Before the one-two punch of Exotica and The Sweet Hereafter in 1995 and 1997 brought him wider recognition, Canada-based director Atom Egoyan was the premier chronicler of life in the video age, eking out small, hypnotic films (Family Viewing, Speaking Parts) about technology’s role in altering human relationships. The Sweet Hereafter was his first adapted screenplay, and it signaled a broader agenda in the subsequent decade, including another literary adaptation (Felicia’s Journey), a deeply personal, prismatic look at Armenian genocide (Ararat), and an awkward Martin & Lewis shadow history (Where The Truth Lies). Though this later period has its high points, the films also find Egoyan, a master of cinematic puzzles, sometimes laboring to retro-fit the pieces of someone else’s design.
At a minimum, his new film, Adoration, marks a welcome return to the Egoyan of old, the one who could spin seductive mysteries out of disassembled parts and show how images can be manipulated into comforting lies. He hasn’t shaken the rust off completely, but most of Adoration’s few missteps are failures of ambition, as if Egoyan were trying to make up for lost time by shoehorning all his pet themes into one unwieldy movie. Egoyan uses a real-life incident as a jumping-off point: In 1986, a Jordanian terrorist slipped explosives into the luggage his pregnant Irish girlfriend was taking on a flight from London to Israel; had they detonated, the blast would have killed her and her unborn son, as well as the roughly 380 passengers on board. With the encouragement of teacher Arsinée Khanjian, teenager Devon Bostick endeavors to tell the story to classmates, claiming he was that unborn child. The controversy deepens when Bostick brings his provocation to the Internet and ignites the passions of his classmates, their parents, and various extremists across the Web.
And that isn’t even the half of it. At the heart of Bostick’s deception is a very real attempt to come to terms with his parents’ mysterious death and the distorting prejudices within his own family, including those of his adoptive uncle (Scott Speedman) and racist grandfather. Under the violin swells of Mychael Danna’s enveloping score, Egoyan weaves the personal, the political, and the technological into an immense yet intimate comment on our troubled times. In doing so, he stumbles back into relevance again.