Loss And Identity In Atom Egoyan's 'Adoration'

Host Jacki Lyden talks to director Atom Egoyan about his latest film, Adoration. It's a meditation on loss and identity that centers around a young boy who lost his parents in a car wreck. In the film, the boy spins a lie about their true identities that ends up getting out of control.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

A young boy, his troubled uncle, his mysterious French teacher and a lie that spins out of control. This is the complicated heart of "Adoration," the new film from Canadian director Atom Egoyan.

(Soundbite of movie "Adoration")

Mr. DEVON BOSTICK (Actor): (As Simon) What they found at the bottom of my mother's bag were concealed plastic explosives and a detonator. And if the bomb had gone off in mid-air, as my father intended, all 400 people onboard that flight would've perished.

LYDEN: It all begins when 16-year-old Simon performs a monologue that convinces his classmates that he's the son of a well-known terrorist. Or does it begin years earlier, with a sad-faced young woman playing the violin on a dock?

Luckily, we have Atom Egoyan here to answer these questions. He joins me now from our Culver City studios. Hello, there.

Mr. ATOM EGOYAN (Director, "Adoration"): Hi.

LYDEN: So how would you describe what's going on in this film?

Mr. EGOYAN: Well, I think a lot is going on in the head of this young boy, Simon. He is somebody who has been orphaned at a young age, and he doesn't really have access to who his parents are. He has a very controlling grandfather who has idealized his mother.

The grandfather has created this story, which basically led to Simon having to believe that his father killed his mother in a purposeful murder-suicide, and something in Simon doesn't really believe this anymore.

He embraces this story that's told to him by a French teacher, drama teacher, in a translation exercise, which is a story based on an episode some people might remember where a Jordanian man talked his Irish girlfriend, who was pregnant with their child, onto an El Al flight.

LYDEN: Yes, I remember that.

Mr. EGOYAN: And unbeknownst to her, he had planted a bomb in her handbag, and that to me seems to be the most demonic and evil thing that a father could possibly do. And Simon, hearing this story, creates this narrative where he is that child, and he uses that as a springboard to project this image of the father as demon and in the process reformats what his relationship to his parents actually was.

It's a complex story, but I think it's all rooted in very clear emotions, and the clearest one is that at a certain point, children need to know where they're from.

LYDEN: In this film, at the beginning, I had trouble believing in these characters because I couldn't believe that a teacher would be as devious as the French teacher, Sabine, or that a teenage boy would be as eloquent as Simon.

Mr. EGOYAN: Well, I think we can't really understand Sabine until much later on. She, you know, her motivations are very layered. So it is challenging for a viewer to understand why these people are behaving that way, and certainly Simon's eloquence is something that she constructs or helps construct, and all these characters are distorting themselves and taking themselves into places that are not immediately natural or even believable, but that's the risk and challenge of the movie, I think.

I think it's also possible with these technologies, especially with the Internet, for people to take on alternate identities very easily. And when Simon puts his story out onto the Internet, you know, groups and responses are formed which are not in any way traditional. Some of them are very extreme.

LYDEN: Well, let me talk about that. One of the devices that you used is a sort of computerized Greek chorus, where you see people talking back to Simon in split-screen on his computer. I was actually thinking of calling it the geek chorus because it's where everybody seems to meet, and it's kind of have an echo chamber. Would you tell me about using that device?

Mr. EGOYAN: Well, the device that's used in the film is a visual extension of what happens on a blog, where people are creating a dialogue. I think the next step of that is that groups of people can actually interact with another, and this film might be set slightly in the future, where those contacts are much speedier than they are right now.

But what happens as a result is that there's no filter in terms of what people say. There's not the traditional sense of people reflecting on what they're feeling before they actually express it because there's such an acceleration with the Internet.

LYDEN: At the end of this film, Simon, Tom and Sabine seem like they might be forming a new and unconventional sort of family. I'm just wondering what you want your audiences to come away feeling about the possibility of taking what you had supposed is true and creating a new sense of center.

Mr. EGOYAN: I think it's the most generous act in the film. Tom, this boy's uncle, who is dealing with a woman who's quite neurotic and potentially…

LYDEN: A stalker.

Mr. EGOYAN: …a stalker, unstable. But this woman ends up being the only person who can explain to this boy who his father was. Whether or not that family will persist, whether or not it will last longer than, you know, a week is left open. But that moment, I think, is very positive in the film.

LYDEN: Director Atom Egoyan. His new film is called "Adoration," which will be in theaters this Friday. Thank you very, very much.

Mr. EGOYAN: Thank you.

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'Adoration': Stories Told, And Twisted, With Grief

Devon Bostick i i

hide captionSimon (Devon Bostick) is bewildered by the loss of his parents; when he tells classmates an invented tale of how they died, the story takes on a life far beyond his school.

Sophie Giraud/Sony Classics
Devon Bostick

Simon (Devon Bostick) is bewildered by the loss of his parents; when he tells classmates an invented tale of how they died, the story takes on a life far beyond his school.

Sophie Giraud/Sony Classics

Adoration

  • Director: Atom Egoyan
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 101 minutes

Rated R: Adult language and themes

With: Scott Speedman, Rachel Blanchard, Kenneth Welsh, Devon Bostick, Arsinee Khanjian

Sabine and Simon i i

hide captionThe bombshell: Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian), who teaches both French and drama at Simon's school, persuades her charge to conflate a vintage newspaper story with the tale of his parents' death.

Sophie Giraud/Sony Pictures Classics
Sabine and Simon

The bombshell: Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian), who teaches both French and drama at Simon's school, persuades her charge to conflate a vintage newspaper story with the tale of his parents' death.

Sophie Giraud/Sony Pictures Classics
Sabine in veil i i

hide captionReligious themes pile one upon another in Adoration; as Christmas nears and Simon's story spreads online, he and his uncle erect an elaborate Nativity scene at their home — which Sabine admires from behind an elaborately beaded veil.

Sony Pictures Classics
Sabine in veil

Religious themes pile one upon another in Adoration; as Christmas nears and Simon's story spreads online, he and his uncle erect an elaborate Nativity scene at their home — which Sabine admires from behind an elaborately beaded veil.

Sony Pictures Classics

Like most of Atom Egoyan's movies, the new Adoration operates on multiple levels, and works on many of them. The problem is that the aspect of the film that doesn't convince is the human one.

The movie centers on Simon (Devon Bostick), a Toronto high school student, but it leaps around in time, introducing incidents that happened before Simon was born. It also includes episodes that never actually happened — events invented by the curious Simon or his bitter grandfather.

The event that still bewilders both Simon and his grandfather is the death of the boy's parents, Rachel (Rachel Blanchard) and Sami (Noam Jenkins). She was a talented violinist; he was a Lebanese-born craftsman who met her when he repaired her violin.

Simon now has that instrument, but little else from his parents. He lives with his financially strapped uncle, who lacked his sister's artistic calling. Uncle Tom (Scott Speedman) drives a tow truck, and he's suspicious of bohemians and other outsiders.

A clarifying crisis is provided by Simon's French teacher, Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian, the director's wife and a regular in his films). She assigns a translation project that is sure to spark political controversy: an old newspaper article about a Palestinian emigre who sent his pregnant Canadian girlfriend to Israel with a bomb in her luggage.

The bomb didn't detonate, except psychologically: The woman was left with the child of a man who intended to kill her (and many more) for ideological reasons.

In his rendering of the tale, represented on screen with Rachel as the innocent and Sami as the plotter, Simon imagines he is the child of that relationship. The rewrite is in some ways plausible: Simon's parents are dead, and his grandfather has long blamed Sami for Rachel's death.

Sabine asks Simon to present his version of the article to the class as truth — she teaches drama as well as French, and is interested in role-playing and storytelling. It's later revealed, however, that Sabine has a personal reason for encouraging Simon to pretend the provocative tale is autobiographical.

Simon's claim to be the survivor of a failed bombing travels beyond the school. Soon, the boy's story is being discussed heatedly in Internet video chats. XTC's "Dear God" plays as the conversation expands to include neo-Nazi skinheads and Holocaust survivors.

Adding to the pileup of religious themes, the central story is set at Christmastime, and while the Christian world adores the baby Jesus, Simon reveres his lost parents, whose photos adorn homemade Christmas ornaments. Outside their modest house, Simon and Tom erect an elaborate nativity scene that Sabine admires — while posing as a radical Muslim, behind a metal veil.

Rachel's destination on the trip that Simon invents, by the way, is Bethlehem.

Viewers of Egoyan's previous films, which include Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter, will recognize many of the Canadian writer-director's enduring themes: assumed identities, ethnic and sectarian rifts, revelations at airport customs desks, new video technologies as both aids and obstacles to truth.

As if all that weren't enough, Adoration also tries to be an old-fashioned mystery-melodrama, complete with an overbearing, string-heavy score. Gradually, the movie reveals the connections between its major players, detailing just what happened to Rachel and Sami, whose loss haunts all the others.

Simon's obsession with the parents he barely knew is persuasive, but the other characters — especially Sabine — are mere narrative devices. When all is said and webcasted, Adoration proves to be characteristic Egoyan: crackling with intellectual energy, but short on emotional authenticity.

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