Jonathan (Elijah Wood) embarks on a quest for the woman who saved his grandfather in an Ukranian village massacred by Nazis in Everything is Illuminated.
It is based on the critically acclaimed novel by Jonathan S. Foer – who Wood’s character is named after in the film. Directed by Liev Schreiber, the film takes viewers on a journey through Eastern Europe where the audience encounters humorous situations, friendship, love, truth and the legacy of the Holocaust.
Jonathan is known as “the Collector” for his perennial habit of bagging up and labeling items he finds because as he says in the movie, “I’m afraid I’ll forget.”
He wears a black suit and bifocals, which seem to make his eyes bulge out of their sockets. Determined to find Augustine, the woman who saves his entire family, and return a locket to her, Jonathan hires Alexander Perchov and his grandfather as translator and driver, respectively. Alexander and his family are from Odessa, Russia.
Obsessed with American culture, Alexander is a hip-hop dancer with a penchant for the word, “premium.” Grandfather is under the psychologically driven impression that he is blind and takes his dog with him everywhere, affectionately referred to as the “seeing eye b****,” Sammy Davis Jr.
The moment Jonathan, pronounced “Jonfen” by Alexander, steps off the plane, there are comedic clashes of culture. Jonathan, it seems, is morbidly afraid of dogs and is a vegetarian, both unheard of in Odessa where dogs are man’s best friends and all they eat is sausage and steak. In Jonathan’s comical first night in Eastern Europe, Alexander tells him, “Make sure to secure the door when I am gone. There are many dangerous people who wanna take things from Americans and also kidnap them. Good night!”
Schreiber tells Jonathan’s story stylistically through chapter titles superimposed on close-ups, a montage of Jonathan’s collection and a freeze-framed voice over sequence.
Soon, however, the film’s tone turns darker as alluded to in Jonathan’s demeanor and the film’s color scheme. Augustine is never found, however we do meet her sister Lista, in the town of Trachimbrod. Jonathan discovers a series of revelations, including the massacre of the town by the Nazis.
Lista informs Jonathan that 1,024 Jews were murdered by the Nazis in 1942 alone. That same year the Nazis humiliated and tortured the Jewish town of Trachimbrod. Augustine was unable to escape the carnage with her own life.
The film’s title refers to Alexander’s musing that illumination refers to revelation, and that the past holds important reminders of how to live in the present.
For Schreiber, the story holds some personal significance as he tells us in the Ritz Filmbill, “When my grandfather died, I became curious about his history in the hope that it would somehow inform my own. … When I read Jonathan’s story I felt deeply connected to it.”
This heartfelt and touching story reminds us of the atrocities mankind has committed and the importance of fellowship and love. Schreiber’s masterpiece is an unforgettable and remarkable film.
John Funk can be reached at Milgram450@aol.com.