Atom Egoyan: Felicia's Journey (1999) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
26Jul/110

Atom Egoyan: Felicia’s Journey (1999)

Andrew COMMENTARYFor those that doubt - Felicia's Journey does, indeed, exist.

It was the third film that Egoyan made during an unprecedented streak of creativity and the second he adapted from someone else's source material.  In the case of The Sweet Hereafter he worked with the novelist Russell Banks.  For Felicia's Journey Egoyan was adapting a work by the Irish novelist William Trevor.  An author who's work, I must admit, is not as well known to me as I would like.

Felicia's Journey tells the kind of story that Egoyan seems instinctively drawn to.  That of outsiders cast aside by a system that doesn't understand how they choose to present their love in the medium that they do.  It's timeline is much more explainable than most other Egoyan films because it centers entirely on these two outsiders instead of a sprawling cast of interconnected characters.

There's Felicia (Elaine Cassidy), a naive Irish girl fresh from the boat in England looking for her man Johnny (Peter McDonald).  He seduced Felicia, impregnated her and then left her alone with the promise that he would send his address one day.  She goes off searching to tell him of the baby that he has now, but can't seem to find a single person willing to give her his address or even forward a message onto the missing Johnny.

The heart keeps finding ways to hope, even long after the lover has disappeared.

While Felicia searches we're slowly indoctrinated into the life of Joe (Bob Hoskins).  His mother was a famous chef on a cooking show who used to simultaneously mock Joe's weight and then find ways to add more fat during live broadcasts of her show.  Joe has grown up to be quite the chef himself, sharing a large, empty house with no one and preparing a grand meal every day.  Then anytime his equipment breaks down he can go into the room filled with the static, unchanging smile of his mother plastered on a number of boxes bearing her merchandise.

Much like the other men that Felicia will encounter, something is wrong with Joe.  But with those early scenes we see that Joe did not turn out "right" because of the public humiliation his mother forced him to endure.  It's so prolific that by the time we see that Joe tape records the conversations he has with girls he "helps" off of the side of the road, only to be replaced by a different girl each jump cut, it's not really that surprising.

Egoyan parallels Felicia's journey with Joe's in intriguing ways.  Felicia is a child of the hills and is comfortable roaming the factories and landscapes that dot the British mainland.  Joe is more accustomed to the sterilized interiors and paved surfaces of the cities.  Their final intersecting point, after striking up a friendship and being in each other's company for some time, is Joe's home.  It's a uniquely designed building showcasing a garden that threatens to grow away from the house and an interior that has been so perfectly arranged to fit Joe's needs that the slightest change would throw off everything.  Basically that makes it the perfect place for one or the other to finally break, and Egoyan situates the climax there appropriately.

Those that come into contact with Joe respect him but hold off as though they're instinctively afraid of him.

Their respective journey's are cataloged through another exquisite use of the soundtrack.  We hear a number of old Irish standards and folk songs throughout Felicia's stops and whenever we switch to Joe's viewpoint it's a number of 50's classics with just the slightest tinge of an out of control score eeking into the edge's (the composer, Mychael Danna, worked with Egoyan on many of his films).  It's another nice contrast between the sad hope that Felicia feels will get her to Johnny one day, and the damage already done to Joe.

If you haven't gathered by this point, Joe is a serial killer.  This isn't really a surprise plot point and the way Egoyan directly addresses the matter without having Hoskins brandish a blood-soaked knife is a nice touch.  Egoyan isn't interested in playing "gotcha" with us but, to paraphrase the great director a bit, what it actually means to these people to have a killer be a part of their lives.  What results is one of the most humanistic portraits of a killer since The Silence of the Lambs.  No one is going to forgive Joe for what he has done but Egoyan gives us just enough details to make it understandable to ourselves and, more importantly, to Felicia.

Poor Felicia.  In the entirety of Egoyan's filmography I can't think of anyone whom life has been more unfair to.  Part of Felicia's beauty is how she understands that Joe is only capable of showing his love in a specific and dangerous way.  But as his parallel, she is in a world that doesn't understand how she's decided to show her love.  Her father and Johnny's mother have both condemned her to Hell for having a child out of wedlock (her father more so because Johnny is an Englishman) and no one understands that part of her faith is that Johnny, somewhere, still loves her.

Felicia faces the judgmental gaze of many but her father's haunts her most of all.

All this culminates in the scene where Joe convinces Felicia to have an abortion.  As she sleeps she dreams of her father's gaze bearing down on her while we follow Johnny and their now never to be born child.  In a touch that's as delicate as it is painful we see Johnny's face, but his eyes are being covered up by the child, whose features we still cannot see.  Egoyan's touch is important here, we need not see the procedure itself, but the toll that it is taking on Felicia.   She who just wanted to prove her faith real and have Johnny return her love, and meeting a man who is a monster but is able to reciprocate in a way that redeems himself.

The nature of that redemption is a bit unusual, but shows why Egoyan does not work with religion, at least directly, much.  The way that people typically express themselves through their religious faith is a bit too judgmental for someone as empathetic as Egoyan to work his way into his films.  The approach Egoyan takes with a specific evangelist (who shows up at just the right time twice) is an intriguing mix, providing a good shot of the fiery belief with a genuine urge to help, and a very human sense of being hurt when things are misunderstood.

Felicia's Journey was the last really dreamy success for Atom Egoyan.  The films afterward, Ararat and Adoration in particular, are quite good but lost the hazy dream that Egoyan carved his characters into.  But with Felicia, even if the characters are cyphers, we understand how they relate to one another and the world that fails to understand them.

Next week I'm going to offer some final thoughts on his career to date, and why he's such a sadly overlooked and incredibly important director.  See you then.

Felicia's Journey (1999)
Direction and screenplay by Atom Egoyan.
Based on the novel by William Trevor.
Starring Elaine Cassidy and Bob Hoskins.

Egoyan with text

Posted by Andrew

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