Saturday, January 25, 2020

Reason to Hope: The Empathy of Exotica

I can't be sure, but I believe it was my friend Leslie who urged me to watch Exotica (Atom Egoyan, 1994) shortly after its release back in the long ago and far away 1990s. And yet it took me a quarter-century to finally view what has instantly become one of my favourite films.

Exotica is something very rare in film. It is a story without villains, even though its characters act in ways that could be considered criminal, or at least seedy. It's set mainly in a strip club, and it is erotic, but it's a kind of eroticism that is somehow made wholesome by subverting certain dangerous tropes and turning prurience into the most powerful kind of empathy.

And I think that is why I love this film. Its characters, struggling though they do with jealousy, lust, rage, and horror, each find within themselves not merely tolerance, not merely forgiveness, but the strength to reach out and help--to care for one another even as they struggle with their own unbearable trauma.

How beautiful this film is in its profound decency, how elegant in its delicately unfolding temporal structure. And what a comfort to be reminded that people really do behave this way, finding love to defy horror, finding hope when all seems lost. It's a thing to be celebrated, and Exotica is a truly great celebration of all that's good in us.

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