Friday, May 29, 2009
Film Club segment on Atom Egoyan's Adoration
Atom Egoyan's films are often puzzles in which we gather pieces from a fragmented narrative. His most acclaimed example of this was The Sweet Hereafter (1997), about a tragedy striking a small town. In Adoration Egoyan weaves a similarly complex narrative structure. In his latest film, a classroom assignment spins out of control. A teenager named Simon (Devon Bostic) is asked to write a paper based on a news article about a man who planted a bomb in his pregnant wife's baggage. The bomb did not explode but if it had he would have not only killed all the people on the plane but also his wife and unborn child. Simon decides to write his paper from the point of view of the child dealing with what his father had tried to do. Simon's teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian) asks him to pretend that the story is true. So Simon maintains the pretense to his classmates and to a growing number of people in an Internet chat room where he has posted the story. Adding more layers to the story are Simon's dying grandfather, a mysterious woman in a jeweled burka, Simon's uncle (Scott Speedman displaying some surprising acting chops), and the mystery surrounding the death of Simon's real parents.
Sony Pictures Classics
From early on Egoyan's work displayed a fascination with technology and its ability to affect human relationships. Early video work like Peep Show employed an instant photo booth while Family Viewing had a character obsessed with shooting home video. In Adoration Egoyan returns to this fascination as the Internet provides a means of quickly dispersing Simon's story to a large audience and then allows people to interact with the author in chat rooms. In no time at all Simon constructs and distributes his false identity and people immediately accept it as real. Egoyan is interested in how easily information can spread and easily a lie can be presented as a truth. But the thing that's often so compelling in Egoyan's films is how lies often lead to truths. Simon's fabricated tale about his parents ultimately leads him to the truth about his own family and how his parents died. The pleasure of Egoyan's films is the elegant and masterful way that he leads us through a maze of flashbacks, lies and fractured storytelling till we reach the conclusion. He constantly surprises us and his endings are never quite what we expect but they are always worth waiting for.
Adoration also plays on themes he explored in Ararat, most notably the legacy of racial hatred. But he plays out his themes through paradoxes, and a mixing of the personal and the political. As with the recent The Limits of Control but with a more accessible structure, Egoyan's Adoration serves up This a complicated storytelling structure with layers upon layers of narrative and meaning. And as with The Limits of Control it is a complicated work but it is not a confusing one if you are willing to put in the work. Egoyan is always in complete control of the material, letting us know details only when he chooses to reveal them and only when it serves the right purpose in the timeline of his story. It's interesting to note that like Jarmusch, Egoyan finds his funding outside the U.S.
Adoration (rated R for language) is a wonderful antidote to the summer blockbusters. It offers an oasis of thoughtful, intelligent filmmaking in which the filmmaker not only engages the viewer but demands that the viewer be an active participant willing to think about what's going on on the screen. Egoyan's direction and writing are complemented by fine photography and editing, and a host of smart performances.
Companion viewing: The Sweet Hereafter, Ararat, The Limits of Control