From Mar ’06 Spotlight: When Liev Schreiber’s terrific adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s award-winning novel Everything is Illuminated was released in theaters last September, the critics yawned and most classified it derisively as “yet another” Holocaust movie. But Illuminated is not about the Holocaust per se, it’s about knowledge of the Holocaust and how that knowledge is to be transmitted to new generations once the survivors are gone.
Haunted by his grandmother’s ghosts, Jewish American college student “Jonathan” has lived his entire life in the shadow of the Holocaust. Told that a Ukrainian woman named Augustine saved his grandfather from the Nazis, Jonathan travels into “the black hole” to find her. His translator “Alex,” a Ukrainian student, knows virtually nothing about the Holocaust, and to the extent that he does, he thinks Jews and Ukrainians were both equal victims of Nazi aggression. When Jonathan tells Alex that his grandmother thinks he’s in Prague, Alex is dumbfounded. “I couldn’t even tell her I was coming to Ukraine,” Jonathan explains. “The Ukrainians back then were terrible to the Jews. They were almost as bad as the Nazis.” “This is not true. Say that you are mistaken,” Alex begs him.
As they search for Augustine, Jonathan discovers a lush pastoral country far different from the battle-scarred moonscapes of his imagination, but for Alex each mile they travel reveals new secrets buried beneath the fecund farmlands. Lovers of Foer’s novel will be dismayed to hear that the history of the Trachimbrod shtetl is gone, but Schreiber decided that the most important story here is the one about the future, and I agree. Illuminated arrives on DVD on March 21.
Follow link to read my full review of Everything is Illuminated (originally published in the World Jewish Digest) –> http://www.films42.com/columns/Sept05IlluminatedWJD.pdf