Everything is Illuminated
A young Jewish New Yorker is told that 'everything is illuminated by the past'.
We have come to realise ever more deeply that our quest for being as fully human as we can possibly be is to be grounded in our roots. We have a need to go back into our family tree, our ancestry. We feel the need to probe the secrets and mysteries we have inherited so that we can understand ourselves better. We need to achieve some kind of emotional balance. These themes are at the core of Everything is Illuminated.
Talented actor Liev Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate) has adapted a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer and directed this film. It is a restrained and sometimes muted portrait of the New Yorker and the story of his visit to the Ukraine to find his grandfather's village.
The early sequences establish Jonathan Safran Foer's situation. He is an extremely buttoned-up young man, always formally dressed with thick-rimmed glasses. He is photographed to look uncannily like Cary Grant though his behaviour is more of a constricted Clark Kent. He is an inveterate collector. He souvenirs everything, especially about his heritage and his past, and plastic bags them and pins them on his overcrowded notice board. When his dying grandmother gives him a photo and a brooch, he decides that he will go to seek his roots. Foer is played by an ultra-serious, scarcely smiling Elijah Wood.
Meanwhile in Odessa, where a strict father can scarcely tolerate his earring-wearing, American music-loving son, Alex, Foer's request for their Jewish heritage-seeing service is taken up by Alex's grandfather. The journey takes them into the Ukrainian countryside (where most people treat intruders from the city and overseas with indifference or hostility). After several dead ends and basic accommodation and food (especially for vegetarian Foer who baffles the meat-devouring locals), they find a woman who is able to shed light on the story and show them the site of the village and reveal the appalling massacre of over a thousand people by the Nazis.
As it turns out, it is a journey of revelation for the grandfather, a time for confronting his own past.
Eugene Hutz is persuasive as the awkward Alex, full of ambitions (and unfettered by memories of the Communist past) and is a foil to Elijah Wood's earnestly prim Foer. Schreiber has written an elegiac piece and it is photographed accordingly in muted colours. It invites its audience into an unfamiliar world but challenges them to appreciate Jewish suffering and the universal desire to discover roots.
Terror on a plane is a good old standby for a popular suspense thriller. We have seen plenty of hijackers, mad bombers, merciless terrorists. What about a distraught widow whose daughter disappears? And what about her name being missing from the passenger list? And what if passengers and staff are certain that they never saw the little girl? What would we do if we were the mother? (It helps if, as here, that the mother is an engineer and knows the designs of planes and where to look.)
A cautionary note of lack of realism needs to be made, especially for those who fly often. When the mother starts her cabin search for her daughter, all the toilets are vacant and there is no line for them. This certainly requires an enormous suspension of disbelief!
Despite that, the film works quite well in the suspense department. This is in large part due to Jodie Foster. A couple of years ago, she was menaced in her apartment (again with a daughter) by burglars while she hid in the Panic Room. This time she is a widow accompanying her husband's body from Berlin to New York. In her grief, she remembers and imagines her husband. She comforts her daughter. She feels that men are prying from a neighbouring building. All this is enough to make us unsure when the on board crisis occurs. Did it happen? Well, we saw it all? But how could there be such a conspiracy against her? And when she goes over the top demanding the plane be searched, upsetting the passengers, challenging the crew, well Jodie Foster is so convincing an actress that we realise she must have imagined it all. But did she? And what happens when the plane lands?
Obviously it is far-fetched (we hope) and to criticise it for lack of realism is to have missed the point about this kind of thriller. It's what if? rather than what really happens.
Sean Bean is the pilot who has to make the choices. Peter Sarsgaard is the air marshall required on flights after September 11th. Actually, the title gives away the intensity of the plot more than we might realise!LONDON - 19 December 2005 - 810 words
Everything is Illuminated