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Best of Boston 2009

Class project

Atom Egoyan offers reasons for Adoration
By PETER KEOUGH  |  May 18, 2009
2.5 2.5 Stars

VIDEO: The trailer for Adoration

Adoration | Written and Directed by Atom Egoyan | with Scott Speedman, Arsinée Khanjian, Rachel Blanchard, Devon Bostick, Noam Jenkins, and Kenneth Welsh | Sony Pictures Classics | 100 minutes

Read the full interview with Atom Egoyan: Part 1, Part 2

Atom Egoyan was one of the first and most insightful of filmmakers to ponder the consequences and the moral implications of technological advances in media and communications. His first three films, Next of Kin (1984), Family Viewing (1987), and Speaking Parts (1989), explored the alienating and liberating potential of video. In Adoration, he applies himself to the Internet and comes up with a provocative premise, one he pursues with a complex and allusive style that recalls such past masterpieces as Exotica (1994) and The Sweet Hereafter (1997). Then coherence fails him, and the film's focus and intensity dissipate into overwrought family squabbling.

Much of Adoration's early appeal derives from the fragmented narrative, disjointed chronology, and shifting points of view. The puzzle it poses even seems worth solving — a rarity these days. A beautiful woman (Rachel Blanchard) plays a violin on a pier in a lake as a little boy listens. An old man (Kenneth Welsh) in his sickbed holds the violin and reminisces about the woman playing it; she turns out to be his deceased daughter and the mother of the now teenage boy (Devon Bostick) who's recording his monologue on an iPhone. The same woman shows up pregnant at Tel Aviv's airport and is interrogated by a security officer. And the teenage boy reads to his class a story about how his mother was betrayed by her innocence — and by his monstrous father.

The time line connecting these scenes is unclear and the point of view muddled, with spurious voiceovers and unattributed flashbacks that might be memories or fantasies or a combination of the two. Yet Egoyan seems in control, and bit by bit the story emerges (and keeps emerging beyond the point of dramatic clarity). The boy is Simon, an orphan who writes a fake autobiographical story based on an article about the foiled terrorist bombing of an airline that his French teacher (Arsinée Khanjian) has read in class. In the story, Simon's Arab father has sent his pregnant mother onto the flight unwittingly carrying the bomb; he means to sacrifice her and her unborn child — Simon — to the cause. The teacher, who is also the school's drama coach, encourages Simon to develop the story into a performance and — for added conviction — to maintain the illusion that it is true.

Simon goes farther than that: he puts the story on-line, engaging in a discussion of it with a chat room of other teenagers. From this virtual seed the fiction spreads, sprouting into exchanges with academics, confrontations with the survivors of the real flight, and exposure to an anti-Semitic skinhead and other creepy denizens of the seething id submerged in the Internet. The fantasy takes on the weight of truth, and Adoration begins to touch on such issues as the motives and ethics of storytelling, the power of the Web to reconstruct reality, and the psychology of the War on Terror.

Egoyan, however, appears to believe that a backstory not only is required but needs to be elaborated. And so we get Simon's troubled adoptive uncle (Scott Speedman), flashbacks to Simon's parents, and a subplot in which the French teacher . . . In short, Adoration drifts off in the opposite direction of Simon's fabrications, from the semblance of truth into inconsequential make-believe.

Related: Not so great X-pectations, Review: Serbis, Review: Defiance, More more >
  Topics: Reviews , Atom Egoyan, Culture and Lifestyle, Entertainment,  More more >
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