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

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

Devon Bostick i

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 hide caption

toggle caption 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

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 hide caption

toggle caption 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

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 hide caption

toggle caption 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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