Monday, September 21, 2009

304) Next of Kin (1984)

304) Next of Kin (1984) Dir: Atom Egoyan Date Released (DVD): June 2001 Date Seen: September 21, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

As my entree into the filmography of widely praised Egyptian filmmaker Atom Egoyan, Next of Kin has made me very eager to check out the rest of Egoyan's filmography. According to IMDB, Next of Kin is only his second feature but in it, he's already created a vivid and unsettling story out of remarkably compact and commendably complex visual metaphors. All of this on an aglet-less shoestring budget and at the age of 24. Forgive my Valley Girl-like amazement but: seriously? Wow.

Next of Kin is the enigmatic portrait of Peter (Patrick Tierney), a 23 year-old blueblood that seeks to use his dissociative personality disorder, something he dismisses as a tendency to want to "make believe," to find happiness with another family. The film's narrative completely absorbs us into his POV, allowing us to see Peter through his own kaleidoscope of ever-congealing fragments. It's his way of showing us that he can assume whatever role is required of him in his quest to feel wanted, nay, needed by his family. 

Peter begins by showing us a piece of luggage on a conveyor belt from its perspective. Peter is that valise but he's also sitting on a bench watching the bag go round the airport's carousel. In this scene, interwoven with a brief summation of his philosophy of schizoid ego mortification, Peter shows us his ideal self-image, a container of things meticulously squared away to suit a specific purpose, giving him just the bare essential for his "vacation" away from his biological parents. He can pick himself up or let himself take another turn around the room, which he of course does to make his point. Later, he will remind us that he's in control in varied and sundry ways, by inserting staticky video footage of himself in family therapy during an unrelated conversation later, marginalizing his family's reaction to the film's events by leaving them mute in the film's coda and, of course, breaking the fourth wall with a knowing smile worthy of a teething crocodile.

To put this notion into practice, Peter worms his way into the hearts of the Deryans, an older Middle-Eastern family that lost their first-born son, Bedros, to Child Protective Services and were never able to reclaim him. Peter pretends to be Bedros first as an experiment, wheedling his way into the Deryans' hearts by literally offering them whatever emotional deficit that the real Bedros' absence has caused. By the end however, just when he's about to move on, he capriciously decides to stay on living with them. What began as a means of proving to himself, and us, his imaginary audience, his improvisatory skills, suddenly turns into a lifestyle. 

That abrupt denouement clinches the disturbing detachment of Peter's performance. The sudden realization that he now plans on permanently shacking up with the Deryans belies but never resolves the unsettling hint that this was his intention the whole time. Almost all of Egoyan's awkward steps towards establishing that disarmingly curt finale, including his insistence on using photography to provide a meta-reflexive confirmation of the Deryans' selective memories, can be forgiven because of that miasma of lingering uncertainty it leaves in its wake. I want more, more, gimme gimme.

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