Egoyan's film begins with a flashback, like most of his films, as we are introduced to the principal characters of the story. There's Simon, a techno-saavy teenager who had an Arab father and White, blond-haired mother. We're introduced to Simon's mother as we see her being asked questions at an airport about her purpose for flying to Israel. We come to find out that she is pregnant with Simon, and apparently is meeting her husband's family in Nazareth, but he did not make the flight. It is suspected that he has planted a bomb in her suitcase so that he could blow up the plane mid-flight.
Back to the characters: Simon is being raised by his uncle Tom (the wonderful Scott Speedman) who now lives in his dead sisters house. He is a man of black and white beliefs; simplicity is his credo. Finally, there is Simon's French teacher Sabine (Egoyan regular, and wife, Arsinée Khanjian) who uses a recent news story about a terrorist plot to blow up a plane mid-flight for a translation assignment. There's also Simon's racist grandfather who is dying, and relays misinformation to Simon about how his father was a killer. This is a common occurrence in Egoyan's films as he loves to bring communities together (The Sweet Hereafter it was a bus crash, Exotica it was a missing child) and show these fragmented bits of information from different sources eventually lead to an epiphianic ending.
Once Simon beings work on his translation assignment for Sabine's class it all starts making sense as she learns of Simon's past, and interest in the story, she encourages him to flub the truth -- placing his parents in the roles of the husband and wife from the news article they are interpreting for class. We come to find that the flashbacks in the beginning of the film are nothing mroe than fabrications from Simon's assignment. His parents actually died in a car accident, but that doesn't stop Simon's Grandfather from telling him "you have to believe me, your father was a killer."
This "exercise" leads to Simon making the story personal, and thus starting a firestorm of controversy within the school and within his community of friends. He becomes hounded by his friends in face-to-face chat rooms and wacko nut jobs that frequent political blogs. All of these members collide in Simon's life, frequently pontificating if what his parents "did" was right or wrong or just a case of us not understanding because we live in such a different society.
Simon begins to wonder about things himself; he's having fun doing the exercise (no doubt he feels a certain kind of power conjuring up his own global morality tale), but is it healthy for what little he remembers about his parents, and the kind of father he actually had. He has so many different sources telling him what to believe, that he almost feels more secure in making up his own truths and histories. And this is what makes Egoyan's film so poignant and memorable. Do we allow others to fill in our histories for us, or do we explore the past, no matter how ugly it may be, in order to know the truth? The way Simon tries to piece together the puzzle of his dead parents, and his subsequent decision is one of the more powerful moments I've seen in film this (relatively short) year.
The film is not just about Simon and his questions, though, but it also focuses a lot of attention on Sabine and Tom and their relationship. Tom does not get along with his father who thinks Simon's father killed his wife (Tom's sister) on purpose. There is an event that takes place at a dinner party where the truth is revealed. It's a powerful moment that Egoyan wisely shows us parts of, he never discloses his full hand at first, and it reminded me of the scene in The Sweet Hereafter where we learn the extent of Ian Holm's love for his daughter when he tells a story about what he was willing to do to save his daughters life. This moment in Adoration reminded me of the power and poignancy found in the flashback of Egoyan's 1997 film, because as is the case with a lot of Egoyan's work, if you jump to conclusions about the characters and their intentions or feelings, you are bound to be misguided by the time the whole truth is revealed.
There's another scene that shows the fragmentation or "sectioning off" of cultures that Tom is comfortable with. Tom is confronted one night while putting up a nativity scene by a masked Arab woman. She informs him and Simon, who is helping Tom, that she is fond of their nativity scene and the fact that they so publicly display their faith. She then speaks about something that rubs Tom the wrong way, and this leads to a semi-confrontation where Simon catches a glimpse into what kind of man his uncle is. But it's never that simple, and there is a second moment where the masked woman comes to Tom's door and asks to explain herself. It's a fascinating conversation and Scott Speedman as Tom nails every scene.
Tom and Sabine eventually meet, too, setting off a series of events that can do nothing but allow the truth to bubble up in all of their lives. The way Egoyan links all of these primary characters together is ingenious. And when we find out just why Sabin is interested in explicating Tom's hidden secrets, and why she is interested in pushing Simon to explore the assignment further than the other students, it doesn't seem like a cheat at all. It adds another layer of sadness to a beautifully elegiac and poignant film.
I dare not give away how all of these characters are linked, or the hidden truths that lie beneath all the lies; or the layers upon layers of commentary about a multi-cultured Canada, or how nothing has really changed post September 11th. Egoyan has a lot to say, and it's to his credit that he does it all through such an entertaining jigsaw puzzle. When the truth finally is revealed and all the layers have been unwrapped, it's an emotional roundhouse that knocks you silly.
It's not just the interesting themes -- terrorism as an extension of personal neuroses, the parallel world of the internet, prejudice towards the ‘other’ -- at play that make this film worth seeing. Adoration is a tremendously made, beautiful film to look at and to listen to; it's a film you get lost in. The editing, as it usually is in an Egoyan film, is top notch; keeping the viewer at arms length without ever being to convoluted or needlessly confusing, but always holding my interest so I couldn't wait to see what mystery or family secret would be revealed next. The acting is top notch all across the board as Speedman gives a great performance and young Devon Bostick as Simon more than holds his own as he carries the bulk of the films emotional weight. Also, Arsinée Khanjian rarely gets the public praise she deserves for her work. She is so good as Sabine, a woman who at first seems weird, whose interest in Simon seems a tad unsettling, but as we learn more about her and her intentions, and everything is revealed, it all makes sense and makes Khanjian's performance all the more powerful.
A crucial element to filmmaking that I always appreciate, and that often goes unrecognized and unrequited, is a good musical score. A good score can act as another character and move the viewer along seamlessly from to scene. David Gordon Green and Paul Thomas Anderson both use this in their films to great effect, it almost always heightens the intensity in films that are by no means, conventionally speaking, thrillers -- but I'm always on the edge of my seat during their movies. So too does Egoyan use a great soundtrack. Just as he did with his masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter, here he employs a score that consists of haunting strings.
The ominous score of violins throughout -- itself another character in the film --seems to be pulling you further into the abyss of mistruths and made up stories. There’s a great shot where Simon is sitting on a grassy knoll with his laptop, already engulfed by the cityscape in the background, and Egoyan’s camera continues to pan down, and further down until we feel like we’re being sucked up by the earth; pulled in, too deep, by the lies of the story.
Adoration, at its core, is about how lies -- and the ease of creating and perpetuating those lies -- can mar how you view the truth and the people they are about, how the memories of loved ones can be changed with the click of a button, and how if we let them, the voices of the internet -- the select few who just happen to scream the loudest -- can shape the way major issues are thought of. All of these important and global issues swirl around Egoyan's more personal narrative: Simon wants to know who is parents are; a teacher, perhaps with ulterior motives, offers the opportunity to explore those question; and an on-the-fence uncle comes to terms with how things really are, and the way they are probably going to be from now on. Adoration is easily one of the ten best films of 2009.