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Everything Is Illuminated
Everything Is Illuminated
Actors: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jana Hrabetova
Director: Liev Schreiber
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
PG-13     2006     1hr 46min

Based on the critically-acclaimed novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, "Everything is Illuminated" tells the story of a young man's quest to find the woman who saved his grandfather in a small Ukrainian town that was wiped off t...  more »

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Movie Details

Actors: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jana Hrabetova
Director: Liev Schreiber
Creators: Jonathan Safran Foer, Liev Schreiber, David Minkowski, Kelley Cribben, Marc Turtletaub, Matthew Stillman, Peter Saraf
Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Drama, Military & War
Studio: Warner Home Video
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 03/21/2006
Original Release Date: 09/16/2005
Theatrical Release Date: 09/16/2005
Release Year: 2006
Run Time: 1hr 46min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 2
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English, Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

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Member Movie Reviews

Lewis P. (Turfseer) from NEW YORK, NY
Reviewed on 10/24/2010...
Conflicting tales of light weight culture clash and Holocaust Survivor guilt fail to mesh

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

'Everything is Illuminated" is a story based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer who made a trip to Ukraine in 1999 to research his family history. His experiences form the basis for the novel and the subsequent screenplay, mainly penned by the film's director, well-known actor, Liev Schreiber. In the novel, Jonathan is a writer but Schreiber turns him into a very quirky oddball who is obsessed with collecting objects related to his family and placing them in plastic baggies and then pinning them on his wall at home (by the way, we never find out what this guy does for a living or if he has any friends).

The inciting incident involves Jonathan's grandmother (who while on her deathbed) gives her grandson a picture of his grandfather standing next to a mysterious woman named Augustine. The picture is dated 1940 and was taken in an unknown town in Ukraine. It seems that Jonathan's grandfather managed to escape to the United States right before the Holocaust with the hope that he might be able to arrange for his pregnant first wife (the woman in the picture) to soon follow him. Schreiber tells us that Jonathan's grandfather left a week before Augustine is murdered by the Nazis. It would seem extremely unlikely that he would have a) left his wife and/or b) successfully made it to the United States given that the vast majority of Jews had no means of leaving Ukraine and escaping the Nazis, especially with one week before the invasion and subsequent occupation.

The break into the second act of the story occurs when Jonathan arrives in Ukraine and meets Alex, his genial tour guide whose command of the English language serves as the butt of many jokes throughout the film. Schrieber informs us that the grandfather, who acts as the driver, began the business back in the 50s, taking rich Jews around so that they can research their family history. Unfortunately, Schreiber gets his facts wrong since such tours would never have been permitted back then since Ukraine was a satellite of the Soviet Union (nor did Jews make pilgrimages to Ukraine to research their family history at that point in time) Much of the film's humor falls flat, especially in regards to Alex's linguistic gaffes. "The seeing eye bitch" (which refers to the 'demented' family dog) is one line which seems to be repeated too many times. Other malapropisms include Alex's reference to his brother as "miniature' instead of "younger" and the 'rigid search' for Jonathan's roots in place of 'comprehensive'. Instead of 'sleep', Alex manages to substitute the more difficult 'repose', which may be the screenwriter's way of suggesting that the character is trying to sound smarter than he is.

Certainly the Ukrainians don't come off very well in this film. Schreiber (or perhaps Foer also--I haven't read the book) harp on the Ukrainians' shock at the fact that Jonathan is a vegetarian--they simply can't imagine anyone not eating meat. More damaging is Schreiber's observation that the Ukrainian family (represented by Alex and his father and grandfather) are inherently violent. Alex's father is seen slugging him at the beginning of the film--and later the grandfather attacks Alex after Alex attacks the family dog. The attempt here is to view Jonathan's hosts as affectionate--but more often than not, they come off as surly and unsympathetic.

After all the failed attempts at comedy, the last quarter of the film changes gears and we're asked to take the goofy Jonathan and Alex much more seriously. They discover Augustine's elderly sister, Lista, living off the beaten track in a house hidden by a grove of perfectly kept sunflowers (while the impractical Lista has never been in a car in her entire life, one wonders how she keeps her sunflowers so perfectly arranged). It's Lista who reveals that Augustine was married to Jonathan's grandfather and was murdered by the Nazis along with her father, who refused to spit on the Torah as ordered by his executioners. One wonders how Lista herself escaped as she is clearly Jewish (she too is a 'collector' like Jonathan, saving the buried artifacts of the once thriving Jewish community she used to be part of).

Lista ends up having a 'private' conversation with Alex's grandfather which triggers his repressed memories: it turns out the grandfather actually was Jewish himself and was left for dead after facing a Nazi firing squad. In the book, the grandfather is a non-Jew who must save his own family by turning in Jews; Schreiber creates a more unlikely portrait of the grandfather, a guilt-ridden Jew, who ends up committing suicide. I just couldn't buy how this irascible older codger would suddenly feel pangs of guilt (after such a long period of time) and do himself in.

Finally I'm told that the memorial for the Jews that Jonathan, Alex and his grandfather discover in the empty field is not something that is likely to be found in Western Ukraine. As one Ukrainian Jewish poster has pointed out, there are more monuments to the murderers to be found there than monuments to victims of the Holocaust.

While it's certainly admirable that Schreiber has done a service in once again reminding film-goers of the horrors of the Holocaust, implausibly turning Alex and his family into observant Jews after a lifetime of regarding Jewish people with suspicion, seems to be a pointless exercise in wish fulfillment. One is further disappointed with Schreiber's portrait of his detached protagonist--the quirky Jonathan--who never is believable as a real person and has no real moments of growth. In the end, the 'culture clash' between Ukrainian/Russian and Western sensibilities is decidedly weighted against the Ukrainians and the Holocaust is 'illuminated' through the unlikely suicide of one of its victims.
1 of 2 member(s) found this review helpful.
Heather F. (8izenuff) from PHOENIX, AZ
Reviewed on 9/12/2009...
My college son suggested I watch this. You will be moved. Quirky but it works.
1 of 1 member(s) found this review helpful.

Movie Reviews

Almost "Everything" is illuminated
E. A Solinas | MD USA | 12/19/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)

"On very rare occasions, it's a good idea not to follow the book.

Jonathan Safran Foer's cult novel "Everything Is Illuminated" has a wild chronology, and the journey is sprinkled with magical realism and countless flashbacks to minor characters. It COULD be crammed into a film, but it would not be a very accessible one. In fact, it might be almost unwatchable.

Enter actor Liev Schreiber, who chopped out much of the backstory and focused on the "road movie in the Ukraine" storyline. No, it's not like the book. But taken on its own, "Everything Is Illuminated" is a a striking, humorous and poignant film. Schreiber should be proud.

Jonathan (Elijah Wood) has a funny fixation about remembering the past, which includes putting life souvenirs in plastic baggies and taping them to the wall. So his curiosity is piqued when his grandmother tells him of Augustina, a woman who rescued his grandfather during World War II. With only a ring and a photo to guide him, Jonathan travels to the Ukraine to find Augustine.

He's met at the station by Alex (Eugene Hutz), a hip-hop tour guide who speaks his own peculiar dialect, Alex's weird, melancholy grandad (Stephen Samudovsky), and grandad's "seeing eye b*tch." As they search the Ukraine for Augustine, if she is still alive, Jonathan begins to learn about the ways the past infringes on the present -- and a bit about himself as well.

Schreiber apparently decided to adapt "Everything Is Illuminated" when he began to chronicle his own family history, and discovered that it was strikingly similar to Foer's novel. For a beloved cult novel, editing and reshaping is a risky business. But in Schreiber's case, it becomes a whole different animal -- it retains the spirit of the original, if not the sense of history.

While this is Liev Schreiber's directorial debut, it doesn't feel like one. Instead, it feels polished and experienced, with beautiful cinematography that ranges from night skies to a field of dazzling sunflowers. In sepia-toned flashbacks, Schreiber follows the less-is-more rule by merely hinting at the Holocaust's horrors, which is, oddly enough, more effective.

And his script has pathos and anguish, but also plenty of humour (most of it provided by Hutz), such as the scene where he tries to figure out what a vegetarian is, prompting Wood to tell him firmly "Nothing! No meat!"... only to have both men ask what's wrong with him. The only problem is that at times the road-trip format gets a bit precious, and the storyline stalls once or twice.

Elijah Wood gives a remarkably subtle performance as a quiet, slightly neurotic young man who seems to be searching for something in the past to make him complete. Hutz balances him out with the colourful, slightly wonky Alex. He's both comic relief and a sort of wiser older brother for Jonathan. The plot revolves around these two, and they are balanced out well.

Okay, it's not the book. But then again, it really doesn't pretend to be. Instead, Liev Schreiber's "Everything Is Illuminated" is a bittersweet comedy that will leave you with a smile."
A beautiful movie; One of the year's best
FairiesWearBoots8272 | USA | 04/11/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I have not read Jonathan Safran Foer's book "Everything Is Illuminated", and knew nothing of it when sitting down to watch the film adaptation. I only knew that the film starred Elijah Wood and was actor Liev Schreiber's directing debut and it sounded interesting from descriptions I read. So my expectations were pretty modest. I certainly did not expect Schreiber to hit one out of the park his first time up to bat. However, Everything Is Illuminated is indeed a home run and one of the best movies of the year, in my opinion.

Elijah Wood is excellent as Jonathan, a rather odd fellow obsessed with collecting things, particularly as mementos of the past. He travels to the Ukraine and learns a great deal about life, himself, and the future by searching for the past. Also a standout is Eugene Hutz as Jonathan's Ukrainian guide who digs Michael Jackson and wants to be an accountant. Hutz is apparently not an actor, he is the leader of a popular rock band. However, you would never know that he's not an actor, his performance is excellent. The first half of Everything is Illuminated is very humorous, the second half very dramatic. However, the change is tone is very slight. The humor is very funny and the drama is equally potent. The later scenes are very moving and heartfelt without every sinking into cloying sentimentality. The movie from beginning to end is beautifully directed, with wonderful cinematography showcasing the lovely Ukrainian countryside. Schreiber seems to have a very good feeling for visual style. At times it almost reminded of one of my favorite visual stylists: Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

Everything Is Illuminated is a wonderful movie. Well directed, well written, well acted, and with it's heart in exactly the right place. It will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will make you think. Very few directorial debuts turn out this good. In 2004, Zach Braff unleashed Garden State and became an unlikely wunderkind director, in 2005 Liev Schreiber has done the same. This is one of 2005's best movies. Don't miss it."
Chrissy K. McVay | North Carolina | 06/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I watched this twice, and I honestly never believed I'd see Elijah Wood's character upstaged, but it happened in this movie. The crazy Ukranian (Alex), played by the delightful Eugene Hutz, stole the show with his humor, unique mannerisms and choice of specific English words, adding depth to an already intriquing, emotionally layered film. If not for the humor, this story might've been too heavy. Whether you feel the ending is sad depends upon perspective. Perhaps the grandfather's burdened spirit was finally released after carrying a secret he kept hidden from his family and his own broken heart? This is another movie that has inspired me to read the book. Fantastic!
Chrissy K. McVay - Author"