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Looking for Illumination

Posted at 10:44 AM on May 8, 2006 by Euan Kerr

I had high hopes for "Everything is Illuminated." The book got raves, the promo looked good, but I missed it in the theaters.

The DVD rolled up at our house care of Sarah the 17-year old, who rented it Friday night to watch with her pals. Graciously she gave it to us in return for a promise to get it back to the store before the midnight late-fee curfew. (The method behind her generosity is we always seem to be paying her late fees, and this way we could ALL save money.)

Eugene Hutz is very good as Alex the Ukrainian translator-narrator of this story. His fractured speech gives and edge and an extra dimension to the tale of Jonathon Safran Foer, alias the Collector. Foer (Elijah Wood) is an American who wants to find out about his grandfather's escape from the Nazis as they invaded the Ukraine. So he travels to the old country, hiring Alex and his grandfather to take him back to the shtetl.

Wood's character is a strange fellow. He collects things, puts them in baggies and then pins them to the wall in his room. He gathers valuable things, like jewelry and old photographs. He also gathers sand, bugs, and other stuff which he believes to have significance. He never explains what he is doing, other than to say his collection helps him to remember.

He also wears startlingly thick eyeglasses which gives new acreage to his usual wide-eyed look. It made me wonder if he suffered from terrible headaches as a result while he was making the film.

The film starts as a bittersweet comedy, but as the story progresses, and the story of what happened in the village is revealed it become much darker. Unfortunately it also becomes much more confusing, to the point where it's hard to comprehend what's really going on. As the story progresses it appears Alex's grandfather knows more about this particular place than he's letting on, but it's never made clear what he has told the others, and then why he does what he does.

Now this could be part of the novel's conceit. Loose ends can be effective on the written page. It's always confusing when a fiction writer names a central character after himself, and it's good to leave a reader wondering sometimes.

A movie needs more though. I have questions I want answered, and I can't get them from the movie. Now I am going to have to read the book.

Ah! Perhaps THAT'S the plan.

Anyone else seen it? What did you think?

May 2006
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