“The goodness is in the warmth,” they say. But, one must always question the source or motive of a stranger’s outwardly kind assistance.
Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan’s motion picture “Felicia’s Journey” is centered around two seemingly different characters who, as revealed throughout the film, have suffered traumatic events throughout their lives, each coming to a head in different ways.
Continuously changing its settings between the thoroughfares of England to the breathtaking Irish soil, the film begins with a view of the eccentric dwelling of Englishman Joseph Hilditch (Bob Hoskins). A traditional man, Hilditch’s home is filled with relics of the past: antique baseballs and appliances, rotary phones and an old black and white television on which he watches tapings of a cooking show hosted by his mother (Arsinee Khanjian) from over 40 years ago. Hilditch appears to be an ordinary man with an extraordinary culinary gift, but as the film progresses, the onion-like layers of his self-hidden madness (which are implied to be accredited to the cold abandonment of his mother) are revealed.
Meanwhile, the title character, a pregnant 17-year-old named Felicia (Eileen Cassidy), arrives in England in search of her unborn child’s father, Johnny (Peter McDonald). Coming from a conservative family, Felicia is disowned by her father (Gerard McSorely) for “sleeping with the enemy.” Faithfully believing that Johnny loves her, Felicia travels to England in search of him without any sense of his whereabouts or geography of the foreign land. Upon her arrival, Felicia meets the mild-mannered psychopath that is Hilditch and finds herself dependent upon his all-too-giving generosity. At this point a disturbing plot emerges, for Felicia is not the only “damsel in distress” to which Hilditch has lent a helping hand.
Dubbed a “psycho dramatic thriller,” “Felicia’s Journey” is Atom Egoyan’s successful attempt at a remake of the book by William Trevor. Although the film could have taken on the conventional “scary movie” methods of Hollywood to create an atmosphere of gripping suspense, it did not-and rightfully so. If it had, the movie would have been insipidly predictable and tasteless. Instead, this film is impossible to predict as it gradually unfolds, with its main focus being on character development, rather than on the plot. It explores knotty issues like pedophilia and prostitution with intellect and sensitivity. The film also denies the crude label of “villain” to the off-color Hilditch, who is an extremely versatile character with numerous mental layers. In a way, he reminded me of the evil, yet meticulously artistic character of Hannibal Lector (“Silence of the Lambs,” “Hannibal”).
Originally released in November 1999, “Felicia’s Journey” was a favorite in Egoyan’s native Canada. The film enjoyed highly celebrated recognition at the country’s Genie Awards, earning 10 nominations and walking away with four statues, including Best Leading Actor for Bob Hoskin’s role as Hilditch, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Achievement in Cinematography and Best Achievement in Music (Original Score).
“Felicia’s Journey” is available on VHS and DVD at Blockbuster Videos. However, if you are a little strapped for cash, the video can also be rented at the Queens Borough Library-Hillcrest Branch-free of charge.