2005 - United States - 106 minutes
Writer - Liev Schreiber (based upon a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer)
Director - Liev Schreiber
My Rating - 4 of 5 Stars
This film first grabs you with its quirkiness but, then, surprises by developing into more than just a lark of zaniness. It starts when a young American who can only be described as bizarre decides to travel to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis during WWII. This young man is a collector of items taken from various family members. Each item is placed in a zip-lock bag, labeled, and attached to his bedroom wall. His guides in Russia are a man his own age who is infatuated with American rock culture and the man's grandfather who makes money from visiting Jews who wish to trace the home villages of lost relatives. Even though he is the driver, the old man claims that he is blind, so the trio is accompanied by a snarling "seeing eye bitch," Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior. As the four set out, you might assume this is merely going to be a wacky road movie, but the journey becomes an insightful look at regret, devotion, sacrifice, and humanity.
Jonathan, the young American is played by Elijah Wood, already noted for his somewhat hypnotic wide-eyed expressions, who here has an even wider-eyed look, thanks to black, heavy rimmed glasses with abnormal magnification. Technically, he is the lead of the film but, because he is the collector and observer, his movements and actions are minimal. Wood is a master of portraying emotions and actions with a minimum of movement.
Alex, the young Ukrainian is played with vigor and style by Eugene Hutz who, in reality, is a member of a Ukrainian rock group. It is Alex who narrates the story using endearing misuse of words as though he was translated from Ukrainian to English by some computer with no appreciation of meter or style. Thus the title Everything Is Illuminated which actually means "all is understood." It is through his narrative filled with innocent appreciation of certain aspects of American culture and childlike quest for understanding that we see the metamorphosis of the three men who take this journey to discover the past.
The illumination of the grandfather is the driving force behind the human drama of this film, and it is his experience that helps the two younger men come to a better understanding of their heritage.
The DVD contains several entertaining fantasy sequences that were cut from the film. These offer further insight into the daydreams of Jonathan and Alex. The ones featuring Alex are lots of fun because of their ribbing of some of those aspects of American culture that the character so admires.
This little film has good acting, interesting characters, unique locations, lots of quirky fun, and a great big heart. I recommend it for two hours of pleasure and, perhaps, several minutes of reflection about how life and events shape us and anybody we influence.
This little film has good acting, interesting characters, unique locations, lots of quirky fun, and a great big heart. I recommend it for two hours of pleasure and, perhaps, a number of minutes of reflection upon how life and events shape ourselves and those over which we have influence.
April 3, 2006