Canada, 2008, 100 minutes, Colour.
Arsinee Khanjian, Devon Bostick, Rachel Blanchard, Scott Speedman, Kenneth Welsh.
Directed by Atom Egoyan.
For over twenty years Atom Egoyan has been making significant films which often contain themes of family relationships – and an interest in how developing technology influences ordinary life. He has remarked that when he was making Speaking Parts in the 1980s, with video and the beginnings of what became the internet, people were witnesses to an increasing availability of images whereas at the beginning of the 21st century, people are creating images and making them available, both instantly and universally.
The writer of the press notes for Adoration has a helpful list of themes and threads for the film: the differences between appearances and reality, the subjective nature of truth, fragmented structures, multiple time frames and points of view, rich and complex characters and the dynamics of family. He might have specified also: fact and fiction, realism and imagination, performance and truth, racial and religious prejudice, personal intolerance, the role of education – and terrorism. They are all present in Adoration and quite substantially treated.
The film is both an intellectual puzzle as well as an emotional challenge. And very satisfying on all counts.
Devon Bostick convincingly portrays Simon, an adolescent who is concerned about the death in a car accident of his parents. His dying grandfather (Kenneth Welsh), whom he is filming in interview, accuses Simon’s father of being a killer since he doted on his daughter and belongs to a middle-eastern culture and religion. The opportunity is provided by a creative teacher (Arsinee Khanjian) for Simon to rewrite a story as if the parents in the story (the father being a terrorist bomber) were his own, enabling him to reflect on them. He also places the material on the internet where it is the subject of a great deal of teenage discussion and argument as well eliciting interviews from holocaust survivors to holocaust denyers.
The situation is further complicated since his uncle, despised by his own father, has been rearing him since his parents’ death. A situation to test his tolerance is arranged – and he fails. However, by a series of what seems coincidences but which are not, Simon is able to free himself from his grandfather’s influence (which has specific Christian overtones), reconcile with his uncle and discover more complex truths than he (or we) anticipated.
This means quite a tight script that offers all the clues but reveals its truths step by step.
Adoration is a word with transcendent overtones. Egoyan is using it in a more this-worldly sense, a sense of respect, of awe, of connection and of meaning.
1.The title, indications of transcendence, adoration in this world?
2.The range of themes: availability of images, people creating images, instant and universal, the differences between appearances and reality, the subjective nature of truth, fragmented structures, multiple time frames, multiple points of view, the complexity of character, the dynamics of family, fact and fiction, realism and imagination, performance in theatre and truth, racial and religious prejudice, personal intolerance, the role of education, terrorism?
3.The Toronto settings, ordinary, the homes, school, the tow-truck business, the cafés? The contrast with the countryside, its beauty and quiet, the mansion? The interiors of the mansion? The contrast with Israel and security? The range of the musical score, the violin pieces?
4.The perspectives on appearance and reality: Simon, his mother and her absence, the story of terrorism and his response to it, imagining his parents as involved in terrorism – and the specific flashbacks to security in Israel, the questioning of the mother, her visit to the Holy Land, her relationship with her fiancé, her pregnancy and not telling him? Simon and his describing what happened, presenting the story to the class? The possibilities of his mother’s death, of his own death because of being in the womb? The point at which the audience realised that this was fiction? The truth about his parents and the car crash? Sabine as the teacher, encouraging him? Listening to him differently? Encouraging his performance, rehearsals? The class and the listening? His decision not to tell Tom? His putting the information on the Internet, the chat rooms, the faces on the screens, the discussions with Simon, his friends feeling that he had not told them the truth, angers? The various comments – the victim of the Holocaust and her tattoo, the neo-Nazi and his saying the Holocaust was six million lies? The story becoming the reality?
5.Simon in himself, filming his grandfather in hospital – and later using the clip about the truth to persuade viewers that what he put on the Internet was true? Listening to his grandfather, his grandfather’s intolerant attitudes? His stories about his love for his daughter, the gift of the violin? The grandmother and the Christmas cards, the cribs and their being put out on the front lawn for the celebration of Christmas? His relationship with Tom, the deaths of his parents, Tom looking after him, care, in the family home – and Tom avoiding his father? Money tied up till he was twenty-five? The decision about selling the violin? The set-ups, Sabine and her visit, disguised as a Muslim, the talk with Tom, his prejudice? Simon and his knowing what was happening? In class, his nervousness, the development of the story? The end, the truth about his mother, getting the characters from the crib, going to the mansion, imagining his mother playing the violin, putting the statues and the camera with his grandfather in the fire? Burning the prejudice of the past – with its Christian overtones?
6.His parents, as imagined, as real? The flashbacks to the shop, the mother taking the violin, Sammy and his falling in love? The arguments with Rachel’s father, the prejudice, the dinner and the clashes, rudeness and civilisation? Rachel and her drinking? Tom taking Simon for a drive, not answering the phone? Sammy and the problem with his eye, talking on the road, the crash? The grandfather and his lies about the phone call and Sammy’s threats? Calling Sammy a killer?
7.Tom, his life, despised by his father, not having any talent, his being full of anger? The tow-truck work, seeing him in action with his clients and their behaviour? Looking after Simon? His reaction to Sabine’s visit, his prejudice? His towing Sabine, talking with her, the meal, the truth emerging, going to her home, the photos, learning about Sammy and the marriage?
8.Sabine as teacher, French teacher, the article, the children and their response, their notes? Simon and his response to the story, her encouraging him, wanting him to perform? The rehearsals? Her being fired, the discussions with her lawyer and the consequences of the Internet publishing of the story? Arranging the towing, meeting Tom, the meal with him, the taxi driver and Tom’s fight with him? The coincidences being planned? Revealing that she had visited the house? Her statements about the crib, about the Jews killing Jesus, the confrontation? Her return and the apology? Sammy, the reaction, allowing her into the family, her explanation that Simon was all she had?
9.The chat room, the various views, the characters, the students? The ease with which we create images?
10.The lawyer, the discussion about her being fired? The taxi driver, the lunch, the issue of money and Tom’s violent reaction?
11.The background of security, Israel, terrorism, the security and the interrogation of Rachel? Sabine and her losing her family in Lebanon, Sammy coming from Lebanon?
12.Everything coming together, the past, the acknowledgment of the truth, hope for the future?