Adoration, the newest film by critically acclaimed filmmaker Atom Egoyan, is a beautifully evocative film, though some may find its convoluted storyline distracting. In many respects, the film very much evokes one of my favorite films, The Sweet Hereafter, Egoyan's 1997 Palme d'Or and Oscar nominee*. Where The Sweet Hereafter dealt with the impact of guilt and grief in a small community following a tragic school bus accident, in Adoration Egoyan deals with grief and loss on a more personal level, while also blending in ideas about the subjective nature of reality and identity in a technological age. In a world where who we are can be invented, reinvented, and broadcast to the world via chat rooms and virtual reality avatars, can we ever really know another person -- or even ourselves?
The story centers on a young boy, Simon, (Devon Bostick), who, while completing a school assignment translating a newspaper story about a man who planted a bomb on his pregnant girlfriend, spontaneously re-imagines the story as if the couple were his own parents, and he the unborn child his father plotted to blow up along with his mother and 400 other innocents on a flight to Israel.
Simon's French teacher, Sabine (Egoyan's wife, Arsinée Kanjian) who also teaches drama, encourages him to read his story to the class as if he really is the son of the couple in the newspaper story. When he puts his story out on the internet, though, it starts to have an impact he never imagined: His friends, random folks philosophizing about terrorism, and the actual survivors of the botched bombing attempt are all drawn into his story and react to it.
The performances in the film are excellent, but Scott Speedman (Underworld), who plays Simon's Uncle Tom, who's raised his nephew since his parents died, surprises here with a particularly thoughtful and restrained portrayal of a man troubled by unresolved family history. Tom's a man who's filled with a dark rage always simmering just below the surface, threatening to explode upon the nearest target. Bostick is also great; the 16-year-old has an intense, intelligent screen presence beyond his years, and I'll be watching to see what he does in the future.
Visually, the film is everything one would expect from an Egoyan film; it's shot by Paul Sarossy, who also shot The Sweet Hereafter and Exotica (along with many other films), and it's perfectly framed and crisply shot. Egoyan's script is thoughtful, smart, and layered with issues and imagery. I expect the critical divide on the film to fall mostly into the camps of those who love Egoyan's work and those who don't. Some find him obtuse and overly intellectual; I like the chances he takes with his films, and his unique way of examining the mundane and tying it to larger issues, and he does that very well in Adoration.
The use of music is fantastic; Simon's mother was a violinist, and his parents met when his mother brought in her violin to be repaired by his father. Mychael Danna, who scored Egoyan's previous films (along with many other films including Little Miss Sunshine and Monsoon Wedding) uses violin music extensively, adding to the film's emotional depth.
The film shifts back and forth both in time and in Simon's real memories of his parents juxtaposed against his imagined history as the child of the couple in the story. Rachel Blanchard and Noam Jenkins play the parents in both versions, so you have to pay attention to what's real and what's not. The scenes with Sami and Rachel were shot with a long lens, giving them a soft, dreamy air that visually separates them from the scenes set in the present.
Egoyan uses the technology of internet chat rooms to look at how we define ourselves by our personal histories, real or imagined. Simon uses his storytelling to work through his own doubts about the death's of his parents some years earlier in a car accident, and secrets he doesn't understand about his family history and dynamic, but he doesn't consider the greater impact his masquerade might have on others.
In a way, Simon's fable evokes the nature of the internet as a whole; people create personas based on who they want to be rather than who they are, disengage emotionally in their interactions with others in ways they never would in face-to-face interactions, and act rather than react. While Egoyan doesn't out-and-out disdain technology in this film, he is questioning the way the internet can take the humanity out of human interaction, as people use public spaces to work through private conflicts and issues.
*A couple of words from this sentence were inadvertantly deleted while editing that made it incorrect. The Sweet Hereafter was nominated for the Palme d'or and won the Grand Prix. Correction made, and thanks to reader jo for pointing it out. - ed.