Atom Egoyan: Adoration (2008) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Atom Egoyan: Adoration (2008)

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Andrew COMMENTARYRight now, you're forging a story about yourself.  Some people are allowed to be the heroes in their own stories, nobly sacrificing their own needs for the preservation of the many.  But quite a few others get a giddy thrill at the other side of the fence.  The area where we get to be failed martyrs, admittedly noble but misguided would-be saints that die for nothing but go out in a glorious flame.  If you were to examine your life on this, admittedly, narrow line where would you fall?  Noble warrior or self-knowing sacrifice?

Adoration, even though it's not as emotionally poignant as some of Egoyan's other films, is remarkably direct in the way it that we're able to weave whatever story we wish to tell.  Everyone confronts this issue nowadays.  In the face of the internet, the grand tapestry has woven so far and allows such an illusion that I can pretend to be a Japanese survivor of the tsunami.

Far-fetched?  Not in the slightest.  I can pretend to be from a poorer, more illiterate district that does not receive the same educational funding.  This would explain why my reliance on Google Translate yields the least grammatically comprehensible results, though able to convey an appropriate thought in whatever language I choose - and since I want to be a tsunami victim I need to use the Japanese option.  Then it's a simple matter of setting up my own blog or looking up sites sympathetic to their plight to start my charade and reaping the emotional benefits.

Egoyan takes a step back to look at our technology. Is expression really brave if we view it through a lens, no matter the distance?

But the question remains, why am I doing this?  In all honesty, I can't imagine a stage in my life where I'm so hard up for sympathy that I need to portray a foreign disaster victim.  But part of the beauty of Egoyan's Adoration is the way that we use these lies to transcend our own pain.  There is a lot of falsehood in Adoration, especially spread about its main characters, but in no way is anyone using their lies to wound or attack someone else.  Like Egoyan's greatest films, there's a deep-seeded pain in play, even if it's brought to the forefront with more obvious dialogue than in his other features.

As with his other films, a synopsis does nearly no good to understanding the emotional well, but here we go.  Simon (Devon Bostick) is assigned a task by his French teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian) to translate an article about terrorism and read it to the class.  Sabine is also the drama coach, and Simon does such a great job translating the story to the deaths of his mother and father in a car accident (an act of incidental terrorism) that she trains him to tell the story as truth.  This worries his guardian Tom (Scott Speedman), who used to be tolerant of the cultures around him but is now weary of the Muslim neighbors that cross his path.

What's beautiful about Egoyan's film is the way that Sabine sacrifices her own career to reach out to Tom for reasons that the plot need reveal in it's own time.  I can say that real selflessness is rarely achieved in cinema - we're too busy looking at explosions to really reach the truth.  But Sabine's actions reach Tom in a way that we are not prepared for, and Simon's healing process is started in such a fashion that Sabine's sacrifice is hardly noted - save for the few in the audience that see what she's given up.

Even then, what she's given up is in question related to fire that spreads amongst the other characters.

In traditional Egoyan fashion we're treated to a number of intersecting plotlines throughout the temporal spectrum.  Simon tries to deal with his assignment and the massive internet fallout that results.  Tom attempts to keep Simon happy while putting on the illusion of a good Christian household for his neighbors.  Then there's Sabine, taking a stab against Tom's fake prejudices and trying to connect to he and Simon in a way that is, on the surface, deceitful but containing a deeper truth.

Which, really, is what Adoration is all about.  I'm fascinated by the way people use art to bring the full force of their pain to the surface, and there are a few moments in Adoration that speak to this wonderfully.  Simon may be lying about his mother and father being terrorists, but that doesn't escape the fact that they killed themselves, and quite a few others, in a car accident that was designed to showcase their emotional commitment.  Replace "emotion" with "religion" and is it really so hard to see why Simon finds a way to care for the terrorism story?

Egoyan takes things a step further in a direction that's eerily prescient of the internet today.  Simon's "fake story" makes the rounds over the internet and various commentators come to give their thoughts.  His story involves a bomb that would have gone off with his father on a specific flight, then we're treated to the plight of the perpetually amazing Egoyan regular Maury Chaykin, who would have been on that particular flight.  Chaykin's survivor considers himself an emissary of life that dominates them all.   He died, but came back to tell the story of those who could have perished but didn't.  What is more affecting than the story of the reluctant survivor?

The way Egoyan predicted our technological level is prescient. The success to which he develops our post-9/11 feelings about technology and terrorism is downright creepy in its accuracy.

Is it wrong of him to speak of them that way?  No.  The way that information is delivered to us these days is complex and multidimensional.  Egoyan presents a computer program that is not unlike the Skype or Google Talk we use now (though far more functional for a community than a few people) and allows people like Chaykin's survivor to rail against Simon who, in all honesty, had no control over the actions of his parents.  The actions that he fabricated, at the whims of his teacher, who wanted to moralize a simple point.  Now, do you see, how quickly good intentions spiral out toward those than don't even know they're in water?

It seems like all I do is ask questions of Egoyan's movies.  The truth is that he presents a clearer vision of emotional necessity than any director working today.  This, in turn, asks questions of the supposedly simplistic paths our emotions take.  Can you follow the path between Simon's loss, Simone's plan, Tom's guilt and the stranger's pain?  I can't - but should anyone?

If there's a weakness in Adoration, it's that the subtext (so beautifully presented in The Sweet Hereafter) is underlined and left out for all to see.  Yes, we create fictions to live our lives by.  Yes, they are not "true" in the physical sense.  But we don't need a character to come onscreen and say "You lied to protect your nephew" because we're smart enough to draw those conclusions.

So who is your pain going to make you out to be tomorrow?  Strong or succumbing?  Able to reconcile, or resistant to change?  Who will you be?

The internet makes it possible to be anyone.  Whether it's honest (an entirely different question) will remain for another day.  In the meantime, your pain is your own.  Do not appropriate another culture just to get the connective jollies.  But if you do, I hope you're a better liar than Simon, even with a coach like Simone leading him on.

Next week I'll be revisiting another one of Egoyan's Hollywood films, the surprisingly deep Chloe.  See you then.

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Adoration (2008)

Written and directed by Atom Egoyan.
Starring  Devon Bostick, Arsinee Khanjian, and Scott Speedman.

Egoyan with text

Posted by Andrew

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