Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Chloe is a film of eroticism and thrills but it is not an erotic thriller. It’s surprising to see how many critics and viewers have mistaken it as such. It is however, like the majority of Canadian master Atom Egoyan’s work, a dark and penetrating tale of a group of wounded people whose fears, pains, anxieties, what have you, slowly trickle out into sight as a result of their connections together that seem, as they always do in Egoyan, arbitrary at first until the truth is slowly revealed. The film has been compared to Fatal Attraction by some, but to what end, when Egoyan has so meticulously avoided every opportunity the story had of falling into that rhythm? There is no black and white in Egoyan’s work and, even though Chloe tells its story in more straight-forward a narrative manner than Egoyan has ever used before, there is none in it either. Here is a melodrama that is, once penetrated, dark, complex, mature, erotic and that has been, by and large, mistaken as camp. The story revolves around Catherine (Julianne Moore) who is a Toronto gynaecologist. As such, sex to her is procedural: it’s all part of the job. However, when she discovers a cell phone photo which may indicate her flirty professor husband David (Liam Neeson) of cheating she doesn’t know what to do. Caught in a marriage that has become more routine than romance and raising a son who has grown out of her, Catherine tracks down an escort named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried) and hires her to induce contact with David in order to see if he will take the bait. That’s all I will say of the story as it begins to spiral off in directions that are not all that unexpected if one listens closely to Chloe’s voice-over atop the opening scene, but that I dare not reveal regardless. It is in these areas where the film has elicited its harshest criticism and yet Egoyan is a great filmmaker and knows that the heart of the matter lies not in the conclusion, but in how the film gets to that point and the emotional impact along the way. Conservative and frigid, Catherine knows nothing of true eroticism: she plays the part of the wife and the doctor, but is devoid of the same sexual promiscuity that she blames her husband for. In a way her fears are more jealously than concern and as such, employing Chloe into her life is more a symbol of her own attempt at sexual reawakening than as a means to spy on her husband. Soon, the stories that Chloe relates back to Catherine act to unearth a dormant sexual desire in her just as much as they complicate her personal world, which quickly spirals out of her grasp. The relationship that eventually sparks between them (in a scene of passion rare by today’s standards) is just as much about a need to fill the voids in two lives than about titillation. Chloe herself is not so much a prostitute, as the ultimate simulacrum: a composite image without an original. She has no past, no present, no identity and simply exists to fulfill the needs that she perceives of any of the men that come into her life. To her sex is a business transaction followed by a role-play. However, to her, Catherine is a lost soul who she perceives can be set straight through her efforts to create whatever it is she needs in her life, but also who can make her into something more than an actor. That Catherine is truly turned on by Chloe’s recounting of her exploits with David is, in light of third act revelations, only half ironic as the other half, which may actually be the truth, veers somewhere towards confusion and tragedy. Chloe and Catherine truly need each other, that much is true, but in such completely different ways that neither of them ever grasps the effect that their actions toward each other will have on each other in the long-run. And even then, in the film’s final image, Egoyan once again pulls everything out from under his audience in order to make them reassess if what they think they know, is really what they know at all. And finally, Chloe is erotic in a way in that few films have time to be any more. Egoyan knows the difference between eroticism and exploitation and here makes a film that is sexy without being profane, mature without being explicit and complex without being complicated. It’s not a film about prostitutes or infidelity or lesbianism, madness or revenge. It’s a beautiful, haunting, well acted film about emotionally crippled people who have their lives shaken up because of and in spite of one other. Has an Egoyan film ever been about anything else? Read more about Egoyan in my mini review of Adoration


  1. Hm...this is certainly a different take than I've been seeing. Now I really want to see it.

  2. Simon, for some reason Blogger is not letting me publish your comment so I will copy and paste it: "Hm...this is certainly a different take than I've been seeing. Now I really want to see it."

    What regards to that, I think the problem a lot of critics are facing with this movie is that it is, unlike all of Egoyan's other films, a straight forward narrative that starts at a point A and arrives at a point B. It's as if, when Egoyan's narratives and turning back upon themselves and people can see that something complex is happening then they go along with it. However, when Egoyan decides to do a film like this, that, thematically, is no less complex than any of his other works, people can't see that because all they are concerned about is how the film ends. It's inevidable that this film requires an ending where Egoyan's other didn't, it's just the type of film it is. Whether it's a good ending or not is hardly the point, it let's us know the movie's over. However, getting there, if you actually deal with the movie and give it your time and energy you will find that it is quite rewarding and it gets even better in my mind each time I think it over.

  3. Having just watched The Hours a couple days ago, I've been wanting to ask (with some desperation) where has Julianne Moore's prestige gone? With this review, I'm going to hold out hope that she's back from obscurity! (Although, I'm still finding it hard to believe that Seyfried can pull of a call girl. She's far too angelic and sweet-seeming in everything she does.)

  4. Nicely put...this entire review I mean.

    To be clear, I liked it, I just was left with a bit of a rotten taste when I thought the story went one step too far. It's certainly a film I'd recommend, especially to watch the dynamic between Chloe and Catherine that you so eloquently outlined in this post.

    Good job...might have even convinced me to go watch it again in the hopes that I'll dig it just that little bit more!

    (PS - You going to FISH TANK at The Bloor tonight?)

  5. @ Luke- I've never really thought of Julianne Moore as having lost her prestige considering she has still been in good films since The Hours, but you are right, they are ones that people don't seem to be running out to see. I guess that's what happens when you continue to make mature, character and story driven films about tough subjects. I think you'll also be suprised by Seyfried, let's hope she can continue do go in this direction alongside side her Dear John's and Letters to Juliet's.

    @Hatter- My initial reaction to Chloe was well, it's not Egoyan's best work and then I sat and thought about it for a couple days and I started to see what was going on so that by the time I wrote the review a couple days later, the movie was just clicking for me in my head. It's one I think I will be seeing again.

    As for Fish Tank, I will not be there. Instead I will be sitting here, at home, creating a scoring key so that my class partner can use it to pick 3 of 10 resumes that she wants to call back for a second interview. Guh, only 2 weeks left until exams and I'm free forever.

  6. As a Julianne Moore fan, I shall see this and I do think Seyfried has abit of potential and her head screwed on - time will tell whether she has the range or not...

    And I do appreciate a film exploring eroticism for the right reasons.

    What's your plan after exams Mike or are you still thinking that one over?

  7. @Burning Reels- the plan is to get a job, the plan does not really go beyond that.

  8. A very interesting read, this. I saw the movie at the London Film Festival last year, and was really disappointed in it. Couldn't see much of Egoyan there at all, but your review's given me food for thought ... Anyway, here's my take: http://boycottingtrends.blogspot.com/2009/10/atom-egoyans-chloe.html

    Haven't caught ADORATION yet (it was hardly released in the UK), but looking forward to that one.

  9. Alex, I think Chole is the kind of film that is going to grow over time and will be redisovered in the future. It seems as though the criticisms of it are divided between those who found it generic, those who found it trashy but not willing to admit it is trash and those, like me, who found it fit nicely into Egoyan's body of work. Maybe the confusion lies in the fact that North America hasn't produced a series erotic film that comes to mind for many many years?

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing your review. You've found a follower in me.