MOVIE REVIEW: Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
Starring: Elijah Wood, Eugene Lutz
Director: Leiv Schreiber
Runtime: 106 minutes
You might’ve heard about Jonathan Safran Foer, author of ‘Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close’. That was his second book, while ‘Everything Is Illuminated’ was his first. This semi-autobiographic book got a translation to the big screen in 2005, starring Elijah Wood as the author himself. Safran Foer, of Jewish heritage, travels back to Ukraine to find the origin of a picture taken of his Jewish grandfather with an unknown woman, right before he fled to the United States. As an American travelling through Ukraine, he is met with a lot of aversion from the local population.
Is Leiv Schreiber’s first, and for the time being only, venture towards directing a succesful one? Read on to find out.
When Jonathan travels to Ukraine, he is picked up by Alex (Eugene Lutz), a good-for-nothing, America-loving idiot, who I can best describe as resembling Borat, his grumpy grandfather and his grandfather’s dog Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. Initially, they are out to scam him for his money, but Jon’s personality intrigues them, and eventually they find him quite amusing. They decide to help him find the woman in the picture, and set out for a long journey in which they will find out a lot about themselves, and the world in general.
This being a story about the holocaust, there is enough foundation for a drama. Leiv Schreiber (better known for playing in films like Defiance and X-Men Origins: Wolverine) however tends to keep the subject light, with enough comedic effects to keep this film from being a tear-jerker. Lutz’s portrayal of Alex provides most laughs, with his thick accent (Lutz is a native Ukrainian, but migrated to the US while still young) and erratic behavior.
Elijah Woods’ character is best described as mysterious. Although being the main character, he doesn’t say much, and the reasons as to why he behaves like he does are kept uncertain. He has issues, but so do the Alex and his grandfather. Due to their roadtrip, they learn to understand each other, and gradually they all change for the better.
This isn’t just a holocaust-themed drama, this is a movie about soul-searching. Where do we come from? Why do we do what we do? How do we become who we are? These are all themes this movie skillfully touches. It isn’t a new ‘Schindler’s List’, it is not even set during the second world war, but it doesn’t need to be. No proclamation of right and wrong in this film, it believes ‘what’s done is done’. The only question this movie proposes, is ‘how do we let it affect us?’.
If you want to watch a well-made drama, with some quirky comedic elements, I would suggest this one. With an IMDb-rating of 7.5, you can’t really go wrong anyway.