Adoration *** ½
Directed by: Atom Egoyan
Written By: Atom Egoyan
Starring: Devon Bostick (Simon), Scott Speedman (Tom), Rachel Blanchard (Rachel), Arsinée Khanjian (Sabine), Kenneth Welsh (Morris), Noam Jenkins (Sami), Katie Boland (Hannah).
Adoration is a complex, rather difficult film to wrap your head around. But it is also a powerful movie about identity - and how the values instilled on us by our family can be a difficult thing to overcome. Because this is an Atom Egoyan movie, it is not easy film, but it is one that is richly rewarding to those viewers who give themselves over to it.
The story centers on Simon (Devon Bostick), a teenager living in Toronto, who is being raised by his Uncle Tom (Scott Speedman). Years ago, his parents were killed in a car accident, and Simon is still dealing with the loss. Tom feels guilty about the deaths and how his father (Kenneth Walsh) contributed to them. Simon’s mother, who we see in flashbacks (played by Rachel Blanchard) was a talented musician, who fell in love with Sami (Noam Jenkins), an Arab man. Although her father loved her, and has always loved Simon, he hated Sami, and viewed him as a killer.
One day in French class the teacher, Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian) assigns them a difficult piece to translate, but tells them to do it in whatever way makes sense. The story is about an Arab man who plants a bomb on his pregnant, Christian wife as she is about to board a plane to the Holy Land. She is stopped by airport security, and the story becomes big in the media. Simon imagines the story as if it was his father who planted the bomb on his mother, while she was pregnant with him. Sabine is intrigued by Simon’s take, and encourages him to share the story with his class - as a drama project. What she does not want him to tell anyone that the story is not true. That would diminish its power. But Simon takes things a step farther then Sabine had planned, and starts to tell his story in internet chat rooms, where more and more people find out about it, and it sparks massive debate. Reveling in the attention, Simon takes things further and further.
Egoyan asks tough questions of his audience. He demands attention. For the first time since The Sweet Hereafter, he seems like he is at the height of his directorial powers. His story is multi-layered, and contains within it flashbacks, as he gradually doles out the information. But unlike many directors, who hide behind the flashback structure for no reason other to keep the audience is suspense, Egoyan has a purpose here. We only find out the information when Simon does. Characters behave strangely, but they have their own reasons to. Haunted by their past, unable to let go of their mistakes, the characters continue to relive them. Because characters conceal information from Simon, he is confused, and unable to fully comprehend the consequences of his actions.
The grandfather’s racism has tainted everything for Simon. Because Tom has never been able to stand up to his father, or even let his true feelings be known to Simon, Simon believes that he as well is racist. This creates the conflict in Simon, who has never truly deal with his own mixed heritage. The chat rooms allow him to act out a role, and work through his feelings.
Adoration is a film that is going to divide audiences. Some will find it slow, and others will find undoubtedly claim that Egoyan bites off more than he can chew. It is true that Egoyan asks more questions in Adoration than he answers, but I prefer to see that as a virtue not a flaw. Some of the questions he asks have answers that are so complex that no movie could actually answer them. But if the other option is that the questions never even get asked, I’ll take Egoyan’s film any day. He is one of the few directors who are trying to deal with the modern world who decides to take a closer look. This is not a film of good guys and bad guys, but a film about people trying to come to grips with their own place in the world. It is one of Egoyan’s best films.