Like Woody Allen, Atom Egoyan is becoming a filmmaker who creates works with many personal signature elements. The finished works are always strange and offbeat, unlike anything any other filmmaker is making. Hence, they always hold a certain measure of intrigue. The danger, however, with these movies is that these filmmakers need to bring fresh interpretations of their style, or they box themselves into a corner and become redundant or even boring. FELICIA’S JOURNEY is a fascinating work, but its themes and styles are too reminiscent of THE SWEET HEREAFTER, and its morality is deplorable.
Bob Hoskins plays a British industrial town caterer named Mr. Hilditch. Hilditch lives alone, and spends his nights watching videotapes of an old cooking television show, led by a zany French woman named Gala, who turns out to be his mother. Hilditch also has a penchant for videotaping homeless teenage girls in his car, befriending them and later abusing them.
One day, he happens upon a pretty Irish girl named Felicia (Elaine Cassidy) who tells him that she is looking for her boyfriend Johnny (Peter McDonald). Felicia ran away from her Irish home to look for Johnny in England, and she believes that he is working at a lawn mower factory. He, however, has betrayed his homeland by joining the British army.
Hilditch leads Felicia around town and is very kind to her, presumably to win her trust and then take advantage of her when she is most vulnerable. Yet, he pauses when she announces to him that she is pregnant with Johnny’s child. When Felicia says she wants to continue her journey without Hilditch, he steals her money so she will come back to him. Felicia attempts to spend a night at a homeless shelter led by a group of fanatical Jehovah Witness type people who speak mostly in vague riddles. Yet, she leaves them when they become defensive and rude when she simply states her money is gone. They think she is blaming one of them as the thief.
She returns to Hilditch who lets her stay. Hilditch later finds out that Johnny did indeed join the British Army. He convinces Felicia that what she needs is an abortion, and he pays for it. When she recovers, Hilditch digs what looks like a grave, as if he may eventually kill Felicia. However, as he digs, the strange religious sect members approach him and challenge him on his need for a life change. He begins to confess his sins to them, and they are so startled that they leave. A few more revelations and a suicide bring the movie to a conclusion.
Cinematically, this movie soars. Irish countryside and British factories never looked so good. Furthermore, flashbacks to Gala’s cooking show and moments in the recent past add great texture and complexity to the look and storytelling. Also, acting credits are stunning all around, especially Bob Hoskins. Thematically, as said before, the movie covers similar territory of THE SWEET HEREAFTER, older men/younger women relationships, alienation, dark secrets, and death.
This movie contains some deeply troubling moral content that even go beyond obsession and sinful character traits. Egoyan subtly attacks Christian faith through depiction of a strange religious sect. The group speaks vaguely, doesn’t quite listen to people and their needs, seems to be interested in their own agenda, and runs when true communication seems to be occurring. True Christian faith is hinted at with church attendance, and a genuine, but fruitless prayer by Felicia for Hilditch’s recently deceased wife, which turns out to be a fraud. Another stab at Christianity occurs in the portrayal of Felicia’s Christian father as bullheaded and reactionary.
The most alarming aspect of this movie involves Hilditch convincing the confused Felicia to get an abortion. His implied evil past with homeless girls indicates his nefarious motives for his ill advice. Finally, when he realizes he couldn’t kill Felicia, he takes another life in exchange. Thus, death and alienation reign freely in this movie.
Many critics will applaud FELICIA’S JOURNEY, which seems to also borrow from SEX, LIES AND VIDEOTAPE and other off-beat movies. While containing laudable techniques, many will be put off by its dark elements and conclusion. Christians particularly will have their criticisms, which they didn’t have with THE SWEET HEREAFTER, the director’s last movie. At the end of her journey, Felicia lives having learned a few lessons on not sleeping around, but she leaves a trail of two deaths, and some sad wasted moments of false religious faith.
Largely pagan worldview of obsessed, abusive man who performs many caring acts for a lonely, confused teenage girl yet culminates in abortion & attempted murder, & includes some church attendance, Christian prayers & care for the poor with some odd, Jehovah Witness type characters who demonstrate care but no compassion or understanding; 3 mild obscenities & 1 profanity; gross image of John the Baptist's head from video, scary image of man choking, suicide by hanging, & attempted murder through drug overdose; briefly depicted fornication resulting in pregnancy; no nudity; alcohol use; smoking; and, man goes through girl's personal belongings, stealing, burping & vomiting noises, impatience, intolerance, & disturbing images of obsessive man.