Last night I hired the movie "Everything is Illuminated" starring Elijah Woods of "Lord of the Rings" fame. To be honest, I struggled for a fair while to get the baleful image of Frodo out of my mind. However, the lack of hairy feet, no long locks of hair and and the absence of elves was a great help. The film is based on a book by Jonathan Safran Foer (the same name as Elijah's character) and is said to be about searching. I spent the first part of the film trying to cope with the incredible size of Jonathan's glasses, and it occurs to me now that their overstatement fits in rather nicely with the broad narrative of his search for information about his family. Jonathan is a Jewish American who has an bizarre obsession with collecting things. He is on a mission travelling through the Ukraine trying to find a woman who saved his grandfather from Germans during the war. The author did actually undertake the trip but found out very little. However he decided to write a novel that formed the basis for this movie. Some initial thoughts on the film:
1. the Ukraine looks beautiful – wonderful landscapes, and the film features some great cinematography. A great setting for a road movie.
2. There is an amusing restaurant scene that does not promote the local cuisine, and I do believe as a "mostly vegetarian" I would starve.
3. The plot is undeniably clever, and I loved the way the lives of the rather eccentric characters end up being entwined. Jonathan is driven around by an old man who claims to be blind and insists on his vicious "seeing eye bitch" (a dog) coming wherever he goes. The old man's hip hop (Ukraine style) America loving grandson comes along for the ride (and to offer cumbersome English translations). Elijah Woods character is extremely exentric and obsessed with collecting the weirdest of things.
4. I have always been interested in stories about the holocaust. It is a period in history that fascinates and horrifies me in equal measure. This was a quirky and at times poignant exploration of this incredible period of history.
Searching. Remembering. These are important themes in "Everything is illuminated", and I think rather significant in the broader Jewish narrative. Remembering is like a thread that links much of the bible and ancient Jewish history together with varying responses – remorse, hope, encouragement, gratitude, despair, reconciliation. These emotions resonate through this film. There is a rather shocking twist towards the end that in spite of its bleakness seems to bring a peaceful resolution in the film.
The film was definitely worth seeing, especially if you like "quirky". I don't think I will forget this film in a hurry. Not so much for any quality it possesses, but because our hired DVD appears to have vanished off the face of the earth and we will have to buy a replacement for our video store. I guess it is a bit ironic. The film is about searching, and that is precisely what consumed our afternoon. If only the location of the DVD will be illuminated…