Atom Egoyan The Captive Interview

Atom Egoyan The Captive Interview

Atom Egoyan The Captive Interview 

CastRyan Reynolds, Scott Speedman, Rosario Dawson
Director: Atom Egoyan
Genre: Thriller
Rated: MA
Running Time: 111 minutes

Synopsis: The Captive is a thriller that explores how we live with the past - a world that offers richness and torment.

It is a study of absence as seen through the lens of three different, yet intertwined relationships ricocheting over a period of nine years: the distraught parents of an abducted child; the detectives who are searching for the daughter; the predator and the girl herself. From this dark bedrock of devastation, the film asks: is redemption possible in this grotesque world?

Matthew and Tina Lane were, like many couples, struggling to make ends meet. High school sweethearts, they married at 18 when Tina became pregnant. Eight years later, with their beautiful daughter Cass, they were a happy family: dad, an independent landscaper; mom, a hotel housekeeper and their child, a bubbling young athlete.

While driving Cass home from a skating practice, Matthew stops at a diner to pick up a pie. Confident that his young daughter is safe in the back seat and promising to return with chocolate ice cream, Matthew slips out of his truck and into the diner. When he returns, Cass is gone.

At the Child Exploitation Unit, Detective Nicole Dunlop is sympathetic to Tina's pain and horror, but her colleague Jeffrey Cornwall is skeptical of Matthew's story and accuses him of complicity in the abduction.
Nine years later, Cass is still missing. Matthew and Tina no longer live together but remained linked by the lonely hell of their grief. Blaming himself for leaving Cass vulnerable to predators and not trusting the police, Matthew continues his private search for his daughter. Tormented by her loss and burned by her rage against Matthew, Tina has formed a bond with the seemingly self-possessed Nicole. They meet every year on Cass's birthday.

Over the years, Nicole and Jeffrey have become intimate. Their professional relationship continues. At
work, she is the highly respected head of the Child Exploitation Unit; he is the edgy cop who hooks predators and searches for missing children on-line. And, within the safety of their private moments, they recognise each other's darker, wounded sides.

Recently, the police have identified photos of Cass on the Internet, but they cannot pinpoint her location. Frustrated at being stymied in the search for Cass and other missing children, Jeffrey pushes way beyond the ethical boundaries of his work. His reckless act results in the disappearance of Nicole.

The most disturbing couple is Cass, now a young woman, and her abductor Mika. His sexual hunger for Cass has long since dissipated. Now, Mika seems to be grooming Cass to be his perfect companion. In her captivity, Cass has learned literature and music. She has also refused to become the passive instrument of Mika fantasies. The young woman has manipulated her captor into allowing her to watch Tina at work and finally, she convinces him to set up a brief meeting with Matthew. In the few minutes Cass has with her father, she is able to set in motion events, which will lead - after years of physical and psychological abuse - to her release.

But, where is Nicole? And how do the wounded heal?

The Captive

Release Date: November 20th, 2014

Interview with Atom Egoyan

Question: What are you exploring in The Captive?

Atom Egoyan: The human spirit is, at all times, one of the most astonishing things to examine, and this film looks at what we're prepared to actually do in order to get something that we believe we deserve. To me, that's endlessly compelling.

It's very rich material. I'm so excited by what the performers have brought to it. I think the alchemy of all of this energy is creating something more powerful than I ever could have dreamed.

The Captive explores how we live with the past – a world that offers both richness and torment. This film is a study of absence at a number of different levels. The most heartbreaking situation is that of the parents who lose a child through the most extreme of circumstances. The two detectives attempting to unravel the case of this missing child find their frustration on the job creeps into their personal life. And then, most disturbingly, is the character who, because of his sexual deviance, abducted the child who is now a young woman. He too is dealing with loss and absence.

The ache swells - from the most easily identifiable and emotionally clear sense of loss to its darkest realms - surrounding everyone in the film. It pushes all the characters to extremes. I'm interested in that place, in observing human beings in very unexpected and extreme places. That's where drama is located for me.

The Captive explores emotional territory that I have not seen on film before. It goes to places that are very unexpected, but which are within the human condition. There are people in our society with drives and impulses we find deviant or horrifying. But, they exist among us.

In our story, there is very clear example of a couple who is not supposed to be together. A man who abducts an eight-year-old girl whom he holds captive for 9 years. But as she matures into a young woman, Cass is no longer of sexual interest to her paedophile captor. Why has he kept her? What is that relationship about? There's also Cass's parents, a couple who should be together. The family was blissfully happy when, through a terrible mistake - a mistake many parents can imagine themselves making - Tina and Matthew are thrown into a very lonely hell. Nicole and Jeffrey, the two detectives working on the case, also face very dark places with unexpected consequences. And all of them are driven by a need - either a need sanctioned and understood by our society, or one that's completely scorned, but is, never-the-less, part of our humanity. As a dramatist, I take as my starting point that human beings are capable of absolutely anything.

Question: Many of the characters in The Captive seem damaged in some way.

Atom Egoyan: Nicole is a character with very   positive energy. She is a great detective, a highly respected heroic public image of contemporary police work, dealing with child pornography. But, Nicole is scarred by a past trauma. Yet she, much like Cass, has been able to overcome this pain. Someone wrestling with these types of demons knows there are certain situations or images that will never be erased. I think Nicole confronts her demons with her professional and romantic partner Jeffrey. He has transferred from the homicide division to the Child Exploitation Unit for reasons that remain obscure. Some people choose a job because it fulfils a deep need. In many of my films, there is a 'déformation professionale", where people are changed by the work they do, but I also think there are people who are drawn to certain jobs because the work satisfies an inner need. Jeffery and Nicole have a romance based on a mutual understanding of their darker, wounded sides. This creates the second trauma of the film - the disappearance of Nicole.

In The Captive, we have three characters who have made really bad choices. For Matthew, it's a choice that many parents make – to leave a child alone just for a moment - never thinking such a casual moment could devastate their lives.

In this case, it does. Jeffrey makes a very bad professional decision, which repulses Nicole and sends him into a spiral. Then, of course, the worst decision is the most obvious one - Mika's criminal decision – the one which sets the entire story in motion. There is a chronicling of male failure in this film as well as female strength.

Question: One of the things about Mika's that is so fascinating is the elegance with which he treats the grown up Cass.

Atom Egoyan: We are asking a highly unusual question: what happens to a relationship, which was triggered by violent sexual desire, when those impulses have completely dissipated? What sustains the relationship? I think Mika now sees this as a -real' relationship. Cass understands that's just absurd. She's resisted the classic Stockholm syndrome response to be enveloped by the image of the abductor. Yet Mika has groomed her almost to be a wife - an educated, cultured partner. He is living his strange, private fantasy, while still continuing to abuse and victimize Cass. As elegant and as intriguing as he is, Mika is absolutely monstrous. My challenge was to find some degree of humanity in this character. It was also, certainly, the actor's challenge.

Question: The echo of Pygmalion is fascinating.

Atom Egoyan: There are a number of fantasies being played out - the notions of protector, teacher and educator. Those fantasies are also played out by the detectives and by Matthew, as well. As delusional or dysfunctional as they may be, our lives are constructed on certain myths, archetypes that surface throughout our culture. In Greek mythology, Cassandra often speaks in riddles, but she is able to see the future. By providing a clue to Matthew, which no one else could possibly understand, Cass is able to engineer her escape from Mika. I   think that we create ourselves using a combination of founding myths engrained in our culture. We are constantly playing out these personas against our own highly individuated feelings. In The Captive, certain mythological figures - which are there to protect us – police officers, detectives – have limited power to do so.

As I researched this topic, I found a very troubling world with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of children trapped in horrifying circumstances: children who are almost impossible to locate, and whose images are being traded across the Internet. Very dedicated officers of the law try to safeguard our children, but this crime expands exponentially in a way that we cannot even imagine. We learned there are two million URLs linked to the trading of child pornography. It's unimaginable – such a repository of images of children whose formation has been forever distorted. This unthinkable horror infuses our culture, our society. The Captive uses this dark bedrock of devastation in order to try to find light with our main characters. What are they moving towards? Is redemption possible in this grotesque world? I think it's a very powerful place to situate a thriller.

Question: So this film is a thriller?

Atom Egoyan: Yes. Cass clings tenaciously to an image of her parents. She refuses to become a passive instrument of Mika's fantasy. Finally, she engineers her own her own escape. I hope audiences will see this as a film about rescue on many different levels: rescue of self; rescue of others; and the rescue of one's dreams of lives that might have been lived. I think that's universal. Of course there are absolutely dark elements to our story, but that's not the spirit of the film. I'm fascinated by the nature of desire and the nature of love. I think we're creating an engaging thriller with its own seduction. I think it's beautifully made and beautifully performed.

Question: We do not actually see is child pornography in this film.

Atom Egoyan: Certainly not.

We imagine how horrible those real scenes are; there's no need to witness them. It's a bit like The Adjuster in which we were obligated to censor scenes that the censors themselves were watching. What the audience saw was not violence and pornography, but people watching violence and pornography. I think what you don't see becomes more powerful because it exists in the imagination.

Question: But what we do see is the pornography of grief serviced by technology. With The Captive and in earlier films, you've explored how the growing sophistication of technology has permitted a growing sophistication of brutality.

Atom Egoyan: Yes, that and the ability to live in a horrifying moment which is continually present. This idea is filtered through the story with images that are constantly being replayed. This is seen again in characters who   repeat rituals that bind them to their pain - Matthew driving endlessly up and down familiar highways looking for Cass, Tina grasping at hope with her continual visits to Nicole. Relationships that perhaps should have been broken continue to thrive because people are either unwittingly or consciously tormenting both themselves and those around them. They are playing out something over and again because they cannot let it go.

Their child is abducted, and they can't leave that alone. They may have left the relationship, but strangely the other parent is the only person who completely understands the grief, the longing, and the pain caused by the absence of the child. As long as the parents are living this, as painful as it is, the missing child remains the focus of their lives. I think Cass feels and understands that somehow. Through the strange channel that Mika provides, Cass imports visual proof of her parents into her new life. In giving her this bizarre access to Tina and Matthew, Mika is being both accommodating and very cruel. He creates a link to Cass's parents which underscores her pain. She can observe but not communicate; look but not touch. He deepens her sense of absence. This film shows us the most extreme example of dissociation. We are both seduced and devastated by it.

Question: Watching Tina tortured by reminders of her missing child is one of the most difficult things in the film.

Atom Egoyan: I also think it's interesting that Tina survives so long even though she thinks she'sgoing mad, that the appearance of objects is not real, or that no one will understand. She's a very complex character. She can't help but feel rage towards Matthew for the loss of Cass. But, I think she accepts this cruelty, absorbs it as punishment for her behaviour towards Matthew. Tina doesn't have a wide circle of friends with whom she can communicate, which is why her yearly meetings with Nicole are almost religious.

Question: The film is set in Niagara Falls, but much of it was shot in Sudbury, Ontario Niagara Falls is iconographic.

Atom Egoyan: The Falls provide an image of the power and the majesty of natural forces. And yet, it's an international border, a city with a transient community. It's a great place to locate the story because of the anonymity of the hotel rooms, of people coming and going.

We shot half the film in and around Sudbury because a barren winter landscape is a critical element in our story. Billions of years ago, a meteor slammed into the area and created a perfect back lot – gentle mountains, and hundreds of lakes. And, that fabulous brooding grey sky provides a perfect flat light. We also found a great skating arena built in the 1950s just outside of town in Levack. The snow, the ice, the sun and the locations all turned up as we needed them - as if they'd been scheduled by our crew.

Question: How extensive was your research with detectives working in the field?

Atom Egoyan: I met the detectives from all sorts of backgrounds who are involved in this work. Many of the leading breakthroughs in international child pornography have come from this country.

  It's important to note that child pornography was not outlawed in the United States until 1978. Up until that time, physical images were available and traded within a strong community of collectors. After it was outlawed, child pornography was very carefully monitored for about 20 years resulting in a huge decline in that activity - until the advent of the Internet. From the mid to late 90s and barrelling into the present day, technology has advanced at breakneck speed, providing a very rich and relatively remote forum for paedophiles to create and share images and to communicate with other paedophiles. Police have had a very hard time playing catch-up. It seems that every time law enforcement has a breakthrough, every time an encryption is decoded or a blocking technique employed, the community of pornographers creates a new, more sophisticated way to hide their activities. Working against these criminals is an ongoing and extremely stressful job. After about five years, detectives frequently transfer out of the unit because, dealing with these horrific images of children and feeling helpless, is too much to bear over a long period of time. There are clearly defined limits to what a law enforcement officer can and cannot do. Detectives attempt to infiltrate child pornography rings but, in order to become a member, you are obliged to contribute to the image bank and, of course, detectives can't create pornographic images.

Question: In a number of your films, we are drawn into the distortion of reality, or the re-telling of a story from a different point of view.

Atom Egoyan: The stories I tell are complicated. I'm interested in how we form a sense of our reality. We are capable of all sorts of delusions and fantasies. The things that we chose to believe to be -true' are the things that sustain us. These -truths' are part of a narrative we construct for ourselves but, often these -truths' are what most confuses us.

I'm interested in telling stories which involve the audience in the process of construction of a narrative, where an audience needs to wonder what is going on and why. In order to tell these stories, I need performances which are authentic and very grounded, but which allow for shifting perceptions.

I have high expectations of the viewer. I feel that the experience of watching a film should be fully immersive. I hope that level of commitment is rewarded – perhaps with greater insight. I believe that we must ask ourselves: why we're watching this film? What do we expect to see? What motivates these characters and informs their behaviour? We, the audience, need to care. For us to care, we must be confronted by actors who demand and deserve our engagement. I try to keep the films porous enough that they're open to interpretation. Given the great performances of our cast, I hope that the viewer will invest as much in the characters' trajectories as the actors have. Every day on set is a day of discovery, seeing how the actors bring these lines to life. But, the words are just signposts. It's up to the actors to decide their degree of commitment and their velocity on the journey.

Question: Technology has played a major part in many of your films. Describe the force, the power of technology as we see it in The Captive.

Atom Egoyan:   We are defined by the technology to which we have access. Not just the Internet, surveillance instruments and the like but also the basic technologies we're alluding to earlier - like cars, phones, and media. You have to incorporate that into your dramaturgy now because it's such a signifier of what and how we construct ourselves. Technology can enhance our experiences or trivialize and distort them, but they remain our experiences.

In the late 80s and early 90s, I got caught up in a huge philosophical discussion in France between one school which said: -the image is a simulation of reality', and another school which said: -the image is reality'. I think the latter is correct. It's not a simulation anymore; it is who and how we are. In THE CAPTIVE, images of surveillance and media are not treated as being -outside'. This film examines the dark world of those who watch our characters suffer and trade in these images of mourning and loss. I'm completely cognizant of the fact that, as a filmmaker, I'm doing exactly the same thing. There are scenes in a hotel room taken from the point of view of a surveillance camera. They flow very comfortably with my film camera detailing the same action. The lines are completely blurred because both images are different aspects of the same experience: observing how human beings behave when they don't think they're being watched.

In our culture, now, we all think we're always being watched. It's part of our condition. Characters who rouse suspicion for not having watched things in the right way - not having watched a child at all times or, watching a child too furtively or, watching someone else whom they're not supposed to be seeing at all - that material is just fascinating to me because it goes back to my own need to document and watch and tell stories.

Obviously, I'm using media, so I'm wildly complicit in all of these questions. I try to bring all ways of seeing to my storytelling while making the images as irresistible as possible because I feel that the story is to be shared through the performers's acts of generosity. It's not supposed to be torture. Even though the characters themselves are being tortured, the viewer has to be entertained, beguiled, seduced, and drawn into the story at some level or there's no point in watching it. There has to be pleasure in the experience, that's what cinema is about, first and foremost. It's an art form that gives us pleasure. It allows us to see other lives; it's a portal. Each character reflects aspects of my own decision to pursue this art form, Mika probably the most obviously disturbing - though I'm not that character.

Question: Which of your previous films The Captive is most like?

Atom Egoyan: I think The Captive has a lot of tonal similarities to films I was making in the early to mid 90sfrom around The Adjuster, Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter. This film not only deals with voyeurism, it deals with fetishization. And, there is unexpected humour. I haven't done an original story dealing with these themes for a while.

  It's going back to another place in my career. This is a film that deals with desire, the nature of desire, the nature of dark love and themes of abuse, themes of people being pushed to extreme places and trying to come to terms with the changes in their lives.

Question: What is the place of the child in your films? It seems there is frequently a young person in transition.

Atom Egoyan: A child is, of course, full of hope, full of future, of fantasies and dreams. But, most importantly, a child is an individual, a discreet being. I've always loved the statement by Khalil Gibran: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

I'm interested in people who are capable of changing their lives, transforming themselves. I think there is a point in late adolescence where one begins to understand the responsibilities of an adult while still being capable of changing and radicalizing themselves. I guess that comes from a number of different places in my own life. I am interested in that cusp of independence, both with female and male characters.

Cass ripples through the lives of all of the characters though her connection to each of them is different. At the spine of the story is a young woman who has gone through a trauma that has destroyed her childhood. She is struggling to define and understand herself – as is usual at her age. But, until she escapes her terrible situation, she will be dependent, a child, someone else's creation.

One of the reasons my films are often centred on adolescence is because it's a time of profound questions, a time when self-image and deeply held beliefs are challenged. This turmoil is fundamental, universal at that age.

Question: Has your work in opera and theatre informed the way you make films?

Atom Egoyan: I see the opera work that I do as an extension of my interest and passion for theatre which I got into in my early twenties. When I was able to go back to opera in my mid-to-late thirties, it was not an unfamiliar space for me. I have always been drawn to theatricality. You'll see that in this film certainly. The big challenge in The Captive is to blend elements of naturalism and elements that are highly theatrical. The space where the two come together is informed by my obsession with theatre. I think opera is one of the more intense expressions of theatre.

The ability of the human voice to be heard thematically is so moving to me. Certainly, this film uses the idea of song and music. We shot banquet scenes in Niagara Falls with the Annex String Quartet. It was wonderful to blend and mould their interpretation of Mozart to the scenes.

There are films that have been directly influenced by the operas I was working on around the time of filming. Felicia's Journey has a sequence based on Salome, which I was doing at that time. Where the Truth   Lies has a strong Wagnerian influence in terms of the motif structure of the music as I directed Die Walküre just prior to shooting the film.

Question: In many of your films you work with the same production team. What does creating this kind of company of artists give you as a director?

Atom Egoyan: These are essential relationships to my creative process. They help me understand the film's palette. Because we share a common language, we can work with very tight schedules. We understand how to break down responsibilities on set. I know Paul (Sarossy's) sensitivity to light. I'm comfortable with the way Phillip (Barker), our production designer, handles colour, values, and visual textures. In The Captive, there are all sorts of notions of the struggle between the organic world and the synthetic world. How that dynamic is represented in terms of colour, set decorations, living environments, how the characters paint their decors, what they wear - these nuances give the film a sense of detail. There's shorthand and a rhythm when dealing with people with whom I've worked for a long time that allows the whole process to move efficiently.

With composer Mychael Danna, I'm creating spaces that span years. During filming, I imagine how his contribution will enhance the action and, in some cases, may suggest what's happening off camera. For example, in situations where emotions are being restrained, it's often the music that provides the emotional cue that something is not being revealed. In my earlier films, where the characters often behaved like shell-shocked automatons, repressing all emotional responses, Mychael's music was a critical link for the audience.

I have a degree of trust, familiarity and a shared vision with these people which allows my primary focus to centre on the actors when I'm on set.

Question: And your cast?

Atom Egoyan: Actors are able to do something quite miraculous - they can incarnate another human beings.

Scott Speedman was extraordinary in Adoration. As I was writing Jeffrey, I was thinking of Scott. I worked with Mireille Enos on Devil's Knot. She was astonishing, so it was natural for me to invite her to join the cast of The Captive. Kevin Durand was also in Devil's Knot, and I was struck by his ability to inhabit someone else. Mika is a deeply complex character, and I knew Kevin could handle him.

Question: And the actors who are new to your sets? Ryan Reynolds is known universally as a star of the romantic comedies and Rosario Dawson shot to stardom in a number of unconventional films.

Atom Egoyan: I was excited by Ryan's film The Nines. In an amazing tour-de-force performance, he plays three wildly different characters, slipping elegantly among them. Talk about films about identity! The Nines is a very   interesting meditation on composite identity. I thought it was stunning. Then seeing Ryan's work in Safe House and Buried drew me to him for this role. Ryan is a serious actor and certainly as Matthew, he sees the opportunity to play against type.

I've admired Rosario's work in many films. She brings not only her exceptional talent but also her warmth and personal political commitment to her character. Nicole is a highly respected, tough detective who has triumphed over childhood trauma. She is both the leader of the Child Exploitation Unit, and the nurturer of young crime victims and their families. Rosario is a wonderful actor whose performance is enhanced by her passion for social justice and her openness.

I'm excited by these actors. I want to play with that excitement and see how far we can go.

And actor does something deeply mysterious. It's the only thing happening on set which is genuinely mysterious to me. I know how light works, I know how camera movement works, I know how composition works. I know how to harness those elements. I see the results immediately on the monitor. There's nothing particularly mysterious about the process. It's not like the days when you'd shoot and then wait for rushes from the lab. I lament that passage, but now the technical aspects are very clear.

The thing that remains fundamentally mysterious is how a human being transforms into someone else. We must preserve and respect that artistry at all costs.

Question: One of the things that every actor mentions is that, although the material may be difficult, they are having fun on set.

Atom Egoyan: The reason the feeling on set is so good is, in an odd way, we are celebrating the human spirit. It's amazing to be creating together and we're all excited and happy to be doing that. It's so interesting and exciting to be working on this complex story. We've all been entrusted with creating something unique.

There's also lightness on set because we've all worked together so well.

The Captive

Release Date: November 20th, 2014