Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan specializes in mysteries. The question in his films, however, isn’t “Whodunit?” but simply “Who?” His characters’ complicated lives are, to the viewer and often themselves, emotional mysteries that aren’t solved until just before the closing credits.
“Adoration,” which was named best Canadian feature at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, is a film both deeply intelligent and deeply felt, a mature addition to what might already be called one of the medium’s most impressive bodies of work. It’s something of an emotive thriller whose sense of foreboding makes for tension throughout.
Simon (Devon Bostick) is a Toronto high school student haunted by his past. He has vivid memories of his mother, Rachel (Rachel Blanchard), a beautiful and beautifully talented violinist. She’s dead — and mysteriously, his dying grandfather (Kenneth Welsh) declares Simon’s father, Sami (Noam Jenkins), was responsible. Rachel’s brother Tom (Scott Speedman) looks after Simon now, but he refuses to talk about the past, though it’s clear there’s no love lost between him and his father.
Tom is forced to confront his memories, though, when Simon takes a school assignment beyond the bounds of the classroom. French and drama teacher Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian), sensing that Simon has especially reacted to a tale in French class, asks him to write his own story — and present it to the class as fact.
He is completely convincing as the son of a terrorist who placed a bomb in his pregnant fiancee’s hand luggage. Not only do his classmates believe him — people around the world do. He holds video chats about his supposed background, and his audience quickly increases exponentially; first we see him talking to six friends, then 36 strangers. One claims to have been a passenger on the plane that was to be bombed, though some debate whether this story is true. As a professor in one of the chats says, though, “Whether real or fictional, as soon as we imagine it, we have to deal with it.”
It’s a telling line, one that offers a clue not just to this film’s theme, but to Mr. Egoyan’s work as a whole. Don’t be fooled by this simple summary, however. The reactions to the tale of terrorism are certainly illuminating, but though this film seems political, it’s really personal.
What really happened to Rachel and Sami is revealed slowly, but that’s not as important as Simon’s reaction — not to the truth, but what he finally decides must be the truth.
The young Mr. Bostick has a heavy burden, carrying this weighty film on his shoulders, but he’s up to the task, turning in a very thoughtful performance. Mr. Speedman is most familiar to American audiences from television’s “Felicity,” but he does something much more heartfelt here. Miss Khanjian, the director’s wife and longtime collaborator, brings a very real intensity to a difficult and pivotal role.
Mr. Egoyan’s beautiful shots are well-complemented by Mychael Danna’s haunting score. “Adoration” is a triumph, a provocative work about terror in the world and in people’s hearts.
RATING: R (language)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Atom Egoyan
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
WEB SITE: sonyclassics.com/adoration
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS