Canadian town where a school bus has recently fallen through the ice, drowning 14 children and leaving an enamel of grief as blinding as the snow that blankets the place. This lawyer: greedhead or pilgrim of pain?
This town: victim of horrid coincidence or of God's vengeance?
This story: remembered myth or spontaneous occurrence?
The answer to the questions is: All of the above. And one more...
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SOURCE: A review of The Sweet Hereafter, in Christian Century, Vol. 115, No. 5, February 18, 1998, p. 163.
[In the following review, Wall describes The Sweet Hereafter as emotionally demanding and calls Hereafter one of the best films of 1997.]
Over the past few months I have led discussions of three films that I count among the top pictures released in 1997. Two of the discussions were in religious settings, the other in a secular setting, but I found the same range of responses: some participants picked up on the religious dimensions of the films while others wondered what had happened to just plain fun at the movies.
What happened to fun at the movies may be found in 1997's biggest financial success, Men in Black. Those who want more than fun should find plenty of food for thought in the following ten films. I should point out that the harsh language, violence and sexual content in some of these pictures will sharply limit their audiences.
With this caution, I recommend the following, beginning with the three that were the focus of my presentations: The Apostle, Robert Duvall's film about a Pentecostal preacher; Good Will Hunting, director Gus Van Sant's sensitive depiction of a young mathematical genius; and Canadian director Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, based on Russell Bank's haunting novel about a school bus...
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SOURCE: “The Sweet Here and Now,” in Saturday Night, Vol. 113, No. 3, April, 1998, pp. 67–72.
[In the following essay, Pearson compares the commercial and critical success of The Sweet Hereafter to Egoyan's background as an independent screenwriter and director.]
Atom Egoyan always said he was deeply suspicious of the Oscars. Then he got nominated.
The first time I spied Atom Egoyan, at a Christmas party for Toronto's arts and letters set, the handsome thirty-seven-year-old director was engrossed in conversation with Greg Gatenby, head of the International Festival of Authors. Slightly hunched, with one hand grasping his chin, he seemed unaware that the crowd surrounding them had come alive with whispers and glances. “Is that Atom Egoyan?” someone near me inquired excitedly. “Hey,” someone else hissed, “I think that's Egoyan.” A hiply clad woman with honey hair approached and stuck out her hand: “Atom, I don't know if you remember, I interviewed you in London.”
The buzz about Egoyan was that he had a shot at the Oscars. His seventh independent feature film, The Sweet Hereafter, is a gorgeous and poignant adaptation of the Russell Banks novel about a small community shattered by the loss of their children in a school-bus accident. By December, the movie had hit 200 top-ten lists. Premiere magazine had just pegged him as a...
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SOURCE: “The Politics of Denial: An Interview with Atom Egoyan,” in Cineaste, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1999, p. 39.
[In the following interview, Egoyan describes his development of the Hilditch character in Felicia's Journey, his relationship with author William Trevor, and the influence of Alfred Hitchcock.]
Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter (1997) was the Canadian director's breakthrough film. While Egoyan had enjoyed a cult following during the 1980s, The Sweet Hereafter appeared on more than 200 ‘Ten Best’ Lists in 1998 and won him a much larger audience. The initial reception for his latest film, Felicia's Journey, while respectful, has been considerably less rapturous. This critical ambivalence can probably be attributed to assumptions that Egoyan's talent is not suited to the well-worn thriller genre and a feeling that the new film is less innovative and ambitious than The Sweet Hereafter. Cineaste interviewed Egoyan shortly before his new film's American premiere at the 1999 New York Film Festival. He clarifies his decision to adapt William Trevor's novel with his usual lucidity and states his reasons for making a film about a serial killer with an honesty that functions as an implicit reply to his critics.
[Porton:] Do you think that Felicia's Journey benefits from your status as a foreigner examining Irish and English...
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SOURCE: A review of Felicia's Journey, in Cineaste, Vol. 25, No. 1, Winter, 1999, p. 42.
[In the following review, Porton offers a positive assessment of Felicia's Journey, noting Egoyan's skill in creating relationships between characters.]
Neither a straightforward genre film nor a simple portrait of mental aberration, Atom Egoyan's Felicia's Journey brilliantly subverts the conventions of the standard Hollywood thriller as well as the cliches of the by-now hackneyed serial killer subgenre. While Egoyan's adaptation of William Trevor's novel possesses superficial affinities to the work of Hitchcock and Chabrol, the Canadian director's more meditative style prevents us—as audience members—from being pawns of an autocratic auteur. The emphasis in this film is less on individual psychosis than on the web of relationships (both social and implicitly political) that engender it.
Felicia's Journey promotes a distinctively contemplative form of suspense by recounting the commingled destinies of two mismatched protagonists: Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), an astonishingly naive teenager who yearns for a reconciliation with her unfaithful boyfriend, and Joseph Ambrose Hilditch (Bob Hoskins), a deceptively mild-mannered catering manager from the Birmingham suburbs with a penchant for befriending young women. When the newly pregnant Felicia, in flight from an almost...
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SOURCE: “Atom's Journey: Canada's Celebrated Director Reveals the Rite of Passage behind His Cinematic Obsessions,” in Maclean's, September 13, 1999, p. 54.
[In the following essay, Johnson considers the unique voice in Egoyan's films and explores the sources of his recurring cinematic themes.]
Lunch with Atom Egoyan. He arrives late, on the run in a day of interviews. This is Toronto, his home town, but he might as well be on tour. His personal publicist hovers close by; a driver waits at the curb outside the restaurant. Affable and full of energy, Egoyan takes a seat in the corner booth, a dark wood enclosure with a thick curtain that can be drawn for privacy. Should it be open or closed? “Closed,” Egoyan suggests. The curtain is drawn and suddenly the booth feels strangely private, like a sleeper compartment on a train. It is the kind of place where secrets could be revealed, with the awkward intimacy that you would expect to find … in an Atom Egoyan film. The only question is, how to catch the waiter's eye?
It is the sort of dilemma Egoyan can appreciate. He has built a career out of creating coolly hermetic worlds on film, dramas that are ripe with understated menace and employ none of the usual tricks to catch the eye of the audience. His latest movie, Felicia's Journey—which opens the Toronto International Film Festival (Sept. 9 to 18) this week—tells the...
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SOURCE: “Starvation of the Soul: Atom Egoyan's Latest Is a Troubling Minor Masterpiece,” in Maclean's, November 15, 1999, p. 148.
[In the following review, Hluchy offers a positive assessment of Felicia's Journey, arguing that it is less contrived than Egoyan's earlier work.]
William Trevor's 1994 novel Felicia's Journey is a small masterpiece of literary creepiness, a tale of deception told with exhilarating insight. Atom Egoyan's adaptation of the Irish author's book is a small masterpiece of cinematic creepiness, in which the perversion comes with a large measure of humanity. The tale of a guileless 17-year-old Irish girl who leaves home and falls into the hands of a Birmingham psychopath, Felicia's Journey shows Canadian film-maker Egoyan, who both directed and wrote the screenplay, to be at the height of his powers. So much about the movie is breathtaking: the acting of Elaine Cassidy as the title character and Bob Hoskins as the man who preys on her, Egoyan's fleet-footed jumps between present and past, Paul Sarossy's cinematography of a landscape blighted by industrial detritus and tangled highways, Mychael Danna's nerve-jangling score. The film is also laden with evocative minor details, right down to the endearingly clunky sandals, made of wood and blue leather, worn by the hapless Felicia.
The story begins with her passage by ferry to England. Felicia...
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SOURCE: “Felicia's Journey: Soup to Nut,” in Washington Post, November 19, 1999, p. C05.
[In the following review, Hunter focuses on Egoyan's treatment of the serial killer Mr. Hilditch in Felicia's Journey.]
Felicia's Journey offers something new, at least: the figure of the sociopathic killer as lovelorn lonely guy who only needs a nice hug to set him free.
This creepy but compelling image is at the center of the film that director Atom Egoyan chose to make after the sublime The Sweet Hereafter. Like Hereafter, it is derived from a distinguished text, a prize-winning novel by the highly regarded Irish novelist William Trevor. Its pedigree—including the Whitbread Prize—is unassailably literary, and what distinguishes this serial killer story from many other serial killer stories is what separates serious fiction from pulp fiction: the question of motive. Trevor, unlike, say, Thomas Harris, is at pains to discover what turns a man into a monster and not terribly interested in the flamboyance of that monstrosity.
It is this line that Egoyan follows, and it brings him to the bizarre moral proposition that the slaughterer of at least 10 young girls in England is as much a victim as a villain. You cannot hate Mr. Hilditch. Poor Mr. Hilditch grew up in an unusual milieu. That is, on television. His mother, the domineering, sexy, beautiful...
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Diamond, John. Review of The Sweet Hereafter, by Atom Egoyan. New Statesman (26 September 1997): 56–57.
Diamond suggests how a Hollywood version of The Sweet Hereafter might have differed from Egoyan's, and argues that the film—unlike Egoyan's earlier works—has a sense of hopefulness beneath the surface.
Egoyan, Atom with Lawrence Chua. “Atom's Id.” Artforum 33, No. 7 (March 1995): 25–28.
In this interview, Egoyan discusses his screenwriting process and the importance of colonial power in Exotica.
Howe, Desson. “Film Notes: After The Sweet Hereafter.” Washington Post (19 November 1999): N53.
Howe offers a positive assessment of Felicia's Journey, calling it “precise” and “elegant.”
Johnson, Brian D. “Bleak Beauty.” Maclean's (30 September 1991): 68.
Johnson offers a positive assessment of The Adjuster, describing the film as “seductive, subversive and disturbing.”
Jones, Kent. “The Cinema of Atom Egoyan.” Film Comment 34, No. 1 (January 1998): 32.
Jones discusses Egoyan's body of work and how audiences have reacted to his films.
Kauffmann, Stanley. “Stanley Kauffmann on Films: A Stricken Town.”...
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