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Interview: Atom Egoyan, Part 2

In which Egoyan deftly avoids getting mired in my pseudo-Jungian posturing about the internet and the collective unconscious and calls Andrew Sarris on the present state of the Auteur Theory.

 Also: sex. [Part 1 of this interview appears here.]


PK: It's sort of like a repository of the subconscious of everybody who is using it.

AE: But that's very interesting dramatically, right? It's very interesting that we have access to that and then the question is how do we define those communities? If we understand that it's a repository of collective subconscious, then what is the manifestation of that in a physical way? So is it, you know, your classmates? Is it your classmates' parents? Or is it, you know, as Simon finds, it just sort of expands rapidly out from that.

PK: Has your son seen the movie?

AE: He had a very strong emotional response but I think it's... yeah, I mean I never expected nor set up the screenings of my previous films for him to watch. He did that entirely on his own time and volition. But I wanted his feedback on this one in particular, so...I think he really...He likes the language of it.

PK: You mean the visual language?

AE: Just the way it's structured, the way the story's told.

PK: And does he show any signs of becoming interested in making films himself?

AE: Not films, he likes writing a lot.

PK: How, uh, retro.

AE: Yeah, how retro, right.

PK: You should encourage that.

AE: I shouldn't, I know.

PK: He'll probably be one of the last people that writes in the world. You get sort of a sense of the danger, or the depths, of the weirdness of the internet when he starts to get in touch with that group of people who are like mourning the disaster that never happened, and the skinhead, and it just seems to be getting into creepier and creepier territory. I was wondering why you maybe didn't take that even further than you did.

AE: Well, I felt that in a way that to put him on the cusp of a situation where the police might think that he's about to stage some sort of attack in the school, which I think we take it to that point, where he imagines that...And that's as far as I really needed it to go. Because there is a lot of stuff that we cut out, I mean, where there were a lot more crazy sort of people around him, but it seemed forced and it sort of took away from what Simon was actually, you know, headed for himself.

PK: Not to harp on it, but do you monitor your son's internet experience?

AE: No, you know, we haven't. We're just very open with him. We monitor some of his game playing, but not the internet, and I hope that's the right decision. I think just given the kind of kid he is...again, I think I would have been horrified if my parents were monitoring that sort of behavior when I was his age, so. At this age it's difficult to do, right. If you're 16 you can break anything if you want anyhow. Before, when he was really young, he didn't really have access to it at all, so. I think it's different now, I think if you have a kid who's like 6-years-old you would have to be probably more vigilant. But he didn't really have access to it until he was in his, you know, early adolescence.

PK: I've interviewed Don McKellar a few times and one time, I don't know how it came up, but he said that he had someone close who was killed in the Lockerbie plane disaster, had you heard that?

AE: Yeah, yeah.

PK: Did that have any input into your story at all?

AE: No, no, actually, I didn't recall that, actually. I think that this actual story [the true story that "adoration" is partly based on in which an Arab terrorist had his pregnant Irish girlfriend unknowingly bring a bomb onto and El Al flight] left a huge impression on me when it happened in '86. It came up again when I was reading Robert Fisk's book, "The Great War for Civilization." He devotes 5 or 8 pages to this, because it really was one of the most remarkable episodes in those early days when we realized that terrorists could go that far in destructing human beings.

PK: This is even before Al-Qaeda too.

AE: Yeah, and the amazing thing is that he's [the terrorist] completely unrepentant, the person who did this. He was up for parole and he refuses to sort of, in anyway, atone for what he did, so. And this idea of creating this fictional child from this episode was really compelling.

PK: Was there an actual child?

AE: There was a girl that who was born to the Irish mother, but I didn't pursue that.

PK: So you don't know what's happened to them now.

AE: No.

PK: But the guy is in jail.

AE: Yeah, he's apparently serving the longest prison term in British history.

PK: You have to admire that in a perverse way, that he would be honest to the parole board and say that he's still not repentant, because he could have got out of it.

AE: But he does have a child, right, that's the amazing thing...the idea that that could be such an abstraction is fascinating, or horrifying.

PK: You couldn't conceive of any circumstances where that would have crossed your mind, I imagine? Sacrificing any member of your family for some sort of ideal like that.

AE: I think that's what comes up in the film. If you're of that persuasion, I mean, you would get on the plane yourself. The idea of actually engineering it so that someone else becomes the detonating device raises all sorts of issues, I think. And, again, how was that planned? I mean, is that why he got her pregnant? Was it that calculated? It just seems so mind-boggling.

PK: I think the most interesting response to his motivation was the guy that said, "Well maybe he wasn't a coward but he just really wanted to be a spectator." You know to admire the atrocity he created, as if it was a work of art. Which is kind of like the motivation of some of the other characters. They're manipulating people in order to put on a performance of some kind, for whatever reason. So it's kind of like a metaphor for the directing process. Did you have that in mind when you did it?

AE: I think that there are lots of metaphors for the directing process in a lot of characters that I create. I think that as the technology has advanced, we all have this opportunity to try and manipulate and orchestrate other human beings to do things they wouldn't be doing otherwise. I think that first came up, really, from my first films. In "Next of Kin," where a boy tries to kind of redirect a family, a make believe family. And I guess in that way the films are really personal, right. I'm very aware of the perversity of my enterprise.

PK: So you're an auteur. God help you.

AE: You know, it was funny when I read this statement by Andrew Sarris about "Adoration." I was wondering, I wonder if he'll even remember what that word means, you know. I mean, yes, I was really versed in that idea, of the auteur theory, and like I said at the beginning it seemed to me that there was an incredible possibility that films could be read like books. Now I do think that still happens, when you look at how films perform on DVD, and people probably collect DVDs like they collect books and read those DVDs. I'm not sure if happens in cinemas as much though.

PK: You get people that are repeat customers. They go to the same movie, you know, again and again to catch the nuances and see how it's put together.

AE: But do they want to see it on screen to do that, or do they wait ‘til it comes out on DVD?

PK: I think that's one of the reasons "Star Trek" is pulling in all that money, is that you get all these people who are going...I know somebody who's seen it three times in the first week. I don't know if that's the same thing, but I think it is partly, because the film is well made and probably people can draw subtleties and allusions to their lore of "Star Trek." I've gone to movies again on the screen that I particularly liked or perplexed me, and it's not the same when you see it on DVD, I don't think. But that's old fashioned, I guess. So, your previous film, "Where the Truth Lies," would you describe that as a Hollywood experience?

AE: It was an odd hybrid...it certainly had the production values of a Hollywood movie because of the incredible, weird, money that the producer was able to access. And it's certainly a Hollywood story, I mean, I think that the characters are public entertainment figures, and they certainly see themselves in that world. It's certainly set in Hollywood, a lot of it. Is it a classic Hollywood film? Probably not. I mean, the narrative construction of it is probably more complex than a traditional Hollywood film. But it certainly has the gloss and feel of one, and probably that it was part of the stylistic approach to it was kind of to make these references to a certain type of film. I think that's really embedded in that movie in a number of ways. Because it's being narrated by one of the characters as though he were in a Hollywood film, and I think Kevin Bacon's character is trying to tell this version of a story that he would rather people not know about, and the best way for him to tell it is to make it into this very rich and overblown and decadent kind of Hollywood tale. And it serves his purposes to do that, so in order to show that, I had to inhabit that movie.

PK: It's got kind of a "Sunset Boulevard" structure to it.

AE: Yeah. I mean, I am a huge fan of noir and I came to realize that the neo-noir movement in the 70s was closer to the actual noir movement than we are now to the neo-noir movement. I sort of felt that there was an opportunity to have another take on it.

PK: I think Tarantino maybe took us off on a tangent on that.

AE: Yeah, but it was an amazing tangent, you know. like I remember "Pulp Fiction" came out the same year as Exotica and it was pretty amazing, you know, how open people were at that moment to kind of these structural reinventions.

PK: That really was quite a year. I had forgotten that they came out the same year.

AE: And also "Before the Rain" was also that year as well.

PK: That was like when you could say, oh maybe cinema will survive for another 100 years. Then... "Titanic" comes out.

 

Which I kind of liked, actually...well there you go. So was it a Hollywood experience in the terms that you have people who are not letting you do everything that you want to do because there's a lot of money invested and it has to make a lot of money?

AE: Well I mean look, it's a natural product of, the higher the budget, the more pressure there is to accommodate different agendas. You can't be naïve about that, and that's one of the reasons why you make a film like "Adoration" for a smaller budget, because it's a very specific film and you want to have complete control over it. It's not a mystery. That's the film industry. It's always been like that, and if you're fortunate enough to have made some people a lot of money you might be able to avoid some of that, but, you know, none of my films have really been box office hits, even "Exotica" or  "The Sweet Hereafter."


They were very modest box office. And that's just the nature of what I do and it's a particular sensibility. It was thrilling for me to be able to explore the territory of "Where the Truth Lies" and to paint on that sort of palette, but you know there were things that clearly didn't work for certain people. It's interesting though, it's had a much more positive response in DVD and it's actually coming on to "Exotica" in terms of people watching it. But you know, films are...

PK: It's got sex in it too.

 

AE: Yeah it's got sex, I suppose, though I don't really know if that's much of a sell anymore. People can get sex anywhere. I had a lot of fun making it. I enjoyed making it, and I think the people who respond to it enjoy it on its own terms. But certainly in terms of my body of work it stands out as something of an anomaly.

PK: You didn't write it, for example.

AE: No, well I wrote the adaptation, but not the original book.

PK: Did you ever consider with this movie, for example - you mentioned that you were very taken by the story - to actually follow up what the character would've done, you know the real character, instead of having somebody pretend to be that character...Did you ever think of maybe telling that story instead of like taking it up one more remove from the real?

AE: Um not really. You mean to actually track her down, the actual child?

PK: Yeah, the actual child.

AE: It's an interesting documentary subject, absolutely. I think it would be fascinating, but it's for someone else to do.

PK: Or fictionalize the story of the actual kid?

AE: It becomes a problem if I wanted to use this technology, because if it happened in '86 then I would have to set the story in 2001, 2002, right. And it wouldn't have made sense. So, it was a toss up. There's a whole kind of explanation in the outtakes, as to why it's not that particular story. But, you know, it seemed to muddy the matters. I think if people remember it they'll remember it for what it is.

NEXT: Critics who suggest better ways of making the director's movie and why they are not helping.

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