‘Exotica’: A Torontonian Picture

‘Exotica’ is a 1994 Canadian drama film set primarily in and around the fictional Exotica strip club in Toronto. It is written and directed by Atom Egoyan and the film proved to be a major box office success for English Canadian cinema, and received positive reviews. It won numerous awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and eight Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture.

Mia Kirshner, in ‘Exotica’.

Exotica is a Canadian movie released in 1994. This motion picture was written and directed by Atom Egoyan, who was born in Egypt to Armenian parents. Atom and his family immigrated to Canada in 1962 when he was two years old. He graduated from the University of Toronto. Being an immigrant himself, his films usually emphasize how people are disconnected by the realities of culture, background, ethnicity, economic status, and other social boundaries. Exotica is no exception; this movie portrays considerable barriers among the characters.

The film takes place in Toronto, mostly in a strip club named Exotica. The main characters are Francis Brown, a tax auditor for Revenue Canada, Christina, a dancer in the club, Eric, the local DJ; and Thomas, a very introverted, awkward man who imports illegal exotic bird species.

Francis is a regular customer of Exotica. There, he always pays Christina to dance and have a private chat with him. Eventually, this makes Eric, Christina’s ex-boyfriend, jealous, to the point that he plays a trick on Francis, stating that Christina is craving to be touched by Francis. Not able to contain himself, Francis breaks an important rule: he puts a hand on Christina. Immediately, Eric points him out and the security expels and bans Francis from re-entering the club. Desperately, he tries to have the ban removed by having a conversation with Zoe, the owner. But this doesn’t change the prohibition. Unable to talk to Christina, Francis blackmails Thomas (since he is aware of his illegal activities), and as a result Thomas goes to the club under duress and talks to her on Francis’ behalf.

‘Exotica’ functions like a dreamy oasis within a big North American city.

Soon the film reveals how interconnected the lives of these characters are. A tragedy is what relates them to one another. Francis lost his wife on a car accident, and his daughter was murdered. Christina and Eric found the body of his daughter some years ago. We realize that Francis uses this strip club for psychological relief to deal with his grief. Exotica functions like a dreamy oasis within a big North American city. Convincingly, Exotica conveys this impression through carefully crafted scenery, sensual cinematography and diverse music (tropical, world music, mixed techno and new age) constantly played in the locale.

Thematically, this picture reflects distinctive North American traits: political correctness, respect for privacy and strict rules focused on business and individual rights. These qualities make societies like that of Toronto inclusive, civilized and multicultural. However, Exotica shows us the possible flipside of some of these traits. What happens when these traits become too rigid? Well, it seems the movie provides the following answer: it can repress the individuals from being spontaneous and from expressing themselves, causing a lack of communication, anxiety and isolation. Just by slightly touching Christina, Francis, a loyal and respectful client of this locale, is banned for life and unable to convince the owner to allow him to enter anymore. This can be interpreted as too rigid and even “puritanical.”

Overall, one could argue that the characters in this story lack depth and layers, which would be accurate. They are rather one-dimensional. However, it seems obvious that the director self-consciously created them this way, so he could focus on their self-restraint, alienation, sense of loss and their urge for a “human touch.” Exotica uses these human beings to emphasize the “unseen” boundaries that separate and disconnect them. Loneliness is very common in big cities, especially in North America.

Original title: Exotica
Release date: 1994
Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Written by: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, Mia Kirshner, Don McKellar, Elias Koteas, Arsinée Khanjian

Xphilo Liranzo
Journalist, freelance writer. Born in the Dominican Republic, lives in Toronto since 2016 and previously lived in Montréal for two years. Film analyst, novelist, author of two novels in process of editing. He writes reviews of movies, books, and music albums. He is also interested in psychology, sociology, neuroscience, history, sports, health, and well-being. He has some experience in filmmaking (directing and as a screenwriter). Passionate about languages, he is fluent in English, French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese. He is also able to read and speak German (intermediate level) and Mandarin (Basic level). You can find most of his articles and reviews on his website: