Ladies a l’Egoyan, or: the women in Atom Egoyan’s movies
February 13, 2011, 4:41 am
Filed under: REBECCA | Tags: , , ,

The women in Atom Egoyan’s movies are very interesting. They are usually quiet, vulnerable, watery-eyed, smart and capable of great things but frequently hurt in their quests. Inevitable victims: Mystical, creepily sexual near-children who are smart and doomed. All this is made more interesting in my eyes by the fact of his real-life wife (and frequent collaborator!) being a beautiful, capable, vivacious woman… who is always cast in the mother role. I wonder: Does he separate his women into vivacious non-sexual mothers and steely, silent sex kitten victims? Is he not able to see women as humans as being both? Let’s examine this situation.

The women in his movies are steely survivors with little bodies. They are ‘the good guys,’ moral and savvy, on a mission to right wrongs and fight for some kind of personal justice against relative evil. These women are usually very young, look very young or have a sequence in the movies where they play child versions of themselves, to creepy effect. On one hand, I admire and share Mr. Egoyan’s interest in women but I resent the limited, quiescent-and-fiery extremes he assigns us. While I get the impression he likes and respects women, he casts them into sexy-and-subservient or strong-and-matronly roles. I’m irked by the demarcation. Humans are both. Women’s roles as virtuous, muckraking victims with small voices and big thoughts, smart but helpless to the mysterious forces of the gods/the big god/Atom Egoyan, etc. unnerves me. I am not a tumbleweed blowing in the wind. I am Rebecca (and by extension—all members of my gender (and look who’s hypocritically making themselves godlike now)); hear me roar!

Tension and erotic energy permeate everything, an eerie feeling that everyone’s secrets are just about to crack through the surface. There is an element of the otherworldly in his films. A woman is always the victim and the heroine, the upholder of morality but also the casualty of patriarchal meanness. Sexy girl-children, these women are generally scantily clad, smallish of facial feature, magnificently suffering martyrs. Vulnerable and righteous. They cry and get blamed for things like sleeping with men who conveniently never get blamed for sleeping with women. In many of his films, the main character–an attractive young woman–is involved with a man whom she knew as a little girl (played by the same actress, which is effectively creepy and pedophilic). In the early chronological sequences, the man and woman are adult mentor and innocent child. Older, they are lovers.

Egoyan seems to operate under the idea of woman-as-powerful-unknowable, a force that creeps up on you, her diminutiveness not a façade, but an element that might erroneously lead you to underestimate her. He seems to like his women exposed and childlike, in the right and out for the truth! Breasts out, eyes watery; they’re not penalized for being sexual exactly, just expected to always be sexy and, of course, they can’t be blamed for their wiles, they’re merely women… beautiful, “mysterious” things. In Egoyan’s world sexual women aren’t slandered as whores. All women are merely sexy babies who HAVE to have sex. It is their nature. They’re interesting, tough and look great in tight clothes. In Where the Truth Lies, the underlying philosophy seemed to be that women are so beautiful and dangerously intelligent, they HAVE to die. In Exotica, terrible circumstances forced women into dangerous places. However, in my favorite Egoyan movie– The Sweet Hereafter–my favorite female character (played by awesome Sarah Polley) is realistic, relatable and damaged in a way that is accessible and scary, but not fetishized.


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