Today’s Prayer Focus

Everything Is Illuminated

MPA Rating: PG-13-Rating (MPA) for disturbing images/violence, sexual content and language.

Reviewed by: Chris Monroe

Moral Rating: Average
Moviemaking Quality:
Primary Audience: Adults Teens
Genre: Adventure Comedy Drama
Length: 1 hr. 40 min.
Year of Release: 2005
USA Release: September 16, 2005 (NYC/LA)
Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures
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Copyright, Warner Independent Pictures

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Featuring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin, Laryssa Lauret
Director Liev Schreiber
Producer Marc Turtletaub
Peter Saraf
Distributor: Warner Brothers Pictures. Trademark logo.
Warner Independent Pictures
, a Warner Bros. Entertainment Company

Leave Normal Behind.

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Based on the acclaimed, best-selling novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, “Everything is Illuminated” tells the story of a young American Jewish man’s quest to find the woman who saved his grandfather—in a small Ukrainian town that was wiped off the map by the Nazi invasion.

The journey begins as a comic nightmare—with an eccentric trio of paid “expert” guides sorely lacking in expertise: a cranky grandfather who insists on bringing his unruly seeing-eye dog to help him drive, and his over-enthusiastic grandson, whose fractured command of English, passion for retro American pop culture, and inability to shut up threaten to make the worst of every situation.

But what starts out as the tour from hell turns into a surprisingly meaningful journey—with an unexpected and powerful series of revelations that will indelibly change all of their lives.”

Depending on how you view “Everything Is Illuminated” can determine just how enlightened you will be by the end of it—and how much has actually been brought out into the light for you. The story is deep and meaningful and holds a message for the heart and mind, but it may not be one that reaches everyone who sees it.

A directorial debut by actor Liev Schreiber, “Everything Is Illuminated” stars Elijah Wood as Jonathan Safran Foer (which is also the name of the author of the novel this movie was adapted from) and details his trip to Ukraine in search of answers to his family’s history. Jonathan is committed to his search, but at the same time challenged at every turn by having to face fears, live uncomfortably, and deal with anti-Jewish sentiments. The process of his adventure eventually unlocks many doors, not only with his own history, but also with the buried past of those helping him.

Overall, the film is mostly clean, minus a few instances of profanity and one scene that entails a suggestive discussion about sex. It is intended to be humorous, but the story would be perfectly fine without this scene. There is also a scene at a club where some women are dressed provocatively, but it doesn’t last very long. Aside from these aspects, there are a couple of violent images, one in particular of someone who has committed suicide. The movie seems to make this suicide seems like it was okay, but in the Bible, suicide is not deemed as any kind of positive alternative whatsoever.

This film is produced by Warner Independent Pictures and it is refreshing that such an independent style film has been released into the mainstream. Elijah Wood is an A-list Hollywood actor, but aside from him the other actors are not your typical mainstream cast. While the story is different and may not have a broad appeal, it is nice to see something that is not so conventional. And I must agree with someone else’s remark about how entertaining is the character of Alex (Eugene Hutz). He really brings a lot of charisma and flavor to the story—and employs an authentic Odessa accent well.

The film’s photography is enjoyable to watch and well shot, overall. There were lingering moments in some scenes which seemed difficult to understand. It seemed like the shot could have been cut shorter. Perhaps there was something to glean from why these shots lingered so long, but it was hard to decipher. Still, it did help evoke extra emotion and make you consider the situation and the characters more deeply.

The premise for the story is clearly a dramatic one, and the writer provides many humorous moments, too. Some of it is situational comedy, but it keeps the story moving along without being too weighed down by references to the Holocaust. And when a serious scene eventually comes, it is well-handled and believable amidst the humor of previous scenes.

“Everything Is Illuminated” certainly has a dream-like quality to it, which is represented in the visuals, but also in the ideas of family history and memories. The shot of the woman in her house in the middle of a sunflower field is an excellent example. It is a beautiful, dreamy picture, but is also significant in light of who she is and the part she plays in Jonathan’s search.

More than anything, though, the most uplifting facet is the idea of people overriding prejudices and finding a common bond. As Jonathan steps out and takes a risk in his search, he in turn is blessed and helps bless others. It can be a wonderful example of how we can “consider others better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3) if we take a risk and see things from someone else’s perspective.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: Mild

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

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Movie Critics
…“Illuminated” emits witty glow… a movie with wit, warmth and unabashed emotion…
USA Today, Claudia Puig
…offbeat, subtle movie with about 15 instances of foul language, discussion of the Holocaust and a suicide. Although subtle, interesting and morally positive, it’s not for everyone…
…achieves the impossible—it’s even more annoying than Jonathan Safran Foer’s gratingly precocious novel…
New York Post, Lou Lumenick
…winning take on the Jonathan Safran Foer novel…
The Hollywood Reporter, Michael Rechtshaffen
…genial, gently funny …slips into being unfocused and disjointed at times…
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