Atom Egoyan’s thriller Chloe opened this weekend, and it’s gotten a lot of attention in Toronto. Though it stars Liam Neeson and Julianne Moore, it also features Toronto prominently, and frankly, as its setting.
For those of you who aren’t locals, this is a big deal: Toronto’s sizeable film and TV production sector generally uses the city as a substitute for Chicago, or (with effort) New York, or simply Anytown, U.S.A. My Globe and Mail colleague Liam Lacey wrote about these issues this weekend.
But the film also employs a contemporary house as one of its primary settings. It’s the Ravine House, by local firm Drew Mandel Design. The couple at the heart of the film’s narrative (played by Moore and Neeson), driven apart by insecurity and infidelity, call this place home. It’s easy to see why Egoyan chose the house. It offers high visual drama, seemingly teetering on the edge of a ravine, its back facade a collection of hard steel and crystal-clear glass.
But why must the residents be so unhappy? This perpetuates a long-standing cinematic cliche that casts modernist interiors as lairs of the bad guy, and refuges of the buttoned-down and miserable.
I wrote about the house for the Globe and Mail two years ago, and my piece talked about the tension between the house’s austere materials (including steel I-beams and exposed concrete block) and the owners’ goal of creating a “very homey” and “very warm,” as well as a very contemporary, environment. I certainly don’t know the owners, but they seemed to live an informal and family-centric home life. More to the point, they’ve put substantial time, thought, and money into creating a unique home for their family, and were generous patrons to an emerging local architect. So how does a house like this, born from nesting and careful architectural art, come to signify emptiness and cold silences?