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ATOM EGOYANS

THE ADJUSTER

One of Canadas pre-eminent auteur lmmakers, Atom Egoyan has


been celebrated internationally, earning multiple awards from the prestigious Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals as well as an Academy Award
nomination. The Adjuster, an accomplished and controversial early work,
is a dark drama about the complex and intense relationship between an
insurance adjuster and his clients.
In this accessible analysis, Tom McSorley traces the genesis, production, and reception of Egoyans fourth feature lm from its Cannes Film
Festival premiere to its North American commercial release. The book
locates The Adjuster in the larger context of Canadian cinema historys
peculiar and often troubled evolution, and offers a provocative interpretation of the lms unique analysis of the malaise of materialism in
North American culture. Featuring new interview material with Egoyan himself, this study in the Canadian Cinema series offers an insightful
review of one of Atom Egoyans most searching, unsettling lms.
tom mcsorley is the executive director of the Canadian Film Institute,
a sessional lecturer in Film Studies at Carleton University, lm critic
for CBC Radio Ones Ottawa Morning, and a contributing editor at POV
Magazine.

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CANADIAN CINEMA 3

ATOM EGOYANS
THE ADJUSTER
TOM MCSORLEY

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO PRESS


Toronto Buffalo London

University of Toronto Press Incorporated 2009


Toronto Buffalo London
www.utppublishing.com
Printed in Canada
isbn: 978-1-4426-4116-7 (cloth)
isbn: 978-1-4426-1048-4 (paper)

Printed on acid-free and 100% post-consumer recycled paper with


vegetable-based inks.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication


McSorley, Tom
Atom Egoyans The adjuster / Tom McSorley.
(Canadian cinema ; 3)
Includes bibliographical references.
isbn 978-1-4426-4116-7 (bound)
isbn 978-1-4426-1048-4 (pbk.)
1. Egoyan, AtomCriticism and interpretation. 2. Adjuster (Motion
picture). I. Title. II. Series: Canadian cinema (Toronto, Ont.) ; 3
pn1997.a31127m37 2009

791.430233092

c2009-903707-6

TIFF and the University of Toronto Press acknowledge the nancial


assistance of the Ontario Media Development Corporation, the Canada
Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
University of Toronto Press acknowledges the nancial support for its
publishing activities of the Government of Canada through the Book
Publishing Industry Development Program (BPIDP).

Contents

Introduction: Intimate Distance

1 Welcome to Canada

2 Out of the Ashes

19

3 Before the Fire

27

4 The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

41

5 Arrivals

75

6 Departures

83

Production Credits
Further Viewing
Notes
Selected Bibliography

92
95
96
102

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ATOM EGOYANS
THE ADJUSTER

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Introduction: Intimate Distance

The Adjuster is a lm born in ames. Both inside and outside its impressive widescreen cinemascope frames, it is a cinematic phoenix rising
from the ashes of real and metaphorical apocalyptic res. Indeed, re
is the genesis of the lm itself, as the concept for The Adjuster originates
in a devastating, and apparently random, act of arson in Victoria, B.C.
On New Years Eve 1989 Atom Egoyans parents furniture store and
home burned to the ground. During this time of crisis, Egoyan was
intrigued by the insurance adjuster working on their case. More than
simply processing the claim, the adjuster seemed to act as a source of
material comfort and consolation for the Egoyan family: an ordinary
briefcase-toting guardian angel, a bureaucratic agent of lifes restoration. As Egoyan recalls, It was one of the most heightened weeks of
my life. Sifting through the ashes with the adjuster, coming up with an
arbitrary value of things that didnt exist anymore. It was very inspiring
for me to watch this very ordinary person elevated to almost the status
of a mystical god through this process. He was the angel of reconstruction who was going to rematerialize our lives.1 This professional gure,
detached in his assessing of damage and assigning of monetary value to
often priceless family heirlooms and memorabilia, yet intimately engaged with the details and distress of the intense emotional topographies of the family itself, is the exact prole of the quintessential Egoy-

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

an male protagonist: deeply connected and utterly disconnected at the


same time. In the apparently dispassionate, clinical, even banal role of
an insurance adjuster, Egoyan found mythic resonances and great dramatic potential. Egoyan notes, I actually had a completely different
script ready to go when this happened.2 And so, out of the ames of
a family re, Noah Render was conceived and Egoyans next lm suddenly became his story.3
In one sense, this is not surprising. Since his rst feature lm, Next of
Kin, in 1984, Atom Egoyan has explored the curious and opaque tensions
in contemporary society in narratives that revolve around characters in
dramas constructed upon collisions of intimacy and distance. There is
Peter Foster in Next of Kin, who pretends to be the long-lost son of an
Armenian-Canadian family; his imposture brings him into the intimate
bonds of familial afliation, but his performance of being Bedros keeps
him necessarily at a distance. In Family Viewing (1987), Van is alienated
from his brutish father as he tries to keep his Armenian grandmother
out of a nursing home while trying desperately to preserve home movies of his mother as his devouring father tapes over them with sexual
acts with his current girlfriend, Sandra. Completed in the same year
as the Victoria re, Speaking Parts (1989), involves an actor, Lance, who
works in a hotel, itself a site in which anonymity and intimacy are constantly in play (not surprisingly, hotels abound in Egoyans early works).
Lance agrees to try to dissuade a powerful lm producer from altering
the script created by Clara, a screenwriter who has lost her brother. This
relationship between Lance and Clara is wholly professional, since he
will get a speaking part in the lm as she has written it, but it is also
intimate in its emotional trajectory. In a concise, onscreen depiction of
the intimacy-distance dramatic dialectic in Egoyans work, Lance and
Clara masturbate to each others image via satellite videophone connection he in one city, she in another. The examples of characters
whose professional personae embody and enact this idea of intimate

Introduction: Intimate Distance

distances, this combination of engagement and detachment, continue


after The Adjuster: the photographer in Calendar (1993), the auditor in
Exotica (1994), the lawyer in The Sweet Hereafter (1997), the investigator in
Felicias Journey (1999), and the customs inspector in Ararat (2002).
Outside the framelines of The Adjuster and on a metaphorical level,
Canadian cinema, in particular the cinema of English-speaking Canada,
several years earlier had undergone its own rebirth from the ashes of a
state lm-funding program.4 Begun in 1975 and called the Capital Cost
Allowance (CCA), it offered a 100 per cent tax shelter for private investors. The policy encouraged the making of more commercial lms in
Canadas tenuous lm industry. As a result of this well-intentioned,
if misguided, initiative, lms were made with the idea of attracting
distributors and exhibitors in the United States. To succeed in this endeavour, producers ensured that all Canadian references were removed
from the lms, and that most leading roles were given to American
performers. Any Canadian-ness was to be made either unrecognizable
or invisible. At almost every level and in almost every sense, with the
exception of a very small number of lms by David Cronenberg, Phillip Borsos, and a handful of others, the CCA was unsuccessful. It was
cancelled in 1982. Rising from its collapse was a new ethos at the Canadian Film Development Corporation (later renamed Telelm Canada):
to support Canadian stories and Canadian talent before and behind the
camera and to make lms as obviously Canadian as possible. This shift
in funding objectives would enable an entirely new generation of lmmakers, of whom Egoyan has become the most recognized in Canada
and abroad, to initiate and sustain lms that are unabashedly Canadian and, as it turns out, formally challenging, largely uncommercial,
and heavily inuenced by European art house traditions of auteurist
cinema.
Seven years after Atom Egoyan delivered his debut feature and nine
years following the demise of the CCA, The Adjuster remains a fascinat-

I.1. Atom Egoyan directing The Adjuster. Courtesy Johnnie Eisen.


Ego Film Arts.

Introduction: Intimate Distance

ing specimen of the evolution of a distinctive Canadian cinematic talent. His ability to produce lms on a consistent basis, due to a new
and more culturally nationalist state-funding philosophy, allowed his
writing and directorial skills to develop with a degree of continuity. By
the time he started work on The Adjuster, Egoyan had won prizes at festivals in Canada and around the world, attracted international critical
attention and international investors for his next projects, and, more
important, expanded upon and explored more deeply his idiosyncratic
thematic preoccupations. Generations of Canadian lmmakers before
him did not have this kind of supportive environment within which to
work and develop. In Egoyans case, what is outside the frames of his
work, meaning Canadas attitude towards its own lm artists, affects
what one sees inside the frames of his lms. Given the authority and assurance of his vision in The Adjuster, it is clear that he had had consistent
support to develop a distinctive cinematic vision. His fourth feature
lm in seven years, The Adjuster offers ample evidence of an impressive
evolution. Not only have his budgets increased steadily and signicantly, but Egoyans formalist cinematic signature here is seen, for the rst
time in his career, on the expanded celluloid canvas of cinemascope.
The Adjusters often arresting widescreen articulation of how intimacy and detachment inhabit the same cinematic space further elaborates
on Egoyans earlier thematic concerns in an authoritative and assured
new visual style. Indeed, in this lm Egoyan returned to and elaborated
upon his principal thematic concern of the duality of intimacy and detachment, basing this narrative on a troubling personal experience. He
also pursued further investigations of the idea of the family, the ambiguous role of technology, and the nature and function of both still and
moving images in contemporary experience. Also present and a central preoccupation in the Egoyan lmography, from Next of Kin in 1984
to Adoration in 2008, is the interrogation of the processes of narrative
structure and disclosure and how these processes affect the creation of

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

meaning within the lms ctional universe as well as in the spectators


construction of knowledge during the watching of that universe as it
unfolds. The Adjuster is a formally sophisticated weaving of these ideas
into a typically eccentric Egoyan family drama of a strange, singular
insurance adjuster named Noah Render. His is a world created, destroyed, and even possibly reconstructed by re, and Render navigates
his path among those damaged by the res of fate and circumstance
and contingency with equal amounts of surprising intimacy and startling detachment.

Welcome to Canada

Both Atom Egoyan and Noah Render travelled great distances to get to
Canadian screens. Born in 1960 in Cairo, Egoyan himself came with his
Armenian family via Egypt to Victoria, British Columbia, in 1963; Egoyan the lmmaker and his protagonist, across vast and barren landscapes
of ambivalence towards the very idea of a Canadian cinema. There are
historical and geopolitical sources for this ambivalence that are worth
underlining briey. Noted Canadian lm scholar Peter Harcourts famous and still relevant phrase bears mentioning as a way of framing
this journey. His telling observation that Canadian cinema is an invisible cinema, because it is a cinema that exists but which no one sees
speaks to a number of historical realities that inform the evolution of
Canadian cinema.1 For a number of reasons, the arrival of Atom Egoyan
(and, of course, The Adjuster) is a crucial example of an important but
very modest reduction of that invisibility. Essential to a complete understanding of the emergence of Atom Egoyan as a Canadian lm artist
and to the arrival of Noah Render as a particular specimen of Canadian
lm protagonist is an outline of the unusual, challenging, even tortuous Canadian cultural and cinematic context that produced them both.
Cinema arrived in Canada in the late nineteenth century with images from elsewhere. The rst public screening in Canada was held in
Montreal, Quebec, on 28 June 1896. It was a reel of short lms by the

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

French duo, Auguste and Louis Lumiere, and the Thomas Edison Company of the United States.2 The consumption of images created outside
the country would dene the cultural practice of going to the movies
for Canadians for the next six decades and consequently would affect
the shape of the often confused and clouded approaches to state funding of lm production in Canada.
This is not to suggest that no lms were being made. In the early
1900s, for example, short lm travelogues extolling the natural wonders of Canada were produced by the Canadian Pacic Railway and
were used in Europe to encourage emigration. By 1918 the Canadian
government had recognized cinemas potential as a source of public
education and national development. In that year it established the Exhibits and Publicity Bureau, changing its name in 1923 to the Canadian
Government Motion Picture Bureau, or CGMPB. In 1939 the National
Film Board of Canada (NFB) was established, led by Scottish documentary pioneer, John Grierson, who actually coined the term documentary. Explicit in its general mandate, to show Canada to Canadians and
to the rest of the world, was an afrmation of the primacy of the educational function of cinema. Nothing in the creating of the NFB suggested
that it would ever be involved in the production of drama, especially
feature-length ction lms. Interestingly, it would be the lmmakers
working at the NFB in the early 1960s who would eventually agitate for
those very ction lms to be permitted.3
Feature ction lms were produced in the silent era, too: notably
Evangeline in 1913, produced in the Maritimes, and Back To Gods Country
in 1919, a melodrama set in Canadas northwest. Given the countrys
low population density and modest investment opportunities, the lack
of a lm industry developing in this era is not surprising. Nevertheless,
feature lms were made, however sporadically. Ultimately, the greatest
impediment for developing a feature lm industry in Canada, even in
the more open and uid exhibition realities of the earliest days, was

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Welcome to Canada

access to screens owned by American interests.4 As the American lm


industry expanded and consolidated its grip on the exhibition sector in
the early 1920s, box ofce access opportunities for Canadian lmmakers
went from few to virtually none at all.
One consequence of the primacy of the documentary lm form
in Canada is the particular shaping of the cultural practice of lmgoing. The primary ongoing exposure for Canadians to their own moving images would be and would remain the documentary. Indeed, the
dominance of ction feature lms by Americans, accelerating in the
1920s and rmly entrenched in the 1930s, set in concrete an exhibition
practice: the American feature lm preceded by a Canadian documentary short lm. The naturalization of this practice would be effectively
solidied over the subsequent decades, when virtually no Canadian
feature lms were made, let alone screened. Canada, on the outskirts
of power since its creation as a colony of Great Britain, easily slipped
into the new colonial orbit of an emerging superpower living right next
door. Canada the colony was conditioned to understand itself as the
weaker gure in relation to twentieth-century American power and to
wisely and pragmatically accommodate itself to the realities of the new
geopolitical order: to adjust. As John Grierson himself argued, we have
Hollywood to entertain and Canadas documentaries to educate. Why
change?5
In postSecond World War English-speaking Canada, the few practising independent lmmakers began to lobby the federal government
over the ridiculous reality of a sovereign nations cinemas being offlimits to its own feature lms. In Quebec, for example, they pointed
out that since the early 1940s French Canadians were going to their cinemas and seeing their own stories in feature lms presented on movie
screens across the province. In this and many other elds, Quebecs political positions were framed by compelling discourses of survivance,
or cultural survival.6

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ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

English-speaking Canada, on the other hand, had no such anxiety,


perhaps attributable to the fact that it shares a common language and
many cultural similarities with the United States. From this ows a certain ambivalence about the necessity to protect Canadian-ness, however one denes it. Moreover, successive federal governments felt no
urgency to intervene in a foreign countrys virtual cinematic monopoly
of Canadas movie screens. Should any motions to curtail American
hegemony be raised, Canadian cabinet ministers and prime ministers
would be lobbied, intimidated, even coerced by Hollywood industry
heavyweights and, in the case of Brian Mulroney (who was elected,
ironically enough, in the same year as Egoyans rst feature lm was
released), by a United States president, Ronald Reagan , who, oddly appropriate in this context, was an actor in Hollywood for decades.7
Some of the solutions to this situation are laughably colonial. In
1948, for example, to mollify critics in Canada and acquiesce to Hollywoods power, the Canadian government introduced the Canadian
Co-operation Project. In exchange for leaving its monopoly intact, Hollywood had to insert Canadian references in its scripts and agree to
screen NFB animated short lms before its feature lms in the United
States.8 The Canadian Co-operation Project lasted until the end of 1953.
American movies unspooled freely again, with no further need to insert
references to Canada, and an ambivalent, English-speaking Canadian
audience ocked to view images conceived and produced elsewhere,
just as they did in 1896.
It is important to emphasize that even within this condition of cinematic marginality in their own nation, lmmakers continued not only
to make lms, but also to lobby the Canadian government to intervene in some manner to secure even limited access to Canadas screens.
While these efforts largely failed, owing to the Canadian governments
colonial timidity in the face of the powerful United States lm interests, several independent feature lms were being made across English-

12

Welcome to Canada

speaking Canada in the early 1960s, lms that would have a signicant
inuence on Egoyan.
One example of such feature lmmaking outside the NFB, and an
inuential production model for later lmmakers, would come to be
known as the university underground. Students on campuses from
Toronto to Vancouver made low-budget features with their friends and
fellow lm enthusiasts. Making lms in this fashion meant complete
artistic freedom for and control by the lmmaker. In the manner of
the French New Wave, young Canadians such as David Cronenberg and
Ivan Reitman in Toronto and in Vancouver Larry Kent and Jack Darcus
made auteurist ction lms in the early 1960s. A similar phenomenon
was also taking place at the Universit de Montral. In 1962, for example, a low-budget ction lm, Seul ou avec dautres, was being made
in a collective context by aspiring lmmakers such as Denys Arcand,
Denis Hroux, Stphane Venne, and others. All shot on location on ridiculously modest budgets, these lms spoke to an emerging generation of Canadian lmmakers eager to tell Canadian stories on the big
screen and to register a Canadian cinematic vision via ction rather
than documentary.
Even within the conservative walls of the NFB, feature lms were
also being made, but clandestinely. Although John Grierson had long
since departed the NFB in the late 1940s, his successors would not involve the NFB in ction features, as it was not part of organizations
mandate. In 1964, however, two ction feature lms were produced
by the NFB, one in Toronto (Nobody Waved Good-Bye, by Don Owen) and
one in Montreal (Le Chat Dans Le Sac, by Gilles Groulx). Both Owen and
Groulx had been expected to make documentaries on the subject of
disaffected youth in their respective cities, Toronto and Montreal. Instead, they delivered feature lms that revolved around young people,
who were undeniably disaffected, but placed them in a ctional narrative context. Owens is a Cassavetes-inected personal tale of a young

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ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

couple trying to escape the suburbs of Toronto. No doubt with a view


towards his minuscule budget and inuenced by the university underground movement, he worked with non-professional actors and an
improvised script. Gilles Groulxs lm is a Godardian exploration of a
young couple in Montreal searching for some form of existential authenticity. Both lms garnered critical acclaim. The year 1964 appeared
to be the one in which everything would change.9 It would not.
Clearly, the appetite and the ability to make Canadian feature lms
existed. Inspired generally by the auteurist energy of the French New
Wave and the rise of independent lmmaking in the United States, and
specically by the changing of the generational guard in Hollywood, a
certain momentum was gathering. A small critical mass of lmmakers,
emboldened by what they observed across Canada and by their own
condence in producing low-budget features, began to both sharply
criticize a complacent Canadian government for its lack of concern for
a nascent lm industry and lobby that same government to legislate
some form of access to Canadian screens for Canadian lmmakers. Despite all the work being made in the early and mid-1960s, what was still
missing were screens on which to show them.
In the face of much lobbying by lmmakers and by certain members
of Parliament, in 1967 the Government of Canada responded by creating the Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC). The CFDC
would take applications for feature lm projects and dispense funds
for production costs. While certainly a positive initiative, the CFDC was
hampered in two ways. The rst was a philosophical quandary: should
it provide funding for more commercial style lms or concentrate on
the auteurist brand of artist-driven lmmaking that, in many respects,
instigated the establishment of the CFDC in the rst place? Secondly, on
a more pragmatic but equally essential plane: funding of lm production was excellent, but how could the CFDC inuence the American
controlled distribution and exhibition sector in Canada? This has been

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Welcome to Canada

the fundamental problem with Canadas lm policies over the years:


the making of the lms themselves is politically benign; the push for
more extensive exhibition of them involves a political and economic
struggle with what has become for Canada the new imperial centre,
Washington, D.C, and the American dream factory in Hollywood, California. With the establishment of the CFDC, the former problem was
solved, the latter gingerly avoided.
As the rst lms that received CFDC production funding came
to fruition in the early 1970s (The Act of the Heart by Paul Almond; Goin
Down The Road by Don Shebib et al.) and were ready for distribution, they
would encounter the same immovable barrier that had confounded
Canadian lmmakers for ve decades before them: no access to screens.
To explain this phenomenon, a disingenuous argument evolved that
argues that the reason Canadian lms are unpopular is that they are
too artsy and are not commercial or audience friendly. The lack of box
ofce success was presumably evidence of this problem. Of course, this
position conveniently ignores the fact that the Government of Canada
did nothing to challenge American control of Canadian screens, and
that Canadian lmmakers had virtually no access to box ofces of any
kind.
The result was a shift in CFDC thinking about which productions it
would support. This shift would turn out to be temporary. Dominating the period from 1975 to 1982, more commericially styled, generic,
audience friendly lms would be favoured. To accelerate this process,
in addition to its ongoing funding of the CFDC, the Government of
Canada launched the Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) tax shelter scheme
intended to jump-start private investment in Canadas feature lm industry. To describe lm production in English-speaking Canada during this period as an industry was ludicrous enough in the mid-1970s
(except in Quebec, which indeed had developed a small and growing
industry for cultural-political reasons), but to solve the problem with a

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ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

strategy to attract American distributor interest by backing what were


essentially imitations of American-style thrillers and generic horror and
teen lms with minor American actors in lead roles can perhaps be
most charitably characterized as a form of colonial pragmatism.
To stimulate private investment in lm production and to bolster
the CFDCs nancial contributions, investors were offered a 100 per
cent guarantee on any monies invested, and were protected regardless
of whether the lm was released, made money, or failed miserably at
whatever box ofce it could locate. This tax shelter was an absolutely
no-risk investment. Not surprisingly, production levels rose considerably, but over half the lms made in Canada during these years, later
nicknamed the Tax Shelter Era, were never released, and the others
sank into oblivion. Made to appeal to some imagined American market, in spite of vast evidence that no such market existed in the United
States for any foreign lms, let alone low-budget imitations of Hollywood lms, the lms of the Tax Shelter Era failed to prove that the
commercial style lms would nd audiences in Canada. Irrespective
of their quality, these lms also faced the same entrenched barriers to
distribution and exhibition that had never been addressed by legislative intervention, by the governments insisting that a certain proportion of lms shown in Canada be Canadian. Yes, many more lms were
produced and the intended jump-starting of lmmaking in Canada was
addressed, but, as usual, Canada did nothing to help, however modestly, to give these lms a chance to appear on Canadian screens.
Of the over 150 lms produced in the seven years of the CCA, there
were some lms that succeded commercially and artistically. Notable
among them are Vancouver lmmaker Phillip Borsoss The Grey Fox
(1982), an elegant, elegiac paean to the western hero, featuring Bill
Miner, an American stagecoach robber who escapes from prison in the
United States and heads north to Canada to begin a new career robbing
trains. The other is David Cronenbergs prescient, disturbing horror-

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Welcome to Canada

drama, Videodrome (1983), a dark portrait of a television station manager


whose interest in a satellite broadcast of pornographic programming
begins to distort his processes of perception. Weaving together themes
of identity, ontology, and technologys effects on both individual psychology and on collective communications in the late twentieth century, Cronenberg had a huge impact on Atom Egoyan, whose own work
was to take up and expand upon Cronenbergs templates. For that reason alone, perhaps, we can appreciate the tiny but, in this case, crucial
inuence of this misguided CCA program.
Aside from these few highlights, however, the CCA investment
scheme produced mostly execrable lms, increased the afuence of
doctors, lawyers, and dentists (all of whom comprised the bulk of the
investors); signicantly wealthier lm producers; and an embarrassed
Government of Canada. In its shabby failure, the CCA provided still
more evidence that making movies, as a political priority and as a valued medium for Canadian cultural expression, was a daunting, perhaps
even hopeless prospect.
In 1982 the Capital Cost Allowance initiative was quietly cancelled.
From its collapse would emerge the most signicant, sophisticated, and
successful generation of Canadian lmmakers in Canadian cinematic
historys tortuous knot of marginality, colonial deference, false starts,
ruinous funding strategies, and impressive levels of artistic creativity
and tenacity. Chief among that generation was Atom Egoyan, an Armenian-Canadian born in Cairo, Egypt, and raised in Victoria, B.C., who
started making short lms while attending the University of Toronto
just a few years before the CCA went up in ames.

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Out of the Ashes

Broadly speaking, when the Egoyan family arrived in Canada the early
1960s, it was a very different place, demographically, socially, and especially politically. The vibrant, thriving multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and
post-colonial society that Canada would become was still a few decades
away. Indeed, in terms of its political evolution and consciousness,
notwithstanding the Centennial year of 1967 and all of the attendant
nationalist sentiment expressed at that time, Canada remained, for all
intents and purposes, a colonial property of the United Kingdom. The
Canadian constitution, for example, was controlled ultimately by faraway London; no amendment to the constitution could be executed
without the approval of the Queen of England. In other words, after
a full century of the Canadian Confederation, Canadas legal status essentially remained a colonial one. Although 1967 brought a owering of
sorts of nationalism and Canadian self-afrmation and self-expression,
the reality, increasingly regarded as anachronistic, was that Canada was
neither in complete control of either its own constitution nor, by extension, its destiny as a nation-state.
In the 1970s the government of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau
created the CCA and, while still in power, extinguished it in 1982; in
the same year he decided to repatriate the Canadian constitution from
the United Kingdom. Following a typically complex and contentious

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

intra-Canadian debate about this bold political initiative between the


ten provinces (including Quebec, led by a separatist political party) and
the federal government throughout the previous eighteen months,
the Canadian constitution was repatriated in April 1982. In retrospect,
1982 can be regarded as an annus mirabilis, for both a nation emerging
out of colonialism (not entirely, given that even Trudeau did not attempt to repatriate Canadian movie screens from American control)
and a lm industry, however tenuously, entering an era of unapologetic
Canadianism. If Egoyan is, as has often been advanced, a child of
Cronenberg (cinematically speaking), as a Canadian citizen he is also a
child of Trudeau, born or, more precisely, re-born in 1982.
The CFDC was also undergoing a rebirth. From 1982 onward, the
ethos within the federal funding body would shift from a bias towards
supporting commercial styles of lmmaking based on some vague perception of audience-friendly lms (this bias would return to Telelm
Canada, the renamed CFDC, in the late 1990s), to one where independent, low-budget, artist-driven auteurist work would take precedence.
From 1975 to 1982 onscreen Canadian-ness was to be concealed; after
1982 it was to be emphasized. Egoyans feature lm career, starting with
Next of Kin in 1984, was launched during this auspicious era.
Of course, the federal funding agency is not the only factor in the
Egoyan emergence. In fact, Next of Kin was not even funded through the
CFDC. Another crucial component of the rise of Egoyan and his generation was the lm cooperative phenomenon. In the mid-1970s the lm
cooperative movement began in cities from St. Johns, Newfoundland,
to Vancouver, B.C. The establishment of local co-ops was rooted in an
appetite to tell stories on lm, stories from the places that produced
them. Film cooperatives were locally based collectives in which paid
membership brings access to cameras, lighting equipment, lm stock,
and so forth: the basic infrastructure of lmmaking. Working with extremely low budgets, the co-ops served as training centres for aspiring

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Out of the Ashes

lmmakers who, by design and of necessity, worked in the auteurist tradition of writing, directing, sometimes editing and even shooting their
own lms. Virtually every important Canadian lmmaker of Egoyans
generation (Peter Mettler, Bruce McDonald, Guy Maddin, Patricia Rozema, John Paizs, Jeremy Podeswa, Patricia Gruben, John Greyson, Franois Girard, Lea Pool, Gary Burns, Bruce Sweeney, et al.) began at a lm
cooperative. Without these co-ops, it is impossible to imagine the rise
of the remarkable Canadian cinema of the last three decades, especially
in English-speaking Canada. In a country without a lm studio system
or access to its commercial cinema screens, co-ops provided hands-on
training and the opportunity to develop lm styles idiosyncratic to
their creators. Perhaps a happy consequence of being invisible is the
lack of a commercial imperative, a lack that affords a large measure of
artistic freedom to Egoyans generation of lmmakers. All developed
their works in a situation of total artistic control, with tiny budgets and
limited crews: perfect hothouse conditions for auteurist cinema and
particularly necessary to encourage indigenous independent Canadian
lm during the period of the CCA.
Funding for the co-ops came from membership fees, but also from
Canadas arts councils, at both the federal and provincial levels. The federal cultural agency, the Canada Council for the Arts, supported and encouraged lm co-ops through its Media Arts section, while, in Egoyans
case, the Ontario Arts Council nancially supported the infrastructure
of the co-op generally and provided funding for individual lm productions such as Next of Kin. Again, this level of funding and support was
specically targeted at lmmakers who maintained total control over
their artistic vision and were not principally motivated by commerce.
The funding zeitgeist was very much about speaking in ones own cinematic voice, not imitating lm styles or production models from elsewhere. In one sense, it was a subtle cinematic anti-colonial manifesto,
made manifest in monies disbursed and in the funding philosophies

21

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

articulated in the arts councils granting criteria. Be yourself. Be Canadian. Atom Egoyans career began and developed in this post-colonial
Canadian cultural hothouse.
Another signicant element of the movement of lm cooperatives
was the rapid erosion of documentary realism as the dominant cinematic style informing this new generation of Canadian lmmmakers.
Until this point, with the notable exceptions of David Cronenberg,
Morley Markson and a few others, the Canadian ction lm was invariably for budgetary reasons and as a result of a majority of lmmakers having started their careers making documentaries at the NFB
conceived and constructed within a strictly realist aesthetic. Most of
Egoyans generation were artisanal self-starters who had never worked
for the NFB, and other inuences inected their ideas of cinematic
styles and modes of storytelling. In particular, the freewheeling formal
approaches of Canadas experimental lm movement (paradoxically
launched within the walls of the NFB by animator Norman McLaren)
and its leading gures (Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Vincent Grenier,
David Rimmer, Ellie Epp, Bruce Elder, Rick Hancox, Richard Kerr, et
al.) inspired Egoyan and others to incorporate philosophical interrogations of the image itself into dramatic contexts. The experimental accusations against the documentary and realist traditions that upheld
the idea of the image as truth were especially appealing and rich in
possibility. The actual technological processes of image construction
and the articial and epistemologically untrustworthy constructed images themselves would supply additional ambiguities, modernist and
post-modernist, to already problematic narratives exploring themes of
perception, identity, memory, and communication. The experimental inuences are striking in Egoyans rst three lms; they appear in
The Adjuster more subtly and enable his investigations of his own lmmaking processes to be woven into stories involving the effects of

22

Out of the Ashes

images, moving images, and moving-image technologies on his troubled, lonely, alienated dramatis personae.
Having been raised in a family of artists both of his parents were
painters Egoyans own artistic career essentially began in high school,
where he wrote and sometimes acted in plays heavily inuenced
by Theatre of the Absurd playwrights such as Harold Pinter, Eugene
Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett. In 1978 Egoyan moved from Victoria to
Toronto to study International Relations at the University of Toronto.
While there, he wrote, performed, and directed plays both on campus and at the professional Tarragon Theatre company. Already having started making lms in Victoria,1 he found in Toronto an emerging
group of contemporaries also eager to work in cinema. With friends,
began making short lms as a member of the Liaison of Independent
Filmmakers of Toronto (L.I.F.T) cooperative, and established his lm
company, Ego Film Arts. Before his rst feature, Egoyan wrote, directed,
and sometimes shot four short works: Howard In Particular (1979), After
Grad With Dad (1980), Peep Show (1981), and Open House (1982). In addition
to the lingering literary inuence of absurdism, Egoyans early short
lms reveal his admitted cinematic inuences of Pier Paolo Pasolini, Ingmar Bergman, Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Bresson, and Michangelo Antonioni. The cool modernist formalism of these masters is not difcult
to discern in his work, and that formalist tendency has persisted.2 In addition, Egoyan draws direct inspiration from the experimental cinema
and its confrontations with notions of cinematic realism, its scepticism
of narrative, as well as its interrogations of the role and signicance
of image-making technologies in contemporary society and culture.
These heady inuences and a production context within which to pursue them in theatrical and, increasingly, cinematic contexts, shaped the
early work of an emerging lm artist and would inform his career path
up to and including The Adjuster.

23

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

In terms of his artistic and intellectual pursuits and a supportive environment in which to explore them, Egoyan was not alone. A remarkably cohesive community of aspiring lmmakers in this encouraging
environment in Toronto came together in the early 1980s, each working on each others scripts, productions, and post-production activities.
For example, Peter Mettler shot Egoyans rst two features, Next of Kin
and Family Viewing; Bruce McDonald edited Next of Kin, Family Viewing,
and Egoyans third feature, Speaking Parts. There are numerous other
examples. The work of this period is, in retrospect, surprisingly consistent in its aesthetic daring, its experimentation, and its unconcealed
Canadianness.
The accelerated, by Canadian standards, evolution of these lmmakers careers was also bolstered by the establishment of the Ontario
Film Development Corporation (OFDC) in 1985. Modelled to a degree
on the CFDC (by now named Telelm Canada), this provincial funding body provided additional production funds for lmmakers based in
Ontario. Another source of money for independent productions in Ontario, the arrival of the OFDC had a catalytic effect on lm production
in Canadas most populous province, and it was an indispensable asset
in the development and success of Egoyans generation of lmmakers.
Indeed, so successful at Canadian and international lm festivals were
these Toronto-based lmmakers that they were dubbed, years later, the
Toronto New Wave.3
And so they were. Like the French or any other cinematic New Wave,
these lms were made in a non-industrial, even artisanal production
mode, formally daring or at the very least stylistically explorative, and
produced under the total artistic control of their makers. Moreover,
they were condent, unabashedly Canadian, and determined to discover and articulate in a lm style that spoke in its own Canadian voice.
In Egoyans case, at least in the early years before his successes moved
him into adopting more industrial-scale production frameworks, the

24

Out of the Ashes

production model was that of the team: small and consistent crews
(in particular, Mychael Danna, music; Peter Mettler and Paul Sarossy,
cinematography; Steve Munro, sound design; Linda Del Rosario, production design; Camelia Freiberg, producer) and a repertory company
of actors and actresses such as Arsine Khanjian, David Hemblen, Gabrielle Rose, Tony Nardi, and, starting with The Adjuster and many Egoyan
lms thereafter, Don McKellar, Maury Chaykin, and Elias Koteas. Not
only did this choice of approach enable a young director to trust and
develop his craft in a comfortable working environment, it also gave his
early lms a concreteness, a consistency of ideas and themes embodied
in familiar faces and physiognomies. The textures of his early works
are remarkable in that they introduce dramatic and formal variations
with the same performers, which adds another layer of meaning to the
tensions onscreen between intimacy and detachment. To paraphrase
a statement attributed to legendary French director Jean Renoir: We
make lms with friends; in Hollywood they make lms with money. In
the rst decade or so of the Toronto New Wave (ca.198494), increasingly dominated by Atom Egoyan, this was the predominant ethos of
that lmmaking community.
If 1982 was a critical year, for good and bad reasons, 1984 was another. One component of the rapidly gathering renaissance of lmmaking from English-speaking Canada, of which Atom Egoyan became the
leading gure, was the Festival of Festivals in Toronto, which mounted
a massive retrospective of Canadian cinema at its annual exhibition in
September 1984. The rst such Canadian lm event ever, the Northern
Lights retrospective, while looking back at the multifarious achievements of a Canadian cinema largely unacknowledged, even invisible
to most Canadians, was also looking forward with optimism to the postCCA period and now, in a larger political framework, a post-colonial
constitutionally repatriated Canada. Part of that looking forward at the
future of Canadian cinema at the 1984 Festival of Festivals was an inau-

25

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

gural festival program section entitled Perspective Canada. Included


in this section was the world premiere of a low-budget rst feature
lm, entitled Next of Kin, by a young Armenian-Canadian writer-director
named Atom Egoyan.

26

Before the Fire

Consider for a moment the narrative structures, thematic concerns,


and philosophical questions posed by Egoyans three feature lms before The Adjuster. All three are set within the intense and idiosyncratic
dynamics of the family; all three explore technology in these families
and how it functions as an agent of memory and identity; all three incorporate passages shot on video and woven into the lmed sequences;
all three revolve around benumbed, ambivalent, remote male protagonists lost in dubious quests for self-afrmation in their lonely lives; all
three examine and develop the notion, which is elaborated further still
in The Adjuster, that empirical knowledge in an accelerating technological world cannot and even should not be trusted, as there is both more
and less to the picture than meets the eye. These are the foundational
ideas of Egoyans cinema, sketched out in his trio of early works. They
will nd a more richly realized, psychologically nuanced, and cinematically sophisticated expression in The Adjuster.
After completing several short lms, Egoyan wrote and directed
Next of Kin, the oddly comic yet unsettling drama about a young man
unhappy with his WASP upbringing who decides to join an Armenian
family in Toronto. Undergoing videotaped family therapy sessions, the
alienated and indolent Peter Foster (Patrick Tierney) is asked to review
his familys tape in a private room. Once there he discovers another

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

familys taped session on the monitor and watches it instead. He learns


that the Deryan family patriarch, George (Berge Fazilian), is resentful
of his now thoroughly culturally assimilated daughter, Azah (Arsine
Khanjian), and fears losing his cultural heritage. As Peter watches more,
he learns that on their journey to Canada the family had to give up their
son, Bedros, for adoption. This family tragedy inspires Peter to pretend
to be the grown-up Bedros and bring the Deryan family back together.
The fact that physically he could not look less Armenian does not deter
him, nor does it prevent the Deryans from immediately embracing him
as their long-lost son.
This charming debut feature appears on the surface to be a sweet
comedy about Canadian multiculturalism, but, as ever in Egoyan,
something is going on below that surface that is deeply disquieting.
Peter, who in a voice-over declares that he sees himself as an actor, and
how, by being an actor, he can pretend and help other people in some
fashion, is about to embark on a strange project of familial restoration.
The family trauma experienced by the Deryans, he reasons, will be
healed by his performance. But what of the possible emotional and psychological damage that would occur should the Deryans discover he is a
fake? His altruism, if it can be described as such, instead would be an act
of cruel and selsh arrogance. Moreover, given his appearance, are the
Deryans themselves pretending, too? If so, then why? It seems implausible that they would believe Peter is their son. What is Azah thinking
of his arrival? Is he a pretender? What is his motivation? None of these
questions is resolved by the lm, and we are left to conjecture.
Even in this rst attempt at feature drama, then, Egoyan subverts
the seemingly ordered narrative surface with absence, ambiguity, and
insinuations of uncertainty: we want to believe what we are witnessing is a narrative unfolding, yet so many unsettling implications of the
story rise to the surface upon reection. In this way, our uncertainty
about these questions forms the most compelling drama, as we must

28

3.1. A family pretends; a pretend family? Next of Kin. Ego Film Arts

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

retroactively interpret the meaning of the narrative and our own rst
responses to it. In addition to the uncertainty created for the spectator
by the lack of resolution, a consistent approach to narrative disclosure
in all Egoyans feature lms, Next of Kins Peter Foster is the rst example
of a protagonist who embodies that strange combination of intimacy
and detachment; a rst sketch, as it were, of Noah Render.
The role of technology, specically the video camera, is also signicant in Egoyans debut feature. While relatively modest compared with
its presence in later works, video technology in Next of Kin functions as a
mode of introspection (videotaped family therapy sessions are watched
separately by Peters family members), a portal into some kind of familial knowledge and increased self-awareness, and the primary source
of dramatic irony (Peter and the spectator are aware of his plan, the
Deryans are not). The video camera is the engine of narrative action in
this lm. Egoyan occasionally intercuts video images of Peter staring
into the camera to underscore Peters consciousness of his pretence, his
performance of being a son and a brother. Video technology records,
rewinds, replays deep human intimacies, while remaining utterly dispassionate to what it records: an effective metaphor for the mysterious
proles of Egoyans characters themselves.
Produced on a tiny budget of approximately $25,000, derived largely
from a grant from the Ontario Arts Council, Next of Kin found favourable
responses in Canada and at international festivals. It received an Honorable Mention for the Interlm Award at the Mannheim-Heidelberg
International Film Festival in Germany. In many senses, with Next of Kin
Egoyan created the thematic and stylistic template for all the lms that
follow: the preoccupation with the forms and functions of the family,
technology, and human alienation, combined with the interweaving of
video and celluloid images. He also began to evolve a production model
in which the same actors and crew would work as a team, in an artisanal
context, much like the auteurist approach taken by the French New

30

Before the Fire

Wave of the 1960s, the New German Cinema of the 1970s, and, closer
to home, by the co-op model and the Cinak example set by the prolic,
poetic work of Quebec lmmaker Jean Pierre Lefebvre 1
Three years later and on a signicantly increased budget (ca.
$200,000) he produced his second feature lm. Family Viewing concentrates more fully on the impact of moving image technology on the
nexus of familial relationships, on individual psychology and memory,
and on the mediated construction, preservation, and, more sinister
still, erasure of family history. Home video cameras and players proliferated in the mid-1980s, and Egoyans is a reective, prescient2 drama
about this pervasive technologys possible effects, good or bad, on those
who use it.
Revolving around Van, another alienated young man like Peter
Foster (not coincidentally played by Patrick Tierneys younger brother,
Aidan Tierney), Family Viewing is the complex Oedipal tale of Vans desire to move his maternal grandmother, Armen (Selma Keklikian), out
of her inferior nursing home in order to provide better care for her. This
despite the refusal of his father, Stan (David Hemblen), to let her move
in with them. Van works at large hotel and thinks she would be happier in her own room in that hotels temporarily vacant wing. He subsequently involves a sex-trade worker, Aline (Arsine Khanjian), in the
plan, as her mother is in the same nursing home. It is a clandestine plan
executed while Van is under the threatening patriarchal gaze of Stan, a
domestic tyrant who sells video surveillance systems and home video
equipment. Also distressing to Van is his knowledge that Stan is taping
over images of his Armenian wife (Rose Sarkisyan) with recordings of
his sexual acts with his girlfriend, Sandra (Gabrielle Rose). In addition,
there are darker bits of evidence on the tapes about the possible, even
likely, abuse and degradation of Vans Amenian mother by Stan.
If Next of Kin is a more gentle, though still unsettling, investigation
of what constitutes a family, then Family Viewing is a much more in-

31

3.2. Van and Aline wonder what has been and what is to come.
Family Viewing. Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

3.3. Sexuality and technology: Stan and Sandra. Family Viewing.


Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

tense and troubling case of a dissociative family unit whose psychological murk is both illuminated and rendered more complex by the
forms and functions of technology in the lives of that family. In this
lm we see surveillance video cameras in public spaces, cameras and recorders for Stan and Sandras home-made pornography, sequences shot
and edited as though they were real television sitcoms featuring Van,
Stan, and Sandra. The insistent video imagery confuses the actual and
the imagined in the narrative as it unfolds. It also troubles the diegetic
surfaces of the lm itself and is a further example of the navigations
necessary in Egoyans lms, for both characters and spectators alike,
to decipher ones orientation and direction in that puzzling territory
between intimacy and distance. From video to other examples in the
lm, such as Alines phone-sex job, communications technologies, rather than clarifying and simplifying the processes of navigation, instead
make discerning those obscure emotional and epistemological cartographies even more complex, even more daunting.
Family Viewing was an international breakthrough lm for Egoyan.
In addition to winning the best Canadian feature lm award at Festival
of Festivals in Toronto, it was runner-up to renowned German director
Wim Wenderss Wings Of Desire at Montreals Festival of New Cinema
and Video. Upon receiving his award, Wenders himself promptly conferred it upon Egoyan, thereby anointing him as an emerging member
of a loosely afliated international club of important art house directors. This generous gesture also opened investment doors for Egoyan in
Europe indeed, his next lm was made with some European nancing. International awareness of and interest in his work began to grow
in earnest after Family Viewing.
Working with his largest budget to date (ca. $800,000) and shooting for the rst time on 35mm lm stock, with nancial support from
British and Italian investors, Egoyans third feature lm, Speaking Parts,
released in 1989, introduced his work to a much broader audience over-

34

Before the Fire

seas. The rst of his lms to be selected for the Cannes Film Festival,
screened in the prestigious Directors Fortnight section, it continued
Egoyans explorations of the impact of technology on the processes of
communication and knowledge construction by characters and spectators alike. Like The Adjuster, which will follow it, Speaking Parts examines
the strangeness of human interaction in highly codied professional
situations, in moments of technologically mediated intimacy, and in
the strategies of ction and pretence seemingly necessary for his protagonist and others in this lm to locate a sense of identity.
At the core of Speaking Parts is Lance (Michael McManus), a minor
actor who works in a hotel to make ends meet. His co-worker, Lisa
(Arsine Khanjian) is infatuated both with Lance and with his connection, as an extra in various lms, to what she imagines is the glamorous
world of cinema. She and Lance do menial jobs at the hotel. Lance is
also a gigolo for certain guests identied to him by the hotels manager
(Patricia Collins). When a screenwriter Clara (Gabrielle Rose) checks
in, Lance, seeking lm work, slips her his CV. A lm is being made of
her screenplay about her brothers life and death, but the Producer
(David Hemblen) is making changes to the script to make the story,
from his pre-eminent producers perspective (likely an oblique reference by Egoyan to the Tax Shelter Era and other disastrous funding priorities in Canadian cinema history), more appealing, more audience
friendly. Lance gets a job on the lm as an extra, but, now involved
sexually with Clara, he acts as a spy for her, a go-between of sorts for
Clara and the Producer during the shoot. As the lm production proceeds, the lm-within-a-lm conceit of Speaking Parts is stitched into
the relationships between Lance, Clara, and the Producer and echoed
by a complementary subplot, which involves Lisa working for a video
company that makes recordings of weddings. The dislocating power
of the images themselves create, in the kinetic concluding sequence, a
propulsive dramatic undercarriage of dialectic tension between knowl-

35

3.4. Locating identity. Lance in Speaking Parts. Courtesy Johnnie


Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

Before the Fire

edge and uncertainty, between the real and the illusory. Orbiting the
problematic central idea of how cinema constructs knowledge and preserves individual and collective memory (Claras visits to the video mausoleum to see her brother; Lisa and her employer Billy [Tony Nardi]
taping the intimate rituals of weddings in the context of a commercial
enterprise) is the notion that moving images are both seductively satisfying and utterly inadequate.
In this storm of images, it is hard to know where you are. That
tension of uncertainty is essential to Egoyans poetics of cinema. As
he observes, in a statement that is essentially, at least at this point in
his career, his artistic creed: The most resonant moments for me as
a viewer always come when I dont quite know what it is Im watching.3 In Egoyans work the relationship to the image is always complex,
even conicted, and rife with uncertainty. As Daniele Riviere muses,
Can one even speak of an image today, when it can be broadcast and
retransmitted by television and satellite relays to the point where the
stage is everywhere? When the frame, the limit that constitutes an image separated from the exterior/interior world, has become undecideable? Transmission is diffracted, a labyrinthic network is woven; where
do our images come from?4 Ron Burnett connects this promiscuity
of images with the discourses of national and individual identity construction as well as the dangers inherent in an image-saturated world:
Identity, be it national or personal cannot be divorced from images. At
this rather tenuous and fragile stage of our [Canadian] history, it may
be necessary to discover a new way of using images instead of creating
more contexts in which they use us.5
As in Family Viewing, and as will be continued in The Adjuster, there
is here an indirect, allegorical, and curiously powerful family drama at
work. The family structure is relocated into the lm production context. The family in Speaking Parts is clearly more metaphorical than
real if, as Egoyans work constantly probes and puzzles over, there is

37

3.5. Video as memory: Clara in the mausoleum. Speaking Parts.


Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

Before the Fire

such a natural entity as a family in the rst place. The abstract family
trio of Lance and his lm production parents, Clara and the Producer,
are engaged in struggle for control within the metaphorical nuclear
family of a lm production. This struggle is complicated by the fact
they exist in an epistemologically confused atmosphere of images.
They are connected primarily by video or televisual images: they communicate by them, achieve sexual intimacy through them, and attempt to read each others strategies and agendas on the at, hazy
surfaces of the myriad of screens, which they either look out from or
look at. Elaborating upon the technological presence in the characters
lives and its paradoxical ability to generate simultaneously intimacy
and detachment, Speaking Parts pushes forward in spectacular fashion
the thematic and stylistic explorations begun in Next of Kin and Family
Viewing and anticipates the even more daring application of these ideas
in The Adjuster.
Perhaps because of the combination of its enhanced production values and its selection for Cannes, Speaking Parts announced the Egoyan
uvre on an even larger international stage than either of his rst two
critically lauded features. This work was widely written about by the
international cinema press at Cannes, including high-prole journals
such as the Cahiers du Cinema, the New York Times, and the Village Voice.
Moreover, the lms thematic preoccupations with the body, identity,
and technology generated interest in academic and theoretical critical circles around the world, particularly in France. The name of Atom
Egoyan was indeed becoming a recognized cinematic signature, and
he was increasingly regarded as a genuinely new and original voice in
contemporary cultural discourses about identity and technology.6

39

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The Adjuster: Labyrinths of


Solitude
All is not quite what it seems.
Atom Egoyan 1

First the body. No. First the place.


Samuel Beckett2

If the combination of alienation, isolation and impeded intimacy are increasingly becoming the narrative fuel in his rst three lms, then that
troubling, mysterious admixture is the very engine driving The Adjuster.
Egoyans fourth feature, made on a budget of approximately $1.5 million, roughly double that of Speaking Parts, weaves these ideas together
so thoroughly in the spaces between the characters and audience that
the lm itself verges on disappearing entirely into its cryptic dialogue
snatches, its pregnant pauses, its silences, and the vast surfaces of its cinemascope images. There is so much disturbed psychological terrain here
and so many narrative caesuras, it is hard to locate oneself as a spectator.
In this sense, Egoyans work recalls and recalibrates Northrop
Fryes famous phrase describing the point of departure for the Canadian imaginations response to the world: where is here?3 That is to
say, we start from a sense of displacement: where are we, where am I?
In The Adjusters alchemical blend of remote characters, vague motivations, and considerable pretences, all drifting across spaces of uncertain

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

ontology, Fryes question must therefore be radically recongured in


this new, technology driven, very late twentieth-century Canada from
merely where is here? to where, what, why, and even when is here?
In this lm, a transitional work in which Egoyan moves away from the
disjunctive and alienating effects of the video imagery-saturated earlier
lms and more towards experimental uses of narrative time and fractured epistemologies, these variations on Fryes question gather and
coalesce. The complex processes of temporal and spatial location, for
characters and spectators alike as the lm unfolds, becomes the core of
the drama itself. This process of location will dominate his later works,
particularly Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter, and Ararat. With the creation of
The Adjuster in 1991, Atom Egoyans already prodigious poetics of uncertainty acquire new densities, new possibilities, new resonances.
Having been criticized for making lms that were regarded by some
as obscure and cold, particularly Family Viewing and Speaking Parts, Egoyans challenge with his fourth lm was, as he says, rst to ask himself
about his career trajectory, what path are you taking? with a resolute
view towards nding ways to project your vision to a larger audience.4
This does not mean that he was planning to construct The Adjuster to be
deliberately more accessible or audience friendly than his earlier lms,
but rather to deliver a more elegantly rendered and perhaps more selfconsciously cinematic lm with which to pursue themes and motifs
evident in his previous lms. Working for the rst time in the 35mm
anamorphic format and, also for the rst time, not weaving in sequences of video imagery as striking visual and textural contrasts to
the organic look of celluloid, Egoyans preoccupation with the gnarled
relationship between images and meaning remains consistent, forceful, and even continues to expand upon its previous speculations in the
rst three lms. The overlapping dramas in The Adjuster are enacted in
an environment less obviously technologically mediated and in a cinematic space more familiar, as it were, to a larger audience.

42

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

While on the surface not as experimental as the early works, The


Adjuster is a productive new exploration of the celluloid widescreen images and their effects not only on audiences watching them, but also
those characters who populate and navigate their various, and decidedly odd, journeys within them. Paradoxically, given his notion of projecting his vision to a larger audience, this lm is, for Egoyan at this
transitional moment in his career, his most challenging with respect
to lm style and character trajectories. Jim Leach notes, Whereas the
presence of video cameras in the earlier lms reminds us of the lmmaking process that has produced the images we are watching, here
the absence of the camera is foregrounded and becomes a major factor in the lms representation of characters whose unreality attests
to the absence of a satisfying symbolic culture.5 As Egoyan himself says,
after the video-lm collisions in, especially, Family Viewing and Speaking
Parts, Then I started this investigation of the lm texture in a much
more controlled way. That reached its peak with The Adjuster, which I
now look at and kind of gasp at because it has reduced emotions to
such a degree. I mean, these people are so gone, so beyond the point of
return, it becomes absurd. A lot of the humour of the lm is the result
of how gone these people are.6 As he also mentions, in an interview
conducted while on location during the principal photography phase
of the production, This is a lm where you can take chances.7 Those
chances, as we shall see as we examine the lm in detail, were indeed
taken and they are both considerable and engaging.
Egoyan once rather wittily summarized The Adjuster this way: I have
made a lm that concerns an insurance adjuster, some lm censors,
an ex-football player, an aspiring cheerleader, a podiatrist, an actress, a
lamp merchant, a buttery collector and the devoted staff of a large hotel, adding, Everyone is doing what they are doing for a reason, which
is never the reason. I wanted to make a lm about believable people
doing believable things in an unbelievable way.8 His prcis is accurate

43

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

and intriguing, but, leaving aside the question of believability, to locate


ourselves with some degree of clarity in the thickets of narrative detail,
a brief and more baldly expository summary of The Adjuster is required.
Noah Render (Elias Koteas) is an insurance adjuster who processes
victims claims and looks after their immediate material needs and
comforts by putting them up in a hotel. Noah has sex with most of
them and is seen as an angel, as a hero, by most of his clients as well as
by the management and staff of the hotel. He himself lives in a desolate real estate development on the outskirts of Toronto with his wife,
Hera (Arsine Khanjian), son, Simon (Armen Kokorian), and Heras sister, Seta (Rose Sarkysian). Hera is a censor who watches, and secretly
records on her portable video camera, pornography for the purposes of
recommending banning or cutting the lms based on a set of criteria.
Seta stays at home, mostly burning black and white photographs of her
unidentied homeland. She also watches the pornographic material
that Hera records and brings home to her. Elsewhere in the city, the
couple Mimi (Gabrielle Rose) and Bubba (Maury Chaykin) enact theatrical sexual fantasies in the subway, in their mansion, on a football
eld, and, after Bubba shows up at the Renders house pretending to
be a lmmaker who wants to shoot a scene there, in a home. At Heras
workplace, she is discovered secretly videotaping the pornography she
watches by a fellow censor, Tyler (Don McKellar), and is reported to the
chief censor, Bert (David Hemblen). As her relationship with her colleagues grows more menacing, and Noah moves them into his hotel
when the lm shoot begins with Mimi and Bubba, The Adjuster accelerates to its mysterious denouement. When Noah leaves in the middle of
the night from his familys room to have sex with a male client, Hera,
Seta, and Simon are seen leaving by taxi without him. Realizing they
have gone when he returns to their now empty hotel room and thinking that they have returned to the house, he drives home to discover
that Bubba is soaking the living room with gasoline while Mimi sings

44

4.1. Intimate detachment: Tom kisses Noahs hand in the hotel


room. Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

in the shower upstairs. He asks Noah, are you in, or are you out? as he
prepares to strike a match. Noah stumbles backwards out of the house
and watches it go up in ames as he studies the silhouette of his hand
against the backdrop of his burning home. The lm concludes with a
sequence depicting the rst time Noah met Hera, Seta, and Simon at
the scene of their house burning to the ground.
To describe the plot details of The Adjuster is, strangely, to risk reducing it to a mere skeletal narrative curiosity, to render it an object
worthy, perhaps, of some desultory, slightly morbid attention. This is
arguably the case for most lm descriptions, of course, but especially
so in this instance. In this lm it is not the events themselves that are
dominant, but rather Egoyans construction of the contexts that inform them: professional, personal, historical, cultural, and their many
combinations and permutations. The dramatic tensions and textures of
The Adjuster inhabit the spaces between utter bewilderment and tentative steps towards comprehension, for characters and spectators alike.
The lm is structured in such a way as to dislocate us as we watch,
to undermine our knowledge as we labour to apprehend just what is
going on, and, in doing so, to illuminate our own processes of interpretation and the making of meaning. We are uncertain at the outset
and we struggle to comprehend the often vague or outright opaque
connections between the characters, the motivations of the characters,
and the bizarre events themselves. In our encounter with the plot lines
and characters of this lm, we confront repeatedly the notion that all
is not quite what it seems.
Beginning with The Adjuster, the experience of an Atom Egoyan lm
is, pace Samuel Taylor Coleridge, less one of a willing suspension of disbelief and more one of a willing desire to believe in or at least understand what is happening inside his idiosyncratic ctional universe. His
skill as a dramatist, however, resides in resisting easy entry into this
universe and its meanings. Instead, uncertainty is the primary source

46

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

of tension, onscreen and off. This primary strategy of uncertainty, of


mystery, combined with a jigsaw puzzle narrative structure to contain and enact it, will be developed further in subsequent lms. As he
admits, Im fascinated by structures where the viewer is suddenly
placed into a world where they have to try to put these pieces together.9 He could very easily substitute the viewer for the character. In
the case of The Adjuster, for nine-tenths of the lm we are held in a
kind of epistemological suspension, trying to discern what is taking
place, as well as to locate our understanding and interpretation of the
unfolding ction. It is not until the 91st minute of this 102-minute lm
that the connections, or lack thereof, between the various characters
begin to come into some kind of focus. This being an Egoyan lm,
however, it is only a partial clarity, which itself will generate many
other questions.
Questioning begins immediately. Rather than establishing the
characters and elements of plot direction, as is conventional practice,
the rst few scenes in The Adjuster create questions and puzzles. Late
at night, Noah is awake while Hera sleeps restlessly. He goes off to a
re and introduces himself to Arianne (Jennifer Dale), a woman whose
house has burned. Immediately following this scene, Hera is on a subway train watching what appears to be a homeless person in some psychological distress. An apparently afuent woman in a red dress sits
beside him, then takes his hand and presses it to her thigh and in towards her crotch, grinning maniacally. The next scene is of this subway
couple getting out of a chauffeur driven car at a mansion somewhere.
(Is she taking him home? Are they related somehow? Are they brother
and sister, husband and wife?And so on.) The fourth scene shows Hera
in the screening room, where we hear sounds of a pornographic lm
off-screen, followed by Seta sifting through black and white photographs of a foreign land while Simons toy bear sings an inane tune in
the foreground of the frame. In the rst ten minutes, then, questions

47

4.2. Sexual theatrics in the subway: Bubba and Mimi. Courtesy


Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

are already legion: What is happening? How are these people connected? Are they connected at all? Where is this going?
It is this narrative technique that Egoyan employs throughout the
lm. The code to narrative events or narrative sequence is unclear. No
sooner do we think that we know what is happening than something
is revealed or takes place to force us to rethink our position as spectators. For example, when Bubba remarks cryptically to Noah that its
very special to have a sister, does this mean that Mimi is his sister? Did
we not assume that she was his wife? Perhaps our previous reading of
Bubba and Mimis relationship was erroneous. What do we think about
that? We are never entirely sure of the answer, as Egoyan leaves it as a
hint only, an open-ended question. This also works within the ctional
universe itself, when Arianne mentions to Noah that she saw the spark
that would set her house ablaze and admits, to Noahs puzzlement,
that something had to change, so I watched as it did. Even for Noah,
or perhaps especially for Noah, all is not as it seems.
More dramatic still is the example delivered in the lms closing
sequence. In a sense, it is the The Adjusters narrative keystone pulled
out and it brings the whole enigmatic edice down upon us. While
Noah watches the inferno unleashed by Bubba, Egoyan cuts to another
house re and its victims standing helplessly before it: Hera, Seta, and
a baby, presumably Simon. Noah approaches them, puts his hand tentatively on Heras shoulder, and intones his practised introduction: Im
an adjuster. In this sequence, most likely a ashback to when Noah
rst met them, everything we have seen throughout the lm enters
a new context, accompanied by a raft of new questions. Were they
simply another case for Noah? Were they married at all? Were they
a family? Was it all a game? A pretence? Did Simons father perish in
that re? Is this why Seta uses re to destroy the photographs? Why
did they leave Noah? Where have they gone? Questions without answers. We are left without details, and we must resort to conjectures

49

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

assembled from fragments of evidence in the rubble of alienation that


is the world of Noah Render.
These kinds of interpretive uncertainties dominate our experience
of The Adjuster and give its ctional universe, already a lonely world of
surface and simulacra, additional textures of mystery. This technique,
this tension between disclosure and withholding, will inform the rest
of the lm and even enforce a particular kind of spectatorship. Best
described as a process of retroactive certainty, however tenuous that
certainty may actually be, the effect of Egoyans narrative design is to
foreground ones own processes of interpretation, to interrogate why
we think what we think and when during the lm, and, ultimately, to illuminate the problematic nature of our relationship to moving images.
This relationship, at once intimate and detached, informs and complements the style and substance of The Adjusters haunting, layered, and
labyrinthine narratives.
Shooting for the rst time in wide-screen format,10 Egoyan, with a
nod to the considerable formal inuence of Italian master Michaelangelo Antonioni,11 in attempting to connect these characters to one another visually registers and emphasizes not only the isolation between
them, but also the dislocation of the spectator. There is so much empty
space in the composition of the frames, and characters are often spatially separated within them. Bubbas rst arrival at the abandoned
housing development, for example, is framed in long shot as he strides
across a vast, empty landscape, utterly isolate; this is later repeated in
an extreme long shot of him driving across the development to the
Renders house. Bubba and Mimis intimate distances are also amplied
in the composition of the shots when he brings her to the football stadium for her cheerleader fantasy. Even in sequences dominated by medium shots, characters are placed at the edges of the frame. When Hera
is explaining to Bert and Tyler why she records the lms they watch,
she is to the extreme left of the image, with the blur of background

50

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

activity at the censor ofces comprising most of the image. When Noah
and Arianne tour the wreckage of her home, they are placed at either
edge of the frame, each framed by a separate, jagged hole in the wall of
the destroyed structure.
This consistency of this wide-screen aesthetic is also applied to closeups. Rather than visually articulating emotional intimacy, close-ups in
The Adjuster reveal drift and disconnection. For example, the lm starts
with an extreme close up of Noahs hand being lit through the skin by
a ashlight he is shining into his palm. Given the size and scale of the
anamorphic image, the effect is disorienting. What we are looking at
appears in the dim light as abstract, unidentiable. The extreme intimacy of the shot is exaggerated by its sheer magnitude. Furthermore,
as it is a scene shot at night, it is difcult to register what it is we are
actually seeing, a motif that recurs at many levels throughout the lm.
In perhaps the most effective, and strangely moving, example is when
Bubba describes what his lm is about to Noah and Hera in a distant,
disjointed, elliptical, poignant, monologue about the spaces between
people. From the opening frames of the lm to the nal shot of Noahs
hand held up to the re, Egoyan uses wide screen as an instrument of
dislocation and disorientation. Its expansive surfaces express the condition of the characters physical isolation without and, in virtually all
cases, emotional desolation within.
Isolation. Desolation. Disconnection. Egoyans work searches for the
sources of alienation, tries to locate them, to account for them in the
cultural and social contexts that produce and perpetuate them. It asks:
how does this happen? In Egoyans lms, identities appear mutable,
occasionally ephemeral, and always mysterious. In The Adjuster, as in the
trio of lms that preceded it, the characters appear not to be living but
rather performing their lives, as though this performance will somehow connect them to an authentic life. As Egoyan relates, the principle
by which I construct my lms is based very much on the notion of char-

51

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

acters in the late twentieth century being completely overwhelmed by


their place in a society which is constructed on image. The whole delineation of personality and the conduct of personality through the society become very precarious. It becomes difcult to distinguish between
natural patterns of behavior which represent our true intentions and
patterns of behavior which we create to represent our intentions as we
believe will best serve our image.12 Consciously or not, then, Egoyans
characters are involved in gestures of pretence. Some are themselves
screen actors; others perform in character telephone sex and escort
services; others, in the case of Peter Foster, pretend they are long lost
sons. With varying degrees of intensity, they are committed to pretence
as a mode of being. This confusion of the real and the imaginary, the
conation of professional codes of conduct (and in Noahs case, in the
act of utterance itself) with ones natural patterns of behavior and
true intentions, is the infrastructure of the profound alienation experienced by the characters in The Adjuster. It is an approach to character
rooted in Egoyans interest in theatre: Absurdist drama was something
that informed the early lms. I was fascinated by the harnessing of lunacy and despair, by the rituals that characters devised to deal with
their pain or trauma. You see that absurdist inuence (Samuel Beckett,
Arthur Adamov, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter) in a lm like The Adjuster
the use of repetition, role-playing, compulsive behavior that touches on
the violent and the grotesque.13
Noah Render is indisputably one of the most alienated characters in
Egoyans lmography and, indeed, in all of Canadian cinema. Since, or
perhaps because of, English-speaking Canadas slow and sporadic arrival
into the world of ction feature lms (which themselves are marginalized in their own country), male protagonists in Canadian cinema are
generally weak, bewildered, benumbed, and remote gures of failure.
In fact, the so-called loser cycle14 of lms of the 1960s and 1970s struck
the fatalist template that remains the predominant one for most Cana-

52

4.3. Bubba and Mimi on the set of their lm. Courtesy Johnnie
Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

dian lms made since. From the thwarted rebellion of the adolescent
Peter in Don Owens Nobody Waved Good-bye in 1964 to the downbeat
miserablism of the lms of Don Shebib, particularly Goin Down The
Road (1970) and Between Friends (1973), protagonists in English-speaking
Canadian cinema are invariably defeated by fate, circumstance, or their
own excesses of pride, greed, or more obscure personality defects. Many
are downright delusional, like Rick Dillon in Peter Pearsons Paperback
Hero (1973), Max Renn in Cronenbergs Videodrome (1983), Henry Adler in
David Wellingtons I Love A Man In Uniform (1993), and virtually all of the
lonely, drifting gures in the lms of Guy Maddin. The examples are
legion and speak to larger Canadian attitudes towards individualism,
the realities of worldly power, and the limitations of a personal agency
in a largely communitarian social culture. Notions of heroism and individual agency are the antitheses of those to be found in Hollywood, as
if Canadian lmmakers want to establish a counter-myth of the hero to
the American triumphant individualist prototype. Noah Render is one
of many, coming from a long, sad parade of Canadian men whom the
world, fate, or circumstances always outwit, always defeat. They cant
make it here. They cant make it anywhere.
Working within this tradition while redening it, Egoyan has relocated Noahs condition of alienation to the psychological and emotional interior of his protagonist. In other words, unlike the uber-loser
cycle lm, Goin Down The Road (1970), with its ragged gures, Pete and
Joey, who leave Cape Breton to strike it rich in Toronto but do not, Noah
is not a failure as an insurance adjuster; the opposite is the case, to the
point where he keeps an entire hotel lled with very satised clients
who cheerfully greet him when he visits. Noahs alienation is at once
deeper and more obscure. He is, in Egoyans phrase, an angel of rematerialization, a quasi-mystical or mythical biblical healer who will
render things right again. At the same time, he is also an utter cipher,
a man without qualities; indeed, as Egoyan describes him, Noah is A

54

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

person who could only exist when other people projected something
onto to him, when they projected their need onto him, otherwise he
was just this shell.15
It is precisely this shell that fascinates. Initially, Noah appears preternaturally kind, compassionate, and caring. His words, his body language, his intonation that sounds like a form of incantation seem to express genuine concern. As the lm progresses, these words are repeated
by rote and attain through their repetition an abstract, remote quality,
the very professionalized hollow diction devoid of meaning so perceptively explored elsewhere in, as one example, the lms of Stanley Kubrick. As he speaks to client after client (Arianne, Tom, Lorraine, Larry,
and Matthew), the words detach from their meanings and become
performance, expressing nothing but the mask of their champion performer: You may not know it yet, but youre in a state of shock. Words
speaking of intimate comfort yet arriving as if from an innite distance.
Noah appears to exist somewhere between intimacy and detachment,
perhaps on a self-styled spiritual plane, as he has no hesitation to accept a kiss of gratitude on the hand from Tom (Gerard Parkes) after
having slept with Toms wife, Lorraine (Patricia Collins). The most obvious, revealing, absurdist example of this duality occurs with Noah and
Arianne in a hotel room, itself a space of both anonymity and intimacy,
having sex while discussing details relating to her insurance claim. The
source of Noahs alienation is not explained or explored: is it a result
of some previous trauma in his life (as is the case of characters in Next
of Kin, Family Viewing, Speaking Parts, and especially in Exotica, The Sweet
Hereafter, and, in terms of collective trauma, Ararat), or is it some erotic
form of deformation professionelle? Again, we are left to wonder, to speculate. Like almost all the characters on this Noahs ark, Noah himself is
unknowable. In this sense, the adjuster character thoroughly embodies
The Adjuster the lm and our frustrating and intriguing experience of its
epistemological puzzles and culs-de-sac.

55

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

The same problem of knowledge applies to Bubba and Mimi. Their


status as a couple is dubious and their language seems to arrive from
across vast distances. The inuence of Beckett and Pinter is much in
evidence throughout the lm, but is acutely present in what these two
characters say to each other and, in Bubbas case, to no one in particular. The discussions about cleaning the body and its decay are decidedly
Beckettian,16 as is Bubbas ghostly, drifting monologue that invokes images of times passage, memory, desire, and resignation to the absurdity
of ones predicament. Beyond their use of language, of course, are their
remarkable actions. Staging sexual events to indulge and please Mimi,
as he does not appear to derive any pleasure from them, Bubba performs as a vagrant on a subway, a pimp to a football team, and a lm director renting the Render house as a set for what appears to be a pornographic suburban housewife fantasy involving barely adolescent boys.
Why are they doing these things? Why does Bubba incinerate them
both and the Render residence at the lms conclusion? The alienation
is as profound as its sources are opaque.
Such gaps are the grammar of The Adjusters narrative language. In
constructing the lm this way, Egoyan has radically alienated characters
located within a lm that radically alienates the spectator. This alienation appears as a general condition in this lm, a profound malaise
whose symptoms are evidence of a world lost in labyrinths of its own
devising, a materialist culture constructed upon a now corroding foundation of artice, pretence, and image. It is a distressed, panic-stricken
world that is barely controlling itself, struggling to contain its angst
by clinging to rituals and conventions of what late-twentieth-century
North American society regards as normal. Furthermore, the condition
is so extreme that empirical knowledge itself is in crisis: what one sees is
not necessarily what is there. The actual has collapsed into the articial.
Artice is everywhere in The Adjuster. From the compulsive sexual
theatrics of Mimi and Bubbas performances, to Noah and Heras mod-

56

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

el home with fake books on its bookshelves, to the abandoned developments billboards depicting happy families and the notion of living in
houses with titles that invoke (adding still another level of dislocation
while slyly alluding to Canadas colonial past) gentried life in rural
England, to even Noah and Heras marriage and family, everything
is articial, not as it seems. These are images, not realities. Distinguishing between the two is the source of crisis within the lm and is the
primary, and somewhat daunting, task of the spectator.
As in all his other lms, Egoyan here probes the nature, function,
and signicance of images, static and moving, and connects this investigation of the image and image-making to all the other artices and pretences at play in The Adjuster. Noah Render uses images as a means to assign monetary value to objects pictured within the photographs of his
clients. In a strange perversion of John Griersons empirical documentary idea of the image as truth, Noah regards the photographic image
as concrete evidence to assist him in the completion of his Schedule
of Loss insurance claim forms. His relationship to these photographs
could not be more ontologically certain. Scanning the surface of a provocative nude photo of one member of the gay couple, he observes
calmly, It doesnt show much of the background. This is precisely because Noah himself cannot see context or background, as he is caught
up in a kind of temporal labyrinth of the eternal present, a character
with no history. Value does not reside in peoples emotions and histories, nor can it be perceived in images of their lives. For example, when
examining the picture of the gay mans beloved and now deceased dog,
he asks dispassionately about how much it had cost and whether or not
it was a purebred animal. Elsewhere, back at the fake family home,
Setas ritualistic burning of photographs of her faraway homeland is
rooted in more complex notions of memory, history, and identity. Relocated to a society where the promiscuous, obsessive production and
consumption of domestic images (photographs, home video, et al.) is

57

4.4. Image and value: It doesnt show much of the background,


observes Noah. Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

understood as a process of preserving memory, Setas destruction is


both a gesture of her alienation and, arguably, her resistance to assimilation. She is sanctifying and strengthening her memory and identity
as she sacrices images of her history. Bubbas engagement with the
image, meanwhile, involves producing images with his still camera and,
putatively, with his motion picture camera for his lm. (We are never
really certain if he is actually a lmmaker.) Less a recorder of images of
places he likes than someone projecting his own fantasies of beautiful
families into his camera (we recall his slide projections of the Render
house onto the body of Mimi at their banquet fantasy), Bubba has a
more sinister relationship with the image, for, through his gaze, he is
seeing nothing and imagining everything. He may even be lying, using
the process of taking pictures to convey his admiration for the Renders
in order to persuade them to let him into their house. In a society that
has domesticated the camera and regards taking pictures as harmless
fun, Bubbas shooting photos inside the Render bedroom of the sleeping Hera, Simon, and Seta is a clever strategy. It is also psychotic.
Given Egoyans previous lms, which liberally incorporate alternative forms of moving image production, specically video, it is atypical
that the moving-image forms present in The Adjusters narrative go largely unseen. When Hera is watching various pornographic lms in the
screening room at the censor board, for example, only the soundtrack
of the lms is heard. Egoyan does not show any images from the lms
themselves. Similarly, during Setas obsessive home consumption of
the pornography on tapes provided by Hera, images are not seen; only
sounds are heard. If any images exist from Bubba and Mimis lm, a
highly unlikely prospect but possible, they are never seen. This repeated denial of the visual replicates, even dramatically enacts in some
sense, the very idea of censorship as a crime of epistemology, a withholding of knowledge by some against the many. We can only imagine
what Hera is seeing and, by extension, what will be excised by the cen-

59

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

sors, ensuring that we will never see what they have seen. This, as Amy
Taubin comments, heightens our awareness of our own voyeurism by
refusing to let us see.17 As employees at the censor board casually toss
forbidden still images into bins for destruction and lms are subjected
to cuts according to criteria that Tyler recites by rote (the actual rules of
the Ontario Film Classication Board at that time), Egoyans lm raises
serious questions about the socio-political implications of such authorized procedures of constructing the forbidden.
Just what is our relationship to images of sexuality, to images of the
forbidden? What is the motivation for Hera to secretly record what only
censors are supposed to see? Is it the case that, as she explains to Bert
after Tyler discovers and reports her recording, she simply wants her
sister to know what she is doing at work? Or is it because, as Bert admits
about himself and argues that she is the same, the material is sexually arousing? Its normal, he intones, and is angered by her refusal
to afrm his position, sending Tyler on a mission of sexual assault on
Hera during a subsequent screening session. At the moment of Tylers
advance and sudden contact on her inner thigh, a gesture that recalls
Bubbas clutching of Mimis thigh on the subway, Hera stands up and,
laughing and weeping simultaneously, the unspooling images of the
lm they are watching utter and icker across her face, the images
of sexualized bodies and an actual body layered upon each other: a palimpsest of desire, degradation, fantasy, and power. It is a striking moment in The Adjuster, a collision of image and reality, at once collapsing
them into each other and dramatically underlining the vast distance
between the two.
Signicantly, there is one sequence in The Adjuster where what is on
a screen is not withheld. It is a brief scene, but it holds considerable
signicance and contains a number of elegant ironies. Near the end of
the lm, Noah and Arianne are lying down together in her hotel room
after she has met his family in the restaurant. She is asleep, and Noah is

60

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

watching television. He is watching Suzanne, a lm produced during the


Tax Shelter Era starring Arianne (actually, it stars Jennifer Dale who is
playing Arianne).18 Her appearance on the screen excites Noah because
now he perceives Arianne to have more value. While she sleeps, he
kisses her hand while he watches her on the screen that has endowed
her with more signicance, more currency, as it were, for Noah. Not unlike his reading of still photos for the monetary value of objects in the
photographs themselves, Noahs relationship to motion pictures clearly
works in the same fashion. In a totally commercial movie intended by
its makers to entertain, Noah, perhaps in some perverse sense appropriately for his character, sees nothing but another kind of ledger giving
value to Arianne.
Suzannes appearance in The Adjuster is Egoyans self-conscious reference19 to the Tax Shelter Era, a period in which a lm such as The Adjuster
would most likely never have been supported, as it would have been
deemed uncommercial and not audience friendly, terms that did and
still do have a censorial power in the lm production sector. As a Canadian independent lmmaker of the immediate post-Tax Shelter generation, Egoyans insertion of this sequence from an actual and dreadful
example of commercial lmmaking in Canada not only adds evidence
for Noahs myopia, but also subtly critiques the persistent attitude towards lmmaking in Canada that favours the production of imitations
of American-style lms to achieve commercial success. At several levels,
then, inside the frame and outside the frame, this short sequence offers
rich ironies about Noahs relationship to images and also that relationship as expressed by Canadian commercial lm producers.
In a lm about alienation, dislocation, and the image, with its many
functions and multiple meanings, Egoyan also explores the role of the
physical body in these strange social and emotional landscapes. As
Beckett writes, First the body. No. First the place. In The Adjuster, it is
the context of the body, its placements and displacements, that domi-

61

4.5. Image and body: Mimi bathed in Bubbas photographs of the


Render home. Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

nates its meaning. Nothing is organically situated in this lonely world


of artices, in these labyrinths of solitude where characters travel by
themselves Seta, Arianne, the Wild Man of the Billboards (Paul Bettis),
and Louise the hotel maid (Jacqueline Samuda) or in tenuous pairings always in which each partner is separate in some profound way
(Noah and Hera, Tom and Lorraine, Mimi and Bubba, the gay couple).
Examples of this bodily alienation are legion. The bodies in the pornographic lms are reied commodities performing touch, simulating
intimate contact with professional detachment, much like Noah with
Arianne and, presumably, with Lorraine and Matthew, both of whom
he has sex with. Heras podiatrist (John Gilbert) touches her foot aficted with warts, but dispassionately. Noah and Bubba touch each others
shoulders and arms awkwardly after their verbal agreement to allow
the lm to be shot in the Render residence. Tom kisses Noahs hand
and Lorraine sleeps with him, but both are curt and dismissive once
their claim is processed. Louise reveals that the prostitution of her body
is an economic necessity, stating that The night is too long for kind
souls. Mimis sexual scenes are parodies of intimacy and carnal contact. Elsewhere, the separation of the body from the physical world is
invoked when Noah is called an angel. Perhaps the one character who
is in direct contact with his body is the Wild Man, who masturbates
outside the full-length window of the living room where Seta watches
pornography, but even his bodily performance is isolated, behind glass,
and somehow desperate. Shocked to see an actual body in a sexual aspect outside her window, Seta, dressed in a suggestive negligee, is inert
as she watches a torrent of sexual imagery, in some sense as if as her
body does not exist. Mimi says of the body in the shower that it must
be the touching that makes people want to sing. This is a world in
which the characters can make bodily contact only in the most extreme
and alienated contexts and places. They have lost their bodies, have
somehow drifted away from them as the primary source of identity and

63

4.6. Constructing the forbidden: Bert and Tyler, the censors. Courtesy
Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

4.7. Abducting the forbidden: Hera secretly records pornographic


images. Courtesy Johnnie Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

medium of human contact. First the body. No. First the place. In this
light, Noahs ultimate gesture, perhaps, can be read as a confused and
desperate attempt to discover and recover his body by holding his hand
to the ames of his burning house, his place. As Geoff Pevere observes,
the conagration is a critical moment in a lm where nobody lives at
home, leaving Noah to contemplate the only dwelling hes got left: his
body.20 We shall never know.
Perhaps tangentially but certainly insistently in Egoyans rst three
features, notions of body and home revolve around the idea of ethnicity. As we have seen, questions of ethnicity and Canadas increasingly
multi-ethnic society certainly have fascinated and informed Egoyans
early lms, whether in comedic or seriously dramatic contexts. In them
he has explored not only the rich social and individual possibilities of
the idea of ethnicity, however dened, but also its problematic complexities as a mode of individual or collective identication and afliation. Ethnicity is unquestionably a factor, but it is not necessarily the
determining agent of identity in Egoyans cinema. Interestingly, and
perhaps consistent with The Adjusters identication of a much broader
cross-cultural malaise of materialism in multi-ethnic Canada and North
America, this lm does not foreground questions of ethnicity as dramatically as its three predecessors. As Egoyan mentions about the casting of Elias Koteas as Noah, he was pleased that Koteass appearance
and that of Arsine Khanjians were sufciently similar to avoid obvious
tensions or signiers of ethnicity in The Adjuster. These people visually
look like a couple. In most of the lms Ive had theres been this weird
sense of a classically WASP person with someone from a different, sort
of Semitic background. One of the things thats been a really incredibly
exciting surprise to me is that these people look like theyre from the
same background. So, theres not this sense, as there is in the other
lms, that theres a cultural alienation taking place. Its within one context.21 The dramatic spine of this lm, unlike Next of Kin and Family View-

65

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

ing especially, has little to do with specic explorations of ethnic difference or various exilic or displaced states of being, as it seems everyone
is displaced or exiled in some sense in The Adjuster.
Not that it entirely ignores the subject. The very presence of Hera,
Seta, and Simon in Noahs life obviously refers to an otherness, exotic
or otherwise, that exists. It also registers, forcefully but not insistently, that theirs is an outsiders gaze. They do not speak English and are
isolated from the Canadian society around them, although that society itself is depicted as profoundly adrift and confused about its own
whereabouts. In their silences, perhaps, resides a contrast to the cacophony of the North American world, but this point is not pursued or
fetishized, but rather is registered as a cultural difference. Aside from
Simons largely silent observation of the world he is moving through,
Setas connection, a strangely bodily one, to what her sister does may or
may not be informed by her ethnic otherness in this place at this time.
It remains more a question of epistemology than, strictly speaking, one
of ethnic otherness, as this theme is not fully developed in The Adjuster.
In another departure reected in this his fourth feature, then, Egoyan
collapses these questions of ethnicity, fetishized or not, into the larger,
seemingly pan-cultural and pan-ethnic alienating and arguably homogenizing processes of materialism.
When we return to the problematic and intriguing process of locating oneself as a spectator in this particular Egoyan ctional space,
let alone consider how the characters themselves navigate their way, it
is helpful to revisit a recurrent thematic preoccupation and narrative
trope to be found in virtually every Atom Egoyan lm: trauma. For example, what animates the Deryan familys belief in Next of Kin that Peter
is their son is the painful experience of having left their child behind
before coming to Canada. In Family Viewing, the twin traumas of Van
an absent mother and a grandmother in a shabby nursing home can
be understood to account for his often murky motivations. The death

66

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

of Claras brother despite her having donated her own lung to him
propels Speaking Parts. In Exotica, the death of Franciss daughter traumatizes him and this informs his entire being. The overarching traumatic experience of the school bus accident in The Sweet Hereafter is of a
communal nature and informs all of what is done and said. The many
entangled responses to another general but specically located trauma,
the Armenian genocide, are the engines of Ararats overlapping interrogations of history and identity. In Adoration, teenaged Simons existential internet excursions and familial struggles are enacted against the
backdrop of the death of his parents.
In The Adjuster, however, the sense of trauma is as pervasive as its effects on character motivation are vague. Everyone in this lm, it seems,
is coping with trauma, with something that has gone awry, with an unaccountable sadness. These characters are responding to some things,
or not responding to other things, and we cannot readily comprehend
why or how. This narrative atmosphere is dense and heavy with the
traumatic from, obviously, the families living at the hotel as their postdisaster realities are negotiated, to Mimi and Bubbas fantasy fetishes
(just why are they engaging in these activities is another answered question), to Noahs own peculiar remoteness (what has happened to him
to make him this way?). The Absurdist inuence on Egoyan has never
been more pronounced than in this lm, as the general atmosphere of
post-traumatic consciousness has never been less connected in his narratives to character action, motivation, or consciousness. In contrast to
his previous and subsequent lms, not even at the most basic levels can
we account for, or locate, the principal characters in relation to some
terrible or troubling incident that has deformed them. In the world of
The Adjuster, literal and metaphorical trauma, or post-trauma, is a state
of being, not a dominant narrative device. It not only adds another layer to the many levels of alienation the lm explores, but also identies
a subtly satirical element in The Adjuster that connects it to the Absurdist

67

4.8. Ashes of change: Arianne in her charred home. Courtesy Johnnie


Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

dramatists Egoyan counts among his chief artistic inuences. Cinematically speaking, it also places this lm, more than any other of his works,
in the company of Stanley Kubrick and, especially, Luis Buuel, both
of whose lms offer up paradoxical combinations of cinematic formal
authority with uncertainty-driven narratives that critique, or satirically
detonate, cultures and societies that themselves subscribe to authoritarian, totalizing systems of thought.
What exactly is Egoyan satirizing? In general terms, it is a technologically dominated and utterly materialist society that has become
historically deracinated and emotionally stunted. As Egoyan mentions,
This lm is really dealing with the crisis of what it means to live a life
that is based entirely on objects, where everything is about sort of a materialist impulse, not only your attachment to objects and to life style,
but when you apply materialist approach to other people, when you
begin to see other people as being attachments to your life as opposed
to other souls that you need to nd for communication or an emotional
connection to its a world in which emotional attachments are secondary to gurative ones.22 This is a world in which characters relate
to one another almost exclusively through external objects and media:
money, property, pornography, cameras, the cinematic apparatus itself,
the legalese of insurance policies, and the ledger. Egoyans depiction
of a society constructed in such a fashion reveals vast ssures in this
worlds interpersonal, collective, ethnic, and individual psychological
landscapes. His satire resides in this exaggerated, alienated world that
is, la Buuel and Kubrick, both recognizable and extreme, at once
familiar and strange. As Egoyan himself noted while shooting the lm,
Its absurd and its extreme but it is within the realm of reality.23
Specically, it is Noah Render who emerges as a satirical gure, as
he embodies these ssures, this lack, this remarkable disafliation and
disconnection caused by imagining the world in materialist terms only.
In addition to his membership in that huge and disappointing fraternity

69

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

of male protagonists in Canadian cinema, Noah resembles many characters from international cinema. One thinks of the host of alienated,
amoral men adrift in the stark cinema of Antonioni and, in particular,
as Egoyan has admitted as an inspiration, of the visitor in Pier Paolo
Pasolinis Teorema (1968), who sleeps with and destabilizes an entire
haute-bourgeoisie Italian family. There are others, but the most intriguing,
perhaps, is Father Nazario from Luis Buuels satirical parable about the
politics of altruism, Nazarin (1958). Like Nazario, who leaves his parish
to go out into the Mexican countryside to live according to the teachings of Christ, Noah also imagines the world according the language of
his profession: he speaks by rote, chapter and verse as it were. Distant
descendants of Don Quixote, both experience the harsh and confusing
disparity between the world as it is written in bibles and insurance policies and the world as it is experienced in the impoverished villages and
towns of Mexico and in the distressed urban realities of late twentiethcentury Toronto. Like that of Buuel, Egoyans satire is not without
compassion: Noah, like Nazario, is at some level a product and a victim
of his misplaced, confused, and commodied notions of altruism.
The satirical elements of The Adjuster are announced in some fashion
by the nomenclature Egoyan employs. As in the traditions of Juvenalian
satire, the commedia dellarte, and Restoration Comedy, Egoyans character names connote, and in some cases denote, sometimes ironically,
their dominant traits. Noah Render invokes the Old Testament character from Genesis, of course, whose ark saved humans and animals from
the apocalyptic diluvial rains, while the surnames many meanings include to cause to be or become: make, to give or pay in return for or
as a thing to do, to give assistance, and, signicantly, to represent or
portray artistically.24 All of these multiple meanings are in some fashion executed or embodied, literally and guratively, by Egoyans protagonist. The name of Hera, meanwhile, is a classical allusion to the wife
of Zeus, who is worshipped as the queen of heaven and as a goddess

70

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

of marriage. Hera lives in a parody of such meanings, both in relation


to her omnipotent husband, who shoots arrows out of windows like
some mythic hunter, and in the tenuous constitution of her marriage
to Noah. Also rooted in classical mythology is the name of Arianne, a
French variant of Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, who fell in love
with Theseus and helped him to escape the Labyrinth and the Minotaur.25 Arianne, in allowing her house to burn down because something
needed to change, is arguably the one character who seems capable
of navigating her way out of the emotional, spiritual impasse of materialism. Mimi and Bubba are infantilist nicknames, connoting not only
the intimacy of such naming, but also a temporal rupture in these two
adults who, in their speech and demeanour, seem to be regressing into
some childlike state, however perverted by adult sexual fantasy and
activity. The other and more minor gures in the lm have singular,
unattached rst names only, suggesting a lack of afliation beyond the
temporary space they inhabit in the hotel or the screening room: Tom,
Lorraine, Louise, Bert, Tyler, the gay couple (Larry and Matthew), and
the masturbating Wild Man, whose names are not spoken onscreen.
Seta and Simon are similarly disafliated, with the additional distancing
effect of our mistaking them for being Noahs family before the lms
nal revelation of the actual origins of their arrival in Noahs world.
As a satire on North American26 materialism, The Adjuster is a searching, if occasionally enervating, critique of a society and culture that, to
borrow Bubbas fractured phraseology, has everything it wants but not
what it needs. This critique is indirect, however, as Egoyan is not diagnosing the specic source of the consumer materialistic society, but
rather is examining its various and largely debilitating effects on those
who imagine they live in a free and open society. In this spiritually and
emotionally attenuated world, these characters, when not trying to escape into fantasy (as in the barely repressed panics of Mimi and Bubbas
performances), seem to be unconsciously surrendering to an array of

71

4.9. Are you in or are you out? Bubbas endgame. Courtesy Johnnie
Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude

distant systems of epistemological authority: insurance policies, government censorship, and the generalized and pervasive secular religion
of economics. Options everywhere seem constricted, closed down.
Value is derived from money and only money. It is a desperate, existentially inauthentic world of stasis, solitude, and profound boredom,
which, perhaps, can be redeemed only by re, the lms most insistent
and elemental image.
Flames are everywhere. They icker across the faces of Noah and
his clients at the scenes of their houses burning down; they appear at
the grand dinner as amb desserts, as Mimi struts across the table;
they blacken the images of home and history as Seta burns her photographs; they appear on the prayer cards made by the hotel manager
(Tony Nardi) as a heart in ames, the same aming heart motif that
will appear on Bubbas lm production jackets, suggesting that perhaps
Flaming Hearts is the title of his lm. The heart in ames is a medieval
symbol of Christs sacrice and purication of a sinful world by re.27
On the prayer cards and on Bubbas jackets, this image is completely
secularized and relocated from its religious symbolic context, yet it suggests the idea, at least, of the redemptive, purifying power of re in the
strange fallen world of The Adjuster. Given Bubbas and Mimis interest
in cleansing (although it is discussed in terms of another element, water), it is not surprising that Bubbas endgame murder-suicide ritual of
purication, when he decides to stop playing house, will be executed
with re. The nal, ambiguous image in the lm is of Noahs hand held
up to the ames now consuming his model home. Is this an image of
purication? Is Noah to become reconnected with the world now that
he has lost this world of artices? Is his hand, the professional hand that
proffered the touch of consolation on hundreds of clients bodies, the
would-be Hand of Fate invoked in the Fatima hanging from his cars
rear-view mirror,28 now transformed and re-animated by this re? As
with so much in this lm, we simply do not know.

73

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

Indeed, not knowing is an intrinsic part of the experience of The Adjuster. The characters, minor and major, are largely unknowable, functioning at a certain level as abstractions in an absurdist satirical drama.
Dramatic situations arrive without clear histories or contexts, and the
connections between characters, particularly in the rst fteen minutes when such things are usually established in lms, are either vague
or non-existent. Egoyans dramatic strategy is to place the spectator
in a position similar to that of his characters, one of epistemological
jeopardy: clients wait as their policies are settled by remote insurance
companies; society at large is prevented from seeing certain imagery by
censors and thus will never know what is missing; characters are unsure
of each others motivations and observe one another carefully; we are
mystied by the relationships between the characters and, when we
think we know what is happening, it is subsequently revealed that we
did not. Having structured uncertainty into the lm in such a manner
and this is more than a trick of storytelling Egoyan underscores not
only the sheer mystery of other people, but also the essential vigilance
one must maintain in a contemporary world of surface, pretence, and
artice. We must adjust our ways of seeing that world and, by extension, our ways of seeing cinema.
Not knowing is a way to begin.

74

Arrivals

But dont be put off by solemn reviews: The Adjuster is a movie thats full of smiles and
chuckles.1

It is a measure of the critical and international festival success of Egoyans rst three features that, even before The Adjuster was fully completed, two sections of the prestigious Cannes lm festival were inviting the lm to be in one of their ofcial selections at the 1991 edition.
The programming heads of both the Un certain regard and Quinzaine
des realisateurs sections asked Egoyan to place his lm in their respective sections of the festival. By now very experienced (Speaking Parts was
at Cannes in 1989) and very savvy in the game of positioning a lm in
the appropriate section of a lm festival for maximum impact, Egoyan
chose the Quinzaine, a part of the Cannes festival that has traditionally
emphasized and promoted auteurist cinema. The Adjuster had its world
premiere in Cannes in May 1991.
International critical response to the lm at Cannes was mixed.
While very impressed with the visual style of The Adjuster, Varietys review argued, In an escalating quest for eccentricity, however, Egoyans
analysis of voyeurism is becoming shallow, adding about Mimi and
Bubba, Their characters have potential that the script never devel-

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

ops. Ultimately, the reviewer describes the lms surface and promptly
judges it only at that level: At no point does the viewer ever gain indepth knowledge of any character in the lm (a vast departure from
the detailed caricatures in Family Viewing).2 Derek Malcolm of British
newspaper The Guardian presents a similar critical perspective, noting in
his generally positive overview of the 1991 Cannes festival, there were
disappointments, too. Atom Egoyans The Adjuster was a beautifully shot
but almost impenetrable story by this talented Canadian director.3
The important French cinema journal, Cahiers du cinma, offered dismissive remarks about Egoyans being a second-rate David Lynch.4 On the
other hand, the French newspaper Liberation praised the lm for its artistry, and inuential American critics David Ansen and Richard Corliss,
of Newsweek and Time magazines, respectively, considered it to be one
of the best lms shown at Cannes that year.5 Regardless of the lack of a
critical consensus, The Adjuster was sold at Cannes to a signicant American distributor, Orion Classics.6 Distribution rights to the lm were also
sold to France, the United Kingdom, Germany, The Netherlands, Spain,
Greece, Korea, Italy, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In addition to generating impressive world sales, the lm was invited to literally dozens of
smaller international lm festivals, from Spain to New Zealand, Russia,
and Australia.
A few months after Cannes, in fact, the lm travelled to the Moscow
International Film Festival in July, in that festivals ofcial competition.
It won second prize and prompted one Russian lm writer to give it a
very special critical designation. Bafed by its ellipses and mysteries,
critic Marina Murzina asks, Is it a thriller? Is it a psychological (family
or social) drama? No its neither one nor the other. This professionally
shot, introspective and multi-layered lm could have been pure art. But
as it is, one can only say, Oh, what strange cinema She concludes by
describing it as a UCO, an unidentied cinematic object.7
Arriving in Canada having already gained considerable international

76

Arrivals

attention, The Adjuster made its Canadian debut at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto (now known as the Toronto International Film Festival)
in September 1991. It was the awarded the Toronto City Prize for Best
Canadian Film, with a cash prize of $25,000. Upon receiving the award,
Egoyan, in an echo of Wim Wenderss gesture towards him four years
earlier in Montreal, gave his money to fellow Canadian lmmaker, John
Pozer, whose lm The Grocers Wife, which Egoyan greatly admired, was
also in the festival . The Adjuster went on to win two prizes at the Cinefest in Sudbury, Ontario, as well as the Golden Spike prize at the 1991
Valladolid Film Festival in Spain, which was shared with Ridley Scotts
Thelma and Louise. Surprisingly, the lm received only one nomination,
for Best Director, at the annual Canadian lm industry awards ceremony, the Genie Awards. Egoyan did not win.
Immediately after its presentation at the Festival of Festivals, The Adjuster was released commercially in several art-house cinemas in Toronto on 16 September 1991. Contemporary Canadian reviews of the lm
express responses similar to those of the international critics. The Toronto Stars Craig MacInnis describes it as dark, dangerous and endishly funny,8 while the Globe and Mails Rick Groen observes, All this is
splendidly intricate The Adjuster makes us think a lot and feel a little,
yet not intensely, not passionately, adding that, as a writer, he still has
some way to go.9 Alex Patterson of Eye magazine in Toronto offers a
similar perspective: Egoyan has still not overcome the tendency of his
characters to seem less like real people than representative types, and
his plots less like credible events than hypothetical constructs.10 Bruce
Kirkland of the Toronto Sun was less reserved in his admiration, The Adjuster is an insight into the emotional machinations of our chaotic society: it explores our sexual mores, it examines the tenuous nature of
human relationships under stress, concluding by arguing, it also offers
a break from the obvious that we usually watch. All The Adjuster needs
to play on our consciousness is a slight attitude adjustment.11

77

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

In Montreal, Huguette Roberge of La Presse found it an original subject masterfully realized,12 while the Montreal Gazettes John Grifn had
no problems with the alienated atmosphere of the lm, stating, Canadas most obviously brainy lmmaker scrambles existential creepiness
with a strange germ of humour in what for Atom Egoyan amounts
to his most accessible lm ever.13 In Vancouver, meanwhile, the same
hestitations about the distanced ctional world of the lm challenged
critics. The Vancouver Suns Elizabeth Aird observes: Its technically and
intellectually brilliant, and about as elegant as lm-making gets. But it
is distanced, it is ironic and it cant possibly capture a heart.14 In Egoyans home city, Victoria, the response is familiar: Like dry martinis,
bebop and abstract art, the lms of Atom Egoyan are an acquired taste
Egoyans mesmerizing, multi-layered lm is indeed bewildering in
that it doesnt come close to equating the linear style of the Hollywood
comedies (even the darkest ones) that is so familiar Its his most polished and technically impressive work so far, and his most emotionally
involving Its a hypnotic, Rubiks Cube of a lm that brims with symbolism, visual puns and a peculiar gallery of obsessive characters.15
In a cinematic culture rooted in traditions of documentary realism, these reviews are perhaps not surprising in their ambivalence to
Egoyans more abstract, absurdist style. Regardless of how much they
admire the craft of the work, the effects of the alienated world of The
Adjuster ummox and frustrate certain kinds of spectatorship. Overall,
the lms Canadian box ofce grosses from 1 January to 31 December
1992 totalled $99,426.16 Its release to a relatively high number of cities and towns in Canada, however, itself is signicant in the history of
Canadian cinema.
Thanks to its distribution deal with Orion Classics, The Adjuster also
had, for a Canadian lm at least, almost unprecedented presence on
American screens. Before its commercial release in 1992, the American
premiere took place in late September 1991 at the New York Film Fes-

78

Arrivals

tival. Arriving on American art-house screens in the spring of 1992, the


lm encountered both salutary and savage reviews. Inuential Chicago
critic Roger Ebert embraced its riddles and narrative games: What is
interesting is how Egoyan creates this intensely personal universe while
at the same time making a movie that is funny and challenging. He isnt
one of those directors who delights in confusion and frustration. When
he shows us something we cannot understand, and then pulls back
to explain it, he takes the same delight in his revelation as a magician
would or a silent comedian like Buster Keaton. Thats why the movie
is so consistently entertaining. Instead of just sitting there while the
plot unfolds one, two, three, so that we can see that each event does
indeed follow the last he keeps us watching and guessing as the jigsaw of his story and relationships nally becomes a complete picture.17
Concurring with this form of cinematic pleasure, Edward Guthmann
of the San Francisco Chronicle locates his response this way: I was put
off, too, during several passages of The Adjuster. Egoyans construction
seemed overly deliberate and schematic. Self-satised. In retrospect, I
nd myself appreciating its mysteries, and feeling grateful that a lmmaker like Egoyan weird and enigmatic can ourish today.18 Also
from San Francisco, Andrew OHehir writes, Egoyan is a serious lmmaker whose command of the medium is unsurpassed and who is expressing a profound, if veiled and arch, critique of human communication in the electronic age.19 This kind of critical praise is echoed by the
New York Timess Janet Maslin, who characterizes the lm as off-balance,
mischievously witty, noting that Mr. Egoyan directs with utter condence.20 In the Los Angeles Daily News, critic Bob Strauss describes it as a
bracingly well controlled cry of pain thats not afraid to also laugh in the
face of human frailty.21 In Fort Lauderdale, Florida critic Candace Russel calls it a heady, intelligent lm. Egoyan is in a class by himself.22 In
an article for Sight and Sound, the Village Voices regular lm critic, Amy
Taubin, sees Egoyan in a class not by himself, but in very august com-

79

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

pany, Excepting Godard and Cronenberg, no other lm-maker has


explored the connection between technology and voyeurism and between home movies and pornography so intensely or intelligently.23
Others disagreed. In New Yorks Newsday, for example, Jan Stuart
argues that the real stars of the lm are Director of Photography Paul
Sarossy and Production Designer Linda Del Rosario, although By the
end, you may want to light a match to the whole place.24 The Indianapolis Stars critic Bonnie Britton writes that, although admirable, the
lm will likely confuse mainstream viewers.25 Bob Ledger of the Newark
Star Ledger is more blunt in his review entitled Pretentious Art Film
Makes Adjustment to Self-Parody. He writes: The slow sepulchral line
readings make Canadian English sound like German, and The Adjuster seems more like a devastating satire of the archetypal art lm.26
Steven Gaydos in the Los Angeles Reader offers a similar assessment:
Without an emotional center, even the best laid plans of an offbeat
writer-director like Atom Egoyan are doomed to splinter apart into
pretension and self-indulgence.27 The LA Weeklys Ella Taylor calls it a
disjointed series of scenes that develops too much in Egoyans head,
and not enough in ours.28 Most brutal is a New York Daily News review
entitled Atoms Sex Bomb a Dud: this is another ick that should play
better on video, where a judicious fast-forward nger will enable viewers to speed through the directors more stultifying self-indulgences.29
Entertainment Todays Larry Jonas opines: The plot thickens, but doesnt
entirely gel. Not all the pieces t into the mosaic, so make the most of
what you see.30 Finally, Marshall Fines review, The Adjuster Requires
Lots of Adjustments, argues, A sense of disconnection overwhelms
this stand-ofsh lm, and, as a supposed commercial coup de grce, This
lm wont help build his following.31
In the United Kingdom, where the lm followed the same pattern
of a festival premiere screening followed by limited commercial release, The Adjuster was generally received warmly. Noted lm historian

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Arrivals

and critic Alexander Walker of the Evening Standard writes, The Adjuster
conrms Egoyans promise as a real cinema original.32 Nick James pronounces, The Adjuster is the most original lm released for ages.33 Jonathan Romney of Sight and Sound also praises the lm: Dispensing with
the more mannered aspects of his earlier features, and adopting a more
downbeat realism in his visual tone, Egoyan here manages to spread his
thematic net considerably wider, concluding that The Adjuster works
brilliantly as a layering of repetitions and parallelisms.34 Critics in Australia, too, regarded the lm highly. Deborah Jones of The Weekend Australian, for example, offers this perceptive assessment, one lost on many
reviewers: Egoyans real success is in making these people pitiable,
when they so easily could have been forgettable ciphers.35
Domestically and internationally, then, The Adjuster attracted considerable attention and achieved an impressive level of distribution for
a Canadian lm that is decidedly not full of smiles and chuckles. Its
trajectory in the world underlines the importance of the international
lm festival circuit to the promotion of Canadian cinema within Canada
and abroad. Without direct and broad access to the cinema screens in
its own country, Canadian lms of this period needed festival exposure
and critical praise in order to secure distribution. The Adjuster is an exceptional lm in Egoyans career in this regard, too. His subsequent lms,
largely owing to festival exposure and the embrace of inuential international critics, would also achieve impressive levels of distribution and
exhibition, relatively speaking, in Canada and in other countries.

81

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Departures

If The Adjuster leaves Noah no choice but to start his life from scratch, Egoyan is in a
similar position with regard to his lm-making career.
Amy Taubin1

Id never go this far again.


Atom Egoyan2

In many ways, he never did. Atom Egoyans lm career after The Adjuster
is marked by increasingly larger budgets (with certain exceptions, such
as Calendar in 1993 and Citadel in 2004); more industrialized production models involving larger crews and a markedly less familial working environment; and more participation in international production,
distribution, and star systems. While his subsequent work retains an
aesthetic rigour, familiar thematic preoccupations, and his signature
style, it also presents ctional worlds and characters more accessible,
knowable, and, as he puts it, grounded in some recognizable reality.3
Looking back at The Adjuster almost two decades later, Egoyan notes,
Its as far as I could go to present this sense of a completely unresolved
and suicidal tendency on the part of these individuals and this society,
adding, There is a theatricality to the lm that is also unusual. In a

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

tangible sense, then, Egoyan did remake his career after his ery encounter with Noah Render. Not only did his work in cinema alter its
shape and scope, but he also expanded his artistic repertoire, becoming
an accomplished international theatre and opera director and creating
a number of impressive multimedia installation works presented in art
galleries around the world.
We have examined The Adjuster, in retrospect, as a transitional work
in the early career of Egoyan, but he regards it more as a sense of an
ending, both artistically and in relation to the production of ction
lms in English-speaking Canada generally: I actually think its an expression of the end of something. In a way, I went as far as I could go
having characters that were drifting through their life without any clear
sense of who they were. They were, in some ways, not fully inhabited
characters. I started in Calendar, certainly Exotica, and The Sweet Hereafter
to give more of a sense of the characters actual lives. Perhaps the daring and the extremity of the world depicted in The Adjuster is a product
of the renewed energy and vision of Canadian lm production in the
immediate post-CCA years. After all, these years were characterized by a
willingness to nance more challenging lm projects. As he mentions,
There was a particular climate that allowed that lm to be made, and
I seriously doubt if I brought such a script forward today that it would
get such support. I had access to a system to make something that today would be unlmable. In this other sense, then, The Adjuster is an
example of the Canadian lm production sectors own transition from
a predominantly auteurist, art-house mode to a more commercial one,
however modest. Indeed, the development of a more commercially oriented generation of producers and directors following in the wake of
the Toronto New Wave has been evident in the last decade. As a transitional lm, in terms of both its production context and its oblique
articulation of the Canadian predicament, The Adjuster remains a key
lm in the gnarled evolutionary path of Canadian cinema.

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Departures

That is outside the frame of the lm itself, in a sense. The lasting achievement of The Adjuster inside its anamorphic frames is more
elusive to locate. It certainly retains its power and relevance as a penetrating critique, indeed a satire, of the emotional and psychological
deformations created by a culture of materialism. While by no means
a political lm in any overt sense, the political implications of the lm
are nonetheless easily discerned. Speaking directly about the political
subtext in the lm, Egoyan explains, During that particular political
environment of the late 1980s, I was interested in the processes of a
society that was trying to create a code that would be able to translate
into a way people might behave, be it the code being enunciated by the
lm censors, or the more pervasive code of materialism, possessions,
and things you would expect to have.
The 1980s witnessed the rise of the neo-conservative movement in
North America, embodied by United States President Ronald Reagan
and embraced by Canadas Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Economic
policy was driven by the notions of laissez-faire capitalism, tax and social-spending reductions, a monetarist approach to societal evolution,
and supply-side or trickle down economics. Perhaps as a response to
the turbulence of the 1970s (Watergate, Vietnam, the Energy Crisis, the
Iran hostage-taking incident, et al.), the zeitgeist of the 1980s in the
United States and Canada was dominated by rampant consumerism,
by distraction through materialist consumption, and by an ethos of acquisition. The Adjuster arrives at the beginning of the next decade, of
course, but its benumbed world is the consequence of a society that
has become lost, adrift in its Wildean confusion of money with actual
value. As Egoyan observes, Consumerism and materialism affected
these peoples lives completely. The Adjuster is stating a condition. In
stating that condition, it is also severely critical of its deadening effects
on individual lives. While decidedly a product of its time, the lms critique transcends the period in which it was conceived and released. If

85

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

anything, its argument has gained more relevance in the early twentyrst-century with its phantasmagoria of accelerated consumer culture.
Also important to the shape and texture of the lm is the fact that
it was written around the time of the rst Gulf war, a faraway conict
for Canadians that was experienced primarily through technology,
through the moving images of television. Daily media reports on the
war and the array of fetishized military technology (smart bombs,
infrared combat visors, stealth aircraft, etc.) numbed responses to the
events themselves. As he says, This was a virtual experience of something terrible and visceral. In this context, Egoyan also echoes the ideas
of contemporary European philosophers Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio,
and others with regard to concepts of simulacra and virtuality. Certainly, as Baudrillard et al. argue, the idea that the world is a place of
artices, surfaces, and technological detachment seductively dened a
set of philosophical responses to the terrors of that historical moment.
While it has to be said that The Adjuster occasionally reveals a somewhat
jejeune infatuation with high European cultural theory, these ideas are
consistent with Egoyans three previous lms, each of which explores
the tenuousness of the real, the pervasive presence of the articial and
the pretended, and the consequences of technologys role in shaping
and reshaping perception and, indeed, knowledge.
Artices, doublings, and chimeras are constants in the unstable ctional universe of Egoyan, and in the labyrinth of solitudes that is the
world of The Adjuster almost everything is detached from its actuality:
family, marriage, homes, sexual passion, even books! In some sense, The
Adjuster reveals what can happen to a society that has become obsessed
with the material, the articial, and the technological, and when that
societys interpersonal behaviours and rituals become devoid of meaning. It is only the forms of these things that matter, the external shapes
of things; below the surface where communication and meaning may
reside is not the concern of this world of professional performances,

86

Departures

family pretences, and a hollow formal language unmoored from what


it is really expressing. A society and culture that produces and privileges
empty form is in a precarious, unbalanced condition, and that is precisely what The Adjusters own paradoxically persuasive formal structure
is exploring and articulating.
At one level, the lm is an arresting example of Raymond Williamss
concept of the structure of feeling,4 that is, a cultural product that
embodies and illuminates, however indirectly, the larger cultural forces
and shifts in play around it. The Adjusters drama identies a dangerous
drift under way in the world, a gaping ssure in the ordered, premeditated, rational, materialist culture that supposedly denes and nurtures
North American society. It also engages at several levels with what can
be described only as a crisis of valuation: how do we value persons,
places, and things? The Adjuster is evidence of a broader malaise, and
Egoyans sense of this, his structure of feeling, is unerring. Interestingly, and perhaps tellingly, Egoyan was offered an opportunity to adapt
the lm into a television series for the American broadcaster, Home Box
Ofce (HBO), presumably to expand its diagnosis of this larger social
tension at work in contemporary society. He declined.
Beyond these larger socio-cultural analyses, The Adjuster is also, in
Egoyans words, a very personal work. The experience of his familys re precipitated in him a sense of futility that was overwhelming
and really powerful. In all the work Ive done, Ive never had one that
emerged so directly out of an experience I was inhabiting. So, when I
see The Adjuster now, it is a chronicle of a very particular moment in my
life. In recreating this indelible personal experience, processing it in his
dramatic imagination through a skein of Absurdist literary inuences,
and exploring further his own increasingly authoritative lm aesthetics
in cinemascope format, Egoyan does indeed go far in this darkly compelling work.
Given its oblique strategies of disclosure and dramatic structure, the

87

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

Canadian-ness of The Adjuster is initially difcult to perceive. Directly


and indirectly, The Adjuster weaves a number of discourses about Canada
into its existentially anguished narrative of displacement, dislocation,
and alienation. This Canadian-ness does not dene the lm, but it does
inform it. Aside from the obvious extra-diagetic material production
reasons and the clever citation of Suzanne in the lm, The Adjusters
Canadian sensibility is evident in a number of ways. The most direct
evidence is Noah Render himself. Deeply connected to the Canadian
cinemas tradition of awed or wounded protagonists discussed above,
Noahs lack is foregrounded throughout the lm at many levels. He
is both uncommunicative and, though seemingly unaware of it, profoundly alienated. Like dozens of English-Canadian cinematic characters before and after him, he is powerless against the world, whether he
recognizes it or not. More subtly, perhaps, Noahs clientele also reveals
a Canadian tendency, as they all wait passively for the powers-that-be to
release them, to settle their claims. There is no revolt, no uprising, only
one slight and embarrassed expression of impatience by Tom and Lorraine. The authorities are benevolent, it is imagined, and those stranded in the ark/hotel have resigned themselves to wait. As he observes,
there is something very Canadian about my characters. Its difcult for
me to articulate what it is. But I think its that the characters are so tentative when it comes to their own personas, that theres something so
self-conscious about them, that they dont assert themselves and they
never quite feel they have a right to be where they are.5
This is a quintessential Canadian attitude, born of the countrys history and national consciousness as a counter-revolutionary, colonial
state and, later, as a modest power in the world beyond its borders. In
many aspects of its national character, Canada is about adjusting. The
Canadian ur-myth is not one of dominating or mastering ones environment, but rather, to borrow from Margaret Atwood, to survive within
it, to adjust to its powers.6 Canadas colonial history amplies this idea

88

6.1. Rebirth or despair? Noahs nal gesture. Courtesy Johnnie


Eisen. Ego Film Arts.

ATOM EGOYAN THE ADJUSTER

in the contexts of political, economic, and military adjustment to the


imperial centres of London and Washington, D.C. It is important to
emphasize that these examples do not suggest apathy and powerlessness, but rather identify a humble pragmatism bolstered by a modest
hopefulness. For Egoyan, this Canadian attitude is best expressed when
Noah and Hera tell Bubba that, despite the vast barren landscape that
surrounds their model home, they are condent, like some latter-day
Canadian pioneers, that the land will soon be settled by others and that
a community will evolve.
Still another aspect of The Adjusters idiosyncratic, remote Canadian
expression is identied in article in the Quebec-based lm journal 24
Images. Critic Thierry Horguelin observes that the lm in some fashion
reveals the non-identity of English Canada in its ction.7 The no mans
land in The Adjusters housing development functions as a metaphor for
English Canadas inability to locate its identity in the face of its limited colonial historical evolution, its present predicament vis--vis the
dominant United States popular culture and economic control within
Canadas borders, and its own ambivalence and tentativeness about
identifying itself as something distinct from the United States. In this
provocative and persuasive interpretation, Noah Render becomes a potent symbol of a much larger, pan-Canadian cultural malaise: an ambivalence about Canadas especially English-speaking Canadas very
existence.8 If, as Bill Marshall argues, Canada is a nation whose size,
diversity, and relatively weak symbolic investments are creating centrifugal forces that threaten its long-term viability,9 then Horguelins
perspective adds a further intriguing interpretative possibility to the
strangeness of Noah Render and his connection to larger discourses
about identity in English-speaking Canada.
In cinematic terms, of course, Canada has long adjusted to Hollywood hegemony on our cinema screens. In the light of this particular
historical cultural adjustment, then, perhaps we can perceive another

90

Departures

level of meaning in Bubbas role as a would-be lmmaker. From the


fragmentary evidence of its narrative content, Bubbas movie, at least
at the level of its elaborate production infrastructure of dolly tracks and
light stands, appears to be conceived in some sense as a kind of imitation Hollywood lm production not unlike the CCA-era productions, a
perverted version of the desire to exist on the big screen, that elusive
screen that has been inaccessible to Canadians for decades. Allegorically speaking, this form of long-standing Canadian adjustment has been
devastating for the Canadian cinema, with many of its celluloid houses
burning down throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. In this sense, The
Adjuster stands in the early 1990s as a potent, provocative example of the
possible reconstruction of English-speaking Canadian cinema.
Born in ames, The Adjuster also ends in ames. Noah Render stands
before his model home, perhaps in a moment of rebirth, perhaps in a
deepening moment of despair and detachment. We do not know. The
power of this lm, and to a degree all of Atom Egoyans cinema, resides in the ambiguity of this moment. Not unlike another lm that
concludes with a house burning down before the eyes of its owner,
Andrei Tarkovskys The Sacrice (1986), where the protagonist Alexander has destroyed his home in an obscure gesture to the heavens to
prevent nuclear Armageddon, The Adjusters denouement is the end of
something and maybe the beginning of something else. There are no
guarantees, no answers, no assurances. Like Noah and Alexander, as
spectators we are suspended witnesses of conagrations that may or
may not redeem these worlds of distress and despair. Ultimately, but
in no sense didactically, Egoyans haunting fourth feature lm suggests
that its epistemologically unsettling experience will perhaps enable us,
like Arianne, to recognize that something has to change and that we are
watching while it does.

91

Production Credits

Production Company
Ego Film Arts
Director
Atom Egoyan
Writer
Atom Egoyan
Cast
Elias Koteas
Arsine Khanjian
Maury Chaykin
Gabrielle Rose
Jennifer Dale
David Hemblen
Rose Sarkisyan
Armen Kokorian
Jacqueline Samuda
Gerard Parkes
Patricia Collins

Noah Render
Hera
Bubba
Mimi
Arianne
Bert
Seta
Simon
Louise
Tom
Lorraine

Production Credits

Don McKellar
John Gilbert
Stephen Ouimet
Raoul Trujillo
Tony Nardi

Tyler
Doctor
Larry
Matthew
Motel Manager

Producers
Atom Egoyan
Camelia Frieberg
David Webb
Original Music
Mychael Danna
Director of Photography
Paul Sarossy
Film Editor
Susan Shipton
Script Editor
Allen Bell
Art Direction and Production Design
Linda Del Rosario, Richard Paris
Costume Design
Maya Mani
Makeup Department
Nicole Demers (makeup artist)

93

Production Credits

Maxine Rogers (hair design)


Assistant Director
David Webb
Cynthia Gillespie (second assistant director)
Ingrid Veninger (third assistant director)
Sound Department
Steven Munro (sound design, sound editing)
Daniel Pellerin, Peter Kelly (sound mix)
Ross Redfern (sound recordist)
Special Effects
Northern Effects
Running Time
102 minutes
Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

94

Further Viewing

Eyes Wide Shut. Stanley Kubrick. U.S.A. 1999


Nazarin. Luis Buuel. Mexico 1958
The Passenger. Michaelangelo Antonioni. Italy 1975
The Sacrice. Andrei Tarkovsky. Sweden 1986
Teorema. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Italy 1968
Videodrome. David Cronenberg. Canada/U.S.A. 1983

Notes

Introduction: Intimate Distance


1 Interview with Geoff Pevere in Exotica (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1995),
30.
2 Interview with Bruce Kirkland, Atom Makes Adjustment, Toronto Sun, 2
May 1991.
3 Upon the screening of The Adjuster in Cannes in May 1991, Egoyans hometown newspaper, the Victoria Times Colonist, contacted the real adjuster who
worked for the Egoyans. Identied only as Steve (this was actually Noahs
character name in an early draft of the script), the journalist, Tim Gibson,
reported that this professional adjuster had not seen any of Egoyans lms
and that Steve likes Disney movies. When told of the sexual escapades of
Noah Render, Steves response was My God! Thats the furthest thing from
anyones mind when adjusting.
4 See Sandra Gathercole, The Best Damn Film Policy This Country Never
Had, in Feldman, Take Two, 3646.
1. Welcome to Canada
1 See Harcourt, Movies and Mythologies, chap. 4. It is also crucial to note that
throughout the twentieth century and even today, 97 per cent of public exhibition screen time in Canada is occupied by lms produced in Hollywood.
2 See Morris, Embattled Shadows.

Notes to pages 1031

3 For a comprehensive account of the nature of the documentary bias in Canadian cinemas evolution, see Evans, In the National Interest. See also Jones,
Movies and Memoranda;Morris, Embattled Shadows.
4 For a thorough, detailed account of this history, see Magder, Canadas Hollywood, and Pendakur, Canadian Dreams and American Control.
5 Fascinating in this context is Joyce Nelsons intriguing book, The Colonized
Eye, which suggests that Grierson colluded in some sense with American
interests against the establishment of a Canadian feature lm industry.
6 For further reading on the specic case of Quebec cinema, see Marshall,
Quebec National Cinema.
7 See Sandra Gathercole, The Best Damn Film Policy This Country Never
Had, in Feldman, Take Two, 3646.
8 For additional examples, see the NFB documentary lm on this subject, Has
Anybody Here Seen Canada? (Director: John Kramer, 1979). See also Magder,
Canadas Hollywood; Pendakur, Canadian Dreams.
9 See Peter Harcourt, The Beginning of a Beginning, in Self Portrait (Ottawa:
Canadian Film Institute, 1980). See also Steve Gravestock, Don Owen: Notes
on a Filmmaker and His Culture (Toronto: Toronto International Film Festival
Group, 2005).
2. Out of the Ashes
1 As Jonathan Romney relates, Egoyan had made a short lm in 1978 in Victoria entitled Lusts of a Eunuch, which screened at a Victoria art gallery. See
Atom Egoyan, 79.
2 See ibid., 8.
3 See Cameron Bailey, Standing in the Kitchen All Night, Take One Summer
(2000): 611. See also Brenda Longfellow, Surng the Toronto New Wave:
Policy, Paradigm Shifts and Post-nationalism, in Loiselle and McSorley, Self
Portraits, 167200.
3. Before the Fire
1 More a production philosophy than a lm production company, Cinak
Compagnie Cinmatographique was established by Jean Pierre Lefebvre

97

Notes to pages 3243

2
3
4
5
6

in 1968 as an independent production company and as a mode of making


lms in a context of budgetary control to protect the lmmakers control
over the shape and nal artistic form of the lm itself. Directors such as
Jean-Claude Labrecque and Denys Arcand produced their early features
through Lefebvres inuential Cinak company and production model. See
Harcourt, Jean Pierre Lefebvre. Beyond the Cinak approach to production,
Lefebvre himself was very inuential in Egoyans early career, offering script
advice, and so on. Egoyan acted with his partner, Arsine Khanjian, in Lefebvres 1987 experimental feature, La Bote soleil.
Family Viewing was released two years before Steven Soderbergs acclaimed
sex, lies and videotape captured international attention.
Interview with the author at Ego Film Arts ofces, 8 July 2008.
Daniele Riviere, The Place of the Spectator, in Desbarats et al., Atom Egoyan,
93.
Ron Burnett, Speaking of Parts, in Speaking Parts (Toronto: Coach House
Press, 1993), 22.
This interest led to Speaking Parts becoming Egoyans rst published sreenplay, replete with an academic essay on the lm by Ron Burnett and a comprehensive lmography. It was published in 1993. See also the publication of
Desbarats et al., Atom Egoyan, in 1993, and its extensive discussions of Speaking Parts. Numerous screenplays and critical texts on Egoyans subsequent
lms have appeared, including this one, but Speaking Parts started the substantial publishing ow.

4. The Adjuster: Labyrinths of Solitude


Filmmaker commentary on Alliance Atlantis DVD of The Adjuster (2001).
Beckett, Worstward Ho! 7.
See Frye, The Bush Garden.
Filmmaker commentary.
Jim Leach, Lost Bodies and Missing Persons: Canadian Cinema(s) in the Age
of Multi-National Representations, Post-Script 18: 2(1999): 11.
6 Interview with Geoff Pevere in Egoyan, Exotica, 60.
7 Filmmaker commentary.
8 Alliance Atlantis ofcial press kit for The Adjuster, Toronto 1991.

1
2
3
4
5

98

Notes to pages 4471

9 Filmmaker commentary.
10 The reason we shot the lm that way was because there were anamorphic lenses in the country being used for Clearcut [Canada 1991, Director:
Ryszard Bugajski]. It worked out, with all the locations we used, in a magical sort of way. Interview with the author, 8 July 2008.
11 Egoyan notes, Im a big fan of Antonionis cinema. I love the way Antonioni would construct space in the frame and how he places the characters in
peculair, expressive spatial conigurations in relation to one another. Ibid.
12 Filmmaker commentary.
13 Interview with Atom Egoyan in Burwell and Tschofen, Image + Territory, 344.
14 See Pevere and Dymond, Mondo Canuck. See also Geoff Pevere, Rebel without a Chance, in CineAction! Spring 1988, 448.
15 Filmmaker commentary.
16 See, especially, the Beckett plays, Happy Days (1961) and Krapps Last Tape
(1959), which Egoyan adapted to the screen in 2000, and the later prose
pieces Company (1979) and Worstward Ho! (1983).
17 Taubin, Perversity Inc.
18 Directed by Robin Spry and starring Jennifer Dale in the title role, Suzanne
had its debut at the Festival of Festivals in Toronto in September 1980,
eleven years before The Adjuster. The lm was produced by Robert Lantos,
who was also involved in the production of The Adjuster and who would go
on to produce most of Egoyans subsequent lms.
19 You know, I put that reference in there thinking that people would get it,
and that, beyond the Canadian cinema history thing, that part of peoples
pleasure in lmgoing is to get the references and do the work. I suppose
I was a little idealistic in thinking that way. Interview with the author, 8
July 2008.
20 Geoff Pevere, No Place Like Home, in Egoyan, Exotica, 31.
21 On-location production interview with the lmmaker, in the Special Features section of the Alliance Atlantis DVD of The Adjuster (2001).
22 Filmmaker commentary.
23 On-location production interview with the lmmaker.
24 The Compact Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999).
25 See Pierre Grimal, Penguin Book of Classical Mythology (London: Penguin
Books, 2002), 42.

99

Notes to pages 719

26 Meaning speccally, of course, Canada and the United States of America


and leaving aside that other substantial inhabitant of North America,
Mexico.
27 Juan Eduardo Cirlot, Dictionary of Symbols, trans. Jack Sage (New York: Philosophical Library, 1962), 136.
28 Filmmaker commentary.
5. Arrivals
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21

Anonymous, Toronto Life, September 1991, 46.


Suze, Variety.
Derek Malcolm, Guardian, 21 May 1991.
Taboulay, Cahiers du cinma . She writes: On est loin du petit vlo de Lynch
su lequel visiblement Egoyan essaie de monter (46).
Jay Scott, A Tale of Two Movies, Globe and Mail, 10 May 1991.
Unattributed report, The Globe and Mail, Toronto 24 May 1991.
Cited by Greg Grandsen, The Globe and Mail, Toronto 20 July 1991.
Quoted in advertisement for lms release. Toronto Star, 18 September 1991.
Rick Groen, The tools of objectication, in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, 18
September 1991.
Alex Patterson, Eye, Toronto 10 October 1991.
Bruce Kirkland, Toronto Sun, 16 September 1991.
Huguette Roberge, La Presse, 16 November 1991.
John Grifn, Montreal Gazette, 25 October 1991.
Elizabeth Aird, Making Adjustments, in Vancouver Sun, 31 January 1992.
Michael D. Reid, Egoyans Cerebral Wit Ignites Adjuster, Victoria Times Colonist, 6 December 1991.
As reported in Playback magazine, March 1993.
Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times, 24 July 1992.
Edward Guthmann, Adjuster Is Odd and Original, San Francisco Chronicle, 10
July 1992.
Andrew OHehir, San Francisco Chronicle, 10 July 1992.
Janet Maslin, New York Times, 2 October 1991.
Bob Strauss, Egoyan Neednt Fix Much in Appealing Adjuster, Los Angeles
Daily News, 5 June 1992.

100

Notes to pages 7990

22 Candace Russel, Quirky lm raises heady questions, Ft Lauderdale Sun Sentinel, 18 July 1992.
23 Taubin, Burning Down the House, 19.
24 Jan Stuart, Peeping into the Lives of Voyeurs, Newsday, 29 May 1992.
25 Bonnie Britton, Indianapolis Star, 8 August 1992.
26 Bob Ledger, Newark Star Ledger, 29 May 1992.
27 Steven Gaydos, Los Angeles Reader, 5 June 1992.
28 Ella Taylor, LA Weekly, 511 June 1992.
29 Phantom of the Movies, New York Daily News, 29 May 1992.
30 Larry Jonas, The Fire Next Time, Entertainment Today, 5 June 1992.
31 Marshall Fine, Gannett Newspaper, New York, 29 May 1992.
32 Alexander Walker, Evening Standard, 28 May 1992.
33 Nick James, UK City Limits, 28 May 4 June 1992.
34 Sight and Sound, 38.
35 Deborah Jones, Mysteries in an Empty Life, Weekend Australian, 4 July 1993.
6. Departures
1 Taubin, Burning Down the House, 19.
2 Filmmaker commentary on Alliance Atlantic DVD edition of The Adjuster
(2001).
3 Interview with the author, 8 July 2008.
4 See Williams, Drama from Ibsen to Brecht.
5 Lesley Ellen Harris, Atom Egoyan: Laughter in the Dark, Canadian Forum
(December 1991): 17.
6 See Atwood, Survival.
7 Thierry Horguelin, DOS A DOS du contenue canadien, 24 Images 567
(Autumn 1991).
8 This observation connects to broader and periodic Canadian political and
historical discussions of theories of Continentalism and of Canada dissolving itself into the United States.

101

Selected Bibliography

Atom Egoyan Published Screenplays


Ararat: The Shooting Script. New York: Newmarket Press, 2002.
Exotica. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1995.
Speaking Parts. Toronto: Coach House Press, 1993.
On Atom Egoyan
Burwell, Jennifer Lise, and Monique Tschofen eds. Image + Territory: Essays On
Atom Egoyan. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007.
Desbarats, Carole, Jacinto Lageira, Daniele Riviere, and Paul Virilio, eds. Atom
Egoyan. Trans. Brian Holmes. Paris: Dis Voir, 1993.
Romney, Jonathan. Atom Egoyan. London: BFI Publishing, 2003.
Reviews of The Adjuster
Castiel, Elie. The Adjuster / LExpert en sinistre. Sequences 156 (1992): 56.
Charity, Tom. Time Out, 27 May 1992.
Grierson, Bruce. The Adjuster. Monday, 1723 October 1991.
Johnson, Brian D. Bleak Beauty. Macleans, 30 September 1991, 68.
Nevers, Camille. Cahiers du cinma 450 (December 1991): 723.
Romney, Jonathan. Sight and Sound, June 1992, 38.
Suze. Variety, 27 May 1991, 81.

Selected Bibliography

Taboulay, Camille. Cahiers du cinma 445 (June 1991): 46.


Taubin, Amy. Burning Down the House. Sight and Sound, June 1992, 1819.
Perversity Inc. Village Voice, 2 June 1992, 25.
Turan, Kenneth. Egoyans Clear Vision Guides Surreal Spin of Adjuster. Los
Angeles Times, 5 June 1992, 678.
Wall, Karen L. Dj vu / jamais vu The Adjuster and the Hunt for the Image.
Canadian Journal of Film Studies 2: 23 (1993): 12944.
On Canadian Cinema
Clandeld, David. Canadian Film. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987.
Dorland, Michael. So Close to the State/s: The Emergence of Film Policy in Canada.
Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.
Evans, Gary. In the National Interest: A Chronicle of the National Film Board from 1949
to 1989. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Feldman, Seth, ed. Take Two. Toronto: Irwin, 1984.
Fetherling, Douglas, ed. Documents in Canadian Film. Peterborough: Broadview
Press, 1988.
Handling, Piers, and Pierre Veronneau, eds. Self Portrait: Essays on the Canadian
and Quebec Cinemas. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 1980.
Harcourt, Peter. Movies and Mythologies: Towards a National Cinema. Toronto:
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1977.
Jean Pierre Lefebvre. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 1981.
Hoolboom, Mike. Inside the Pleasure Dome: Fringe Film In Canada. Toronto: Coach
House Press, 2001.
Jones, D.B. Movies and Memoranda: An Interpretative History of the National Film
Board of Canada. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 1981.
Leach, Jim. Film In Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2006.
Loiselle, Andr, and Tom McSorley, eds. Self Portraits: The Cinemas of Canada Since
Telelm. Ottawa: Canadian Film Institute, 2006.
Magder, Ted. Canadas Hollywood: The Canadian State and Feature Films. Toronto:
University of Toronto Press, 1993.
Marshall, Bill. Quebec National Cinema. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens
University Press, 2001.
Morris, Peter. Embattled Shadows: A History of Canadian Cinema, 18951939. 2nd ed.

103

Selected Bibliography

Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 1978. Repr. 1992.


Nelson, Joyce. The Colonized Eye: Rethinking the Grierson Legend. Toronto: Between
the Lines, 1988.
Pendakur, Manjunath. Canadian Dreams and American Control. Detroit: Wayne
State University Press, 1990.
On Canadian Culture
Atwood, Margaret. Survival: A Thematic Guide to Canadian Literature. Toronto:
House of Anansi Press, 1972
Drache, Daniel ed. Staples, Markets, and Cultural Change: Selected Essays of Harold A.
Innis. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 1995.
Frye, Northrop. The Bush Garden: Essays on the Canadian Imagination. Toronto:
House of Anansi Press, 1971.
Pevere, Geoff, and Greig Dymond, eds. Mondo Canuck: A Canadian Pop Culture
Odyssey. Toronto: Prentice-Hall, 1996.
Inuences and Intersections
Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations. Trans. Paul Foss, Paul Patton, and Philip Beitchman. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.
Beckett, Samuel. Worstward Ho! New York: Grove Press, 1983.
Fuentes, Carlos. Myself with Others. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1988.
The Buried Mirror: Reections on Spain and the New World. London: Andr
Deutsch, 1992.
Paz, Octavio. The Labyrinth of Solitude: Life and Thought In Mexico. Translated by
Lysander Kemp. NewYork: Grove Press, 1964.
Said, Edward W. The World, The Text and the Critic. Cambridge, Mass.: Havard
University Press, 1983.
Virilio, Paul. The Information Bomb. London: Verso, 2005.
Williams, Raymond. Drama from Ibsen to Brecht. New York: Oxford University
Press, 1968.
Records accessed from the Atom Egoyan Collection courtesy of the Film Reference Library, a division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group.

104

CANADIAN CINEMA
Edited by Bart Beaty and Will Straw
1 Bart Beaty. David Cronenbergs A History of Violence
2 Andr Loiselle. Denys Arcands Le Dclin de lempire amricain and Les Invasions
barbares
3 Tom McSorley. Atom Egoyans The Adjuster