Monday, May 10, 2010

Amazing: A movie that I liked better than the book.

When was the last time you could legitimately say that?

After our Gogol Bordello adventure last weekend, my son mentioned, in an off-hand way, that Eugene Hutz had been in a movie: Everything is Illuminated. It might be entertaining to watch, my oldest mused, and promptly pulled up clips of the film on YouTube.

Everything is Illuminated a movie?? When did that happen? I slogged through the book months ago: was it late last year? The book was an odd, disjointed read that had somehow been recommended by the critics yet available for 50c at the local used book shop. It took me chapters and chapters--perhaps half the book--to finally get into the rhythm of the alternating story lines: Alex, the youthful Ukrainian translator and his absolute slaughter of English, relating his experience as a tour guide; and Jonathan conveying the fanciful history of Trachimbrod, the bizarre, ancient Jewish settlement of his ancestors. And then the intersection, where the reader understands that Alex is accompanying Jonathan on his journey to Trachimbrod, and more significantly, to search for the mysterious Augustine, a woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather's life (after a fashion)...a dreamlike, cryptic sequence that recalled Arthur Dent's visit to John Watson's inside-out house. Or maybe it was 1984? Things are, but they aren't?

Although Alex's voice is comical, a consequence of scrambled synonyms, the book just didn't grab me. I didn't see the point. And I could hardly envision it being concentrated into a movie. But I was willing to give the movie my time, if only to view Eugene Hutz clean-shaven and trotting around Odessa followed by an oom-pa band.

And now that I am following the typical process in reverse: view movie, read book (well, read book AGAIN)--in contrast to the usual sequence--I really like Liev Schreiber's take on Jonathan much more that Safran Foer's original.

In fact, I find the screenplay brilliant. All those chapters and chapters of Trachimbrod's psuedohistory have been stripped away, leaving the pure essence of a story: a road trip, a voyage of discovery, leading to deep insights into the nature of humans, trauma, and identity. The screenplay has layers and layers of meaning, accomplished in a clean, precise way.

In other words, the movie has no wasted moves, no filler. Everything is significant. Each scene, each word moves the story forward. The motivations of the characters are clear and yet very human. There is humor, there is surprise, there is transformation.

And at the end, everything IS illuminated. For each of the characters, and for the viewer too.

Skip the book. Watch the movie.

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