SCREENED AT THE 2005 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Occasionally a movie will crawl into theaters with a message so obvious and a story so limply detailed that you wonder why it was made in the first place. Journeys like the one in Jonathan Safran Foer's novel, Everything Is Illuminated, aren’t the stuff of bedtime tales, but it will put you to sleep faster than three Excedrin PMs and a shot of Ny-Quil. There are probably more accounts of the Holocaust than we care to stomach; some heroic, some tragic, almost all horrifying. This is certainly one that would have best been left to the denial pile.In what looks to be the good twin version of his reserved, cannibalistic facekicker in Sin City, Elijah Wood and his giant glasses play Jonathan. A self-described “collector”, his wall looks like a ziplocked version of a criminal investigation or the plot that leads to one. After his grandmother expires, Jonathan travels to Ukraine in hopes of uncovering the story behind a photograph of grandpa and a woman who may have saved his life during WWII.
There he is met by hip-hop translator and travel guide, Alex (gypsy punk band leader Eugene Hutz) and his prone-to-staring grandfather (Boris Leskin). Now we’re on a road trip with two near mutes and a jackass who won’t shut up. The good twin theory is put to the test when its slammed home repeatedly that Jonathan doesn’t eat meat; a fact which the Ukranians react as if the only alternative is chomping on a bowel movement. The eccentricity of their early journey together with Alex worshipping “Negroes” and his grandfather sick and tired of Jews is enough to make anyone jump from the moving car.
But trod along we do, getting around to the focus of the story which is that Nazis are bad. I seem to recall learning this at a very young age during some flick about a Lost Ark and the evil on display then was more far horrifying than the watered down “hey, they killed a helluva lot of folk” in Liev Schreiber’s take on Foer's material. It takes a little more than showing a few bodies and a guy running away from it, especially after drowning our hopes through comedy which comes off as less funny than The Day The Clown Cried.Whatever poignancy Schreiber aspires to is lost before it ever had a just to be discovered. The revelations are more confusing than they are acts of closure and even worse, Jonathan hardly seems to care. But Grandfather steals the spotlight by staring again and making the story all about him. After which he commits a final act that is so baffling that even the storytellers have to pass it off as something that it unexplainable. “Everything” becomes a rather foolishly optimistic term to lead off your title when the only thing illuminated is the window next to the projection light.