One of the things we spend most of our time on is to find out who we really are. Everything is Illuminated is based on a book written by Jonathan Safran Foer and it might help you do that. This is one of those heartwarming movies like World’s Fastest Indian. I do not know which is more breathtaking, the skill and authority with which Liev directs, or the story and characters. Who knew that Liev Schreiber, a guy I remember from Sphere and The Manchurian Candidate, could be such a good director and writer? Everything here feels very honest and real, there are no tricks or melodramatic bullshit. This movie is also full of Eastern European vibes like EuroTrip or Borat if there are any fans of this particular location out there.
At its core, Everything Is Illuminated is a story about a journey that we all must embark on. A journey of discovery and profound connection with our own personalities and the world around us. One way to do it is the blunt way. And by that, I don’t mean that you roll a really mean blunt and then try to figure out life. The blunt way that our hero chose was when he decided to find out more about his family. This enterprise closely follows narration by Eugene Hutz, who plays Alex here. He’s also a singer in a relatively popular and weird music band called Gogol Bordello. I will leave the link for one of their songs after the review so you can check it out.
Jonathan Safran Foer is a peculiar young man on a quest. He found out that he wouldn’t even be alive today if there wasn’t for some unknown woman who saved his grandfather during the Second World War. Determined to get to the bottom of this, he decides to travel to Ukraine and locate her. He hires overly enthusiastic Alex and his grumpy grandfather, who were looking for some easy money, to find her. And so the journey begins.
Everything Is Illuminated is also not one of those quirky comedies that are quirky for quirkiness’ sake. It leans heavily on some very real and authentic motives. The horrors of war, poverty, the inevitable death, and the search for identity and meaning are just some of them. If you’re of Jewish heritage, this is one of those movies that will be especially important and hard-hitting. Also, each character feels so real and empathetic that you simply cannot help but feel disarmed in front of this story. If you add to that very intelligent and subtle humor that creates this “awe of wonder” vibe, you got yourself an almost perfect movie.
Another element I must mention is the cinematography, with its vibrant and just a little off colors and beautiful Ukrainian landscape. Some of the scenes feel even surreal. In case you’re expecting some heavy drama, wrapped in a gentle blend of humor, you’re in for a ride because the heavy stuff is relatively sparse and left up to the viewer. Most of the movie is about the journey with these strange and very funny characters. This generates a lot of jokes, especially the clash between the cultures and lifestyles. Not to mention the shitty conditions that most of the post-communist countries find themselves in. And I will also skip the whole Frodo on another journey vibe rant. So just check out this smart and endearing dramedy.
Director: Liev Schreiber
Writers: Jonathan Safran Foer, Liev Schreiber
Cast: Eugene Hutz, Elijah Wood, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jana Hrabetova
Fun Facts: Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of the novel on which the movie is based appears as the leaf blower at the beginning of the film.