Meanwhile, Egoyan follows the seemingly inconsequential adventures of Don McKellar, a gay pet store proprietor who's first seen smuggling exotic bird eggs through customs. On his way back from the airport, he splits a cab ride with a businessman who stiffs him on the money, but gives him a pair of ballet tickets to scalp. Instead, McKellar finds an attractive man, offers him a ticket, and spends much of the show casting furtive glances toward his lap; night after night, he repeats the same pattern with a different man, pretending that he was given an extra ticket while fishing for someone to love. Back at the store, McKellar is visited by Greenwood, who pretends he's an auditor when he's really a government agent—a fact that Greenwood uses to leverage McKellar into doing him a big favor.


Beyond the tragic center of Greenwood's life—an incident that's elegantly revealed over a series of flashbacks—it's role-playing and routine that unites the characters. Greenwood can be counted on to visit the same club every other night, and arrange for exclusive lapdances from Kirshner, who obliges him in the same way after the same onstage ritual to Leonard Cohen. While he's away, Greenwood pays Polley to baby-sit at his childless house, which she does as a kindness, using the opportunity to catch up on her music lessons. For Polley and Kirshner both, allowing Greenwood to perpetuate the fantasy that his life hasn't been destroyed requires them to play roles they know are false, even dangerous, but help sustain his fragile psyche through unimaginable pain. McKellar, too, makes a habit of going to the ballet every night, quietly searching for company to relieve his loneliness and perhaps an impending sense of legal doom.

In the club, Egoyan finds the perfect setting for his ongoing concerns about the way people interact in the modern world. Voyeurism has been a pet theme for Egoyan from the beginning, in video-heavy films like Family Viewing and Speaking Parts, which are all about our complex relationship with images and the way they can supplant memory or real interaction. (There's only a tiny snippet of video footage in Exotica, but in true Egoyan fashion, it proves pivotal in the closing minutes.) The club is full of one-way mirrors, which were ostensibly installed to protect the dancers, but are used more often for the edification of those who like to watch without being seen. But more than anything, the cardinal rule of conduct—look, but don't touch—applies to every key relationship in the film, and breaking the rule requires an act of courage that can have serious consequences.


If Exotica sounds like a miserable dirge, it certainly doesn't play like one. Egoyan may not be interested in making a strip club seductive in a conventional way, but he knows how to tease you through a complicated thicket of hidden motivations, eccentric behavior, and layered achronology. (Hats off to Egoyan's cameraman Paul Sarossy for his moody lighting scheme and to composer Mychael Danna, whose sinuous non-Western score evokes the title more effectively than the club itself.) Mysteries almost always begin with an incident and then introduce the audience to various suspects and red herrings to keep them off the scent. Exotica completely reverses the formula: It buries the incident and leaves us unmoored, wondering what its characters are doing and what secret connections bind them together. And once all the puzzle pieces are finally in place, Egoyan has laid out a human mystery, and a devastating one at that.

Coming Up:

Next week: Reservoir Dogs

Dec. 25: Hiatus (Christmas)

Jan. 1: Hiatus 2: The Quickening (New Year's Day)

Jan. 8: Married To The Mob