Everything Is Illuminated

Rating: ★★★★☆

“Everything is Illuminated” is a movie about memories and the things that certain people do with them. Some treasure each memory with zeal and optimism; others spend a lifetime filtering every dark moment with a hope of never having to suffer in remembrance of it. So many things can happen to us, both good and bad, and it’s not unusual to occasionally wish that we can control our ability to remember, and forget.

Elijah Wood stars as Jonathan, a Jewish-American who is about to travel to Ukraine in search of the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during the Second World War. His eyes are magnified by his thick glasses and his hair is cautiously combed, which rightfully matches his black suite. Our first impression of Jonathan is a man who is curious and disciplined. We are even hinted that he has an obsessive-compulsive nature the first time we see a wall in his home almost completely covered with plastic bags containing items that is there to simply remind him.

While Jonathan is yet to arrive, we are introduced to a Ukrainian family whose business is to help Jews find the place where their ancestors have perished. This is where the movie suddenly adapts a comedic tone. The eldest son is Alex, who is the film’s narrator. His skills in English are lacking in an appealing way. He claims to be a “premium” dancer, and is not very excited to learn that he must accompany his grandfather in “the commencement of a very rigid search.” Because Grandfather, the designated driver of the search, claims to be blind, they bring along Sammy Davis Junior Jr. He is the official “seeing eye bitch”. I kinda love these guys.

When Grandfather and Alex finally get together with young Jonathan, a humorous and moving adventure begins. Soon enough we learn of Alex’s interest in the American life as he cannot stop asking questions from Jonathan. Alex wonders about the mystery behind tips, veganism, and the salary of all kinds of… accountants. During all this, Grandfather is rather detached from all activities.

As the movie draws closer to its conclusion, we notice that it shifts from silly comedy to serious drama. This method isn’t commonly used in the movies, because it is difficult to pull of, but first-time director Liev Schreiber has somehow succeeded. Deeper emotions are revealed. Alex reveals a concern for Grandfather that has been keeping him “distressed.” It’s also surprising how Jonathan’s journey slowly becomes more of the grandfather’s. His own memories are made known unto us. There are some mistakes, but it’s the regrets that are more discomforting.

The more I watched “Everything is Illuminated”, the more I thought about the possibility that the real heroes here are Alex and his grandfather. Perhaps the primary purpose of Jonathan’s existence here is to highlight the characters of the two Ukrainians, which could actually be what the movie got right the most.

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Everything Is Illuminated