the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Warner Home Video presents

Everything Is Illuminated (2005)

"I also enjoy writing, but I truly feel I was born to be an accountant."- Alex (Eugene Hutz)

Stars: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz
Director: Liev Schreiber

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing images/violence, sexual content and language
Run Time: 01h:45m:21s
Release Date: 2006-03-21
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CB-B C-


DVD Review

Jonathan Safran Foer is a literary darling these days, and hence it's no surprise to see that his first novel found its way to the big screen. I don't know about the book, but it's clear that the movie is all hat and no cattle—a thin veneer of style cannot mask the fact that the story feels tired and warmed over, an ostensible investigation into history that's really little more than navel gazing. Director Liev Schreiber, who usually works on the other side of the camera, gives it some nice visual life, but there's not much here.

The protagonist of the story bears the same name as the author of the novel, and here Foer, played by Elijah Wood, seems to keep himself deliberately shut off from his emotions—he captures memories by placing objects in Ziploc bags and tacking these to a bizarre collage of a wall, the detritus of life in so many sacks of plastic. The wall is full of photos, receipts, shrines to various family members, souvenirs as far ranging as yo-yos and dentures, and Jonathan is about to add one more trophy to his wall. His grandmother is sick, in her last days; she gives Jonathan a photograph of his grandfather with a young woman, wearing an amulet that he's previously received. She's vital to the family history, but who is she? How does she fit in to the Foer family story? The only way to find out is by returning to the old country.

Which Foer does—he travels to Ukraine, and enlists Alex, a local who speaks broken English, as his guide. Alex's father is also named Alex, as is his grandfather; they may be helping Foer to untangle the branches of his family tree, but there's no doubt that they're pleased to be separating the American from his cash. Alex's mangling of the English language is one of the principal sources of the alleged humor in this movie; another is its cultivated oddness, which plays out as kind of childish. For instance, Alex's grandfather pretends to be blind, and turns the family pet, named for a favorite Western entertainer, into his seeing-eye dog. Hence we hear, many times, about the dog, aka "Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., officious seeing-eye bitch." Hilarious, or annoying? And after a dozen tellings? I know where I come down, but your mileage may vary.

One of the fundamental problems is that we've got no idea why Foer is taking this journey, in large measure because we don't know anything about him—he's the main character of a feature-length motion picture, but as played by Elijah Wood, he's a pair of eyeglasses, not a person. Perhaps it's different in the novel (which I haven't read), but based on the evidence here, the author's playing around with self-referentiality has got to be a little tiresome. The storyteller Foer is no Philip Roth; the onscreen Foer no Nathan Zuckerman.

The best parts of the movie are with the Ukrainian locals, with Foer as a disinterested observer; and surely there's something in here about what the generations owe to one another, as we see two young men wrestling with the legacies of their grandfathers. But some of the answers come tumbling out too easily, and as it doesn't ascend to a horrific Sophie's Choice-style secret about the past, we're left with little more than somebody's sad stories about the war. And it's clear that the movie hasn't done its work right, because we barely even know who that somebody is. Beyond a bit of cinematographic flourish, there's not much to recommend about this one.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Reasonably well transferred, with only some mild degradation in color.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Professionally done, though the 5.1 track seems a little overmixed.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extra of note is a package (18m:29s) of seven deleted scenes, many of which fill in backstory on Alex, and some of which are extended versions of shorter scenes that made the final cut.

Extras Grade: C-

Final Comments

Perhaps the film doesn't do justice to the book on which it's based; either shut out the literary hype, or gear up to watch a movie about a guy with a fetish for putting stuff into Ziploc bags, because that's about all this amounts to.

Jon Danziger 2006-05-15