Religion, intolerance, identity, explored in talky, but intriguing drama ‘Adoration’
The title is apt. In Adoration, the tautly-constructed new drama from individualistic Canadian indie filmmaker Atom Egoyan, the central image is a large, hand-painted wooden Crèche scene, a holiday lawn display whose cut-out figures represent the Adoration of the Magi, complete with metallic gold halos.
But the splendor of this innocent-seeming artifact conceals a world of turmoil, prejudice, fear, deceit, and, finally, reconciliation, in Egoyan’s precisely rendered and beautifully scaled meditation on family and culture, secrets and lies.
Egoyan (best known for The Sweet Hereafter) maintains a delicate balancing act throughout the film. Incidents and conversations unspool in a seemingly random manner at first, until the chronology of the story begins to assert itself. There’s nothing tricky or arty about this; it’s just the means by which Egoyan reveals what we need to know about the shape-shifting storyline by degrees, while reeling in the viewer with the authenticity of his characters’ voices, thoughts, feelings, and dilemmas.
At the heart of the tale is teenage Simon (Devon Bostick). One day, he has an epiphany about his deceased parents when his Lebanese-born high school French teacher, Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian,) reads the class an old newspaper story about a pregnant foreigner arrested in an Israeli airport with a bomb in her luggage. Encouraged to share his story with the class, Simon and his story of loss and identity are soon burning up cyberspace as well, sparking weighty discussions on terrorism, love, faith, martyrdom, and survival among Simon’s face-to-face online chat room pals. The discussion expands exponentially to include their parents, and even total strangers, some of them pretty scary; the split screen image on his laptop keeps dividing like amoebas as more and more people log onto the debate.
Back in the real world, Tom (Scott Speedman), the young uncle who’s raising Simon, struggles to make ends meet on his tow-truck driver’s salary. A hard worker with a short fuse, Tom is not amused when a mysterious neighbor woman (with a veil over her face that looks like it’s made out of chain mail) stops to make disparaging remarks as he’s erecting the family’s Christmas Crèche scene on the lawn—even when she comes back later to apologize.
Armed with his ever-present Nokia camera phone, Simon goes to visit his grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) to ask about his parents. The old man, still robust, although now confined to a hospital bed, lavishes praise on the memory of Simon’s mother, Rachel (Rachel Blanchard, in flashback), a lovely and talented violinist, and expresses disappointment over his other child, Tom, whom he considers angry and sullen. As to Rachel’s mysterious Muslim husband, Grandpa tells Simon in no uncertain terms that the boy’s father “was a killer.”
These various stories and the consequences they provoke dance around each other for awhile, but gradually begin to mesh in intriguing ways. With so large, yet intricate a canvas to work on, Egoyan explores opposing religions, cultural stereotyping, and, the nature, origins, and lasting effects of intolerance, a legacy of hatred spread throughout the generations from a single poisonous source.
It takes time for Egoyan to weave together his plots, and as he does, he keeps the audience in a state of anxious suspense. As the themes darken, and the action becomes ever more offbeat and unpredictable, viewers brace for some sort of violent upheaval—a terrorist bomb, or a psychological disintegration, or a hidden revenge motive springing suddenly into play. But despite the volatility of the arguments he raises, Egoyan’s thoughtful dramatic action is never quite what one expects.
There may be one coincidental plot twist too many, and the film occasionally threatens to bury itself under a landslide of talk. But the well-chosen cast keeps the viewer engaged as Egoyan delves into the question of who and what we profess to adore, and how we choose to express it. 3 stars out of 4
With Scott Speedman, Devon Bostick, and Arsinée Khanjian. Written and directed by Atom Egoyan. Rated R. 100 minutes. Opens July 24.