by Bridget Ascenzo
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“Adoration,” written, produced and directed by Atom Egoyan follows the journey of several characters struggling to understand their place in the world and their connections to each other. Their stories, which turn out to be more intertwined than anyone could predict, are nestled within the backdrop of lightning rod issues of terrorism, martyrdom and the struggle for identity. Those familiar with Egoyan’s previous works will be unsurprised at the attention he pays to technology-mediated human interaction as well as his stubbornly non linear plot development and frequent use of long atmospheric, dreamlike sequences.
High school student Simon (Devon Bostick), an orphan living with his uncle, is seized with inspiration after his French teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian, Egoyan’s actual wife) presents a translation assignment based on a real news story about a terrorist who planted a bomb in the luggage of his pregnant girlfriend before she boarded a plane bound for Tel Aviv. Simon then writes a narrative in which he imagines himself as the son of the terrorist and is encouraged by his teacher to present the work to the class as a dramatic exercise. He goes farther than that by posting his story on the internet as truth which ignites a firestorm of controversy.
The publication of Simon’s story and his newfound identity as the son of a terrorist provoke fierce public debate. His account is instantly seized upon by a variety of people who castigate, empathize or congratulate him on behalf of his “terrorist father.” Is terrorism ever justified? Can human connection dissuade one from committing mass murder? Suddenly, Simon is the focal point for these and other questions as a cacophony of webcam participants seize upon different aspects of the story to legitimize their own prejudices, experiences and, in some cases, their individual senses of victimization.
Filmmaker Egoyan then turns away from this maelstrom to delve deeper into Simon’s actual story. The son of a Lebanese immigrant and WASP-ish violinist, Simon has struggled for years to learn more about his father despite his grandfather and uncle’s willingness to discuss him. It is true that both parents died in a car accident but was it his father’s murderous intent, as his grandfather vehemently maintains? His uncle (Scott Speedman), who is estranged from the grandfather, refuses to shed any light on the subject though he obviously has his own thoughts on the matter. Simon’s literary imagining himself as the son of the terrorist from the news article is the means through which the family- accompanied by an insistent interloper- is inexorably compelled to face a past filled with guilt, prejudice, secrets and misunderstandings.
Simon, as played by Devon Bostick, is a morose, willful teenager whose eyes are opened as his controversial story garners an increasingly virulent public reaction. His final response to the outcome of his persistent quest for identity is vulnerable and touching. Scott Speedman, as Simon’s uncle, offers a surprisingly sympathetic portrayal of a hot headed character struggling with his own complex feelings about his sister and her husband. The French teacher, played by Arsinee Khanjian, gives an initially understated performance that later grows more complex and mysterious. What is behind her encouragement of Simon’s terrorist narrative? Khanjian deftly keeps her character’s motivation under wraps, making it all the more shocking when it is brought to light.
Though the part of the film dealing with the public reaction to Simon’s fictional narrative feels at times bombastic and overly broad, once Egoyan settles into the teenager’s personal story the viewer is catapulted into an interesting character study with unpredictable plot twists that lead to a completely unanticipated resolution.
Bridget Ascenzo is a freelance writer and singer living on Chicago’s north side.
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