Sunday, December 6, 2009
Atom Egoyan seemed like the next big thing back in the mid-'90s; riding high on the back-to-back successes of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, the Canadian director could have conquered the world. Instead, he produced a string of tepidly received movies that had their moments but lacked the spark of his earlier work or his mid-career breakthrough.
Let us rejoice then, that his latest feature, Adoration, puts Egoyan back on track. In fact, the film's biggest flaw is its overzealous attempt to connect the thematic preoccupations of The Sweet Hereafter with his early work such as Family Viewing and Speaking Parts. Those films dealt with the emerging role of home technology in human life and how it started to affect interpersonal relationships (keep in mind that he made these back in the late '80s when Facebook was just some term for a vicious sex act).
Simon (Devon Bostick), the young protagonist of Adoration, spends much of his time in online chat with with people. An orphan living with his uncle Tommy (Scott Speedman), Simon sets in motion a snafu (in the sense of the word's original, acronymous meaning) when his French teacher has the class translate an old news report. Based on the true Hindawi affair, the story describes a terrorist who packed a bomb in his pregnant wife's luggage and sent her to the airport to board a plane to Israel.
Instead of simply translating the article, Simon, whose Pakistani father crashed the car that killed himself and Simon's mother, rewrites the story to cast father Sami as the terrorist, his mother as the wife and himself as the unborn child. The teacher knows that it is fiction, but she's intrigued by his imagination and asks him to turn it into a play. For effect, they decide to act as if his version of the story is real.
Then, Simon takes it to far: he brings the story to the Web, and the screen of faces on his computer begins to multiple like reproducing cells: two become four, four 16 and so forth. His classmates shower him with pity, though it's interesting how readily they all speak of him as if he isn't a part of the conversation. His story opens a discourse among them over the nature of terrorism, with numerous people arguing on Simon's behalf while gently forcing him out of the discussion. Soon, teachers enter their own chat to discuss the rumors, and eventually people across the Internet pick up on Simon's story, among them Aryan extremists praising the supposedly anti-Semitic actions of his father.
As with The Sweet Hereafter, the lies of Adoration give people a certain comfort, a shield with which to guard themselves from the deeper and darker truth. The truth behind Sami and Rchael's death is not so twisted, but the truth as Simon understands it is itself based on a lie. Simon did not only move in with his uncle but also within reach of his grandfather Morris (Kenneth Walsh), a manipulative racist who brainwashes Simon into thinking that the boy's father killed Rachael. In an early scene, Simon expresses distaste for his uncle's abrasive dismissal of a Muslim woman wandering through the neighborhood and attempting to engage in a friendly chat, yet he buys into his grandfather's lies that his father was a killer. Simon extrapolates this notion of personal murder by elevating his father into the role of an idealistic mass killer. Later, Tom himself reveals a bitterness toward Morris' influence and how he wishes that Simon didn't grow up under the old man's influence. Both of these men reject the distasteful nature of their father figures even as they've been so inundated with hate that they too are guilty of that which they wish to reject.
Once the secret is out, Simon only becomes more withdrawn as the Internet essentially locks him out of the discussion concerning him for good. Repercussions sweep through the cast of characters, shaking loose other closeted skeletons. As in The Sweet Hereafter, the personal becomes political: by so casually rewriting Sami's life story to cast him as a terrorist, is Simon a reflection of America's own will to racism in the post-9/11 era? If Sarah Palin, a former Vice Presidential nominee and still, hilariously, a serious contender for a Presidential candidacy, can use the Fort Hood shootings as "proof" of the validity, the necessity even, of racial profiling, what makes Simon's actions so shocking? Adoration ends with a symbolic murder, one that frees its perpetrator to pursue a happier life. I'm not sure how to apply the "murder" into the larger context of the political issues of the story -- though it certainly addresses both the personal and technological aspects -- but the most important item that I took from this film is that Atom Egoyan is back, and let us hope that he doesn't leave again.