Split Atom: New Egoyan Film Is Good, Not Great

c sarrisadoration Split Atom: New Egoyan Film Is Good, Not GreatAdoration
Running time 100 minutes
Written and directed by Atom Egoyan
Starring  Scott Speedman, Arsinée Khanjian, Devon Bostick, Rachel Blanchard

Atom Egoyan’s Adoration, from his own screenplay, is the 48-year-old, Cairo-born, Armenian-Canadian writer-director’s 12th feature film in a 32-year career that has spanned several media and art forms, and many countries, and for which he has received worldwide honors. I first became aware of his enormous talent with 1994’s Exotica, and have been following his work ever since, as well as retroactively in his past. What is particularly timely about Adoration, and perhaps ahead of its time, is its concern with the creation of new identities through technological advances in Internet communication.

Sabine (Arsinée Khanjian) is a high-school French teacher who provides her class with a translation exercise based on a real news story about a terrorist who plants a bomb in the carry-on luggage of his pregnant girlfriend. A student named Simon (Devon Bostick) is so profoundly stirred by the assignment that he re-imagines the news story as his own family history, with his late father standing in for the terrorist.

Simon had been made an orphan some years before when his father (Noam Jenkins) crashed the family car, killing both himself and his wife (Rachel Blanchard). Ever since, the orphaned Simon has lived with his uncle (Scott Speedman), and been fixated on his suspicion that the so-called accident was an intentional suicide-murder on his father’s part.

Mr. Egoyan has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew in fashioning a narrative in which a series of delusionary scenes are intertwined with disconnected realities in ever-shifting locations. As the program notes tell us, “One of the original inspirations for the film came from a 1986 news story Egoyan had read about a Jordanian man who sent his pregnant Irish girlfriend on an El Al flight with a bomb in her handbag, of which she had no knowledge until security found it.”

In tracing the genesis of his film from this news story, Mr. Egoyan explains: “The story always struck me because it was one of the first examples of how extreme a terrorist act could be and how one could turn someone close into an abstraction—not only a fiancée but also an unborn child. I came across the story again in 2006 and began to wonder about the child and the legacy of being raised knowing what your father had done.”

The big problem with the film is that Mr. Egoyan’s narrative is frequently suspended between real incidents and mere speculations to the point that the viewer may lose track of what has actually happened, and by, with and to whom. Also, what doesn’t happen is more sensational than what does. Hence, the trick ending—which I shall, of course, never reveal even under the threat of torture—fails to resolve the confusions of the narrative.

This is not to demean the sheer scope and ambitiousness of Mr. Egoyan’s enterprise, and its educated awareness of global politics, economics and technological advances in our daily lives. Mr. Egoyan himself is a man of many cultural identities. His sensitivity to the expressive potential of his performers is once again reaffirmed in the masterly portrayals of Ms. Khanjian, Ms. Blanchard, Mr. Bostick, Mr. Speedman and Mr. Jenkins among many other members of the international cast. As for Mr. Egoyan, he remains an auteur at the highest level of cinematic creation, and even one of his lesser films, like Adoration, deserves to be seen.

asarris@observer.com