"Adoration," Atom Egoyan's new drama, is about coming of age in the shadow of death. It is under that very long shadow that most of the action will play out in this complicated and convoluted treatise on a high school boy's struggle to shape an identity in a technology-driven world where one can so easily hide behind avatars and cryptic screen names.
This should have been terra firma for Egoyan. The legacy of a tragic death is the filmmaker's metier, his obsession. Not the death itself, though it might be achingly sad and absolutely senseless. It is what happens next that he is always drawn to -- who will be damaged; how is the damage inflicted; what does it mean, if anything at all.
That is just where we find Simon (Devon Bostick) -- in a Toronto high school French class many years beyond his parents' death in a car accident but far from acceptance or understanding. The teacher, Sabine (Arsinee Khanjian, a frequent player in Egoyan's cinema), has given her students a translation assignment: a news story about a terrorist planting a bomb in the luggage of his unsuspecting pregnant girlfriend, caught just as she is about to board a flight for Israel.
Simon takes this story as his own. The car accident becomes the plane that never took off and his father, with his Middle Eastern heritage, becomes a terrorist comfortable with sacrificing his beautiful blond wife and unborn son. His reading of the story in class triggers anger over the explosion that didn't happen, the plane that didn't go down, the lives that weren't lost -- a debate that spills onto the Internet when Simon sets up a site in memory of the tragedy that was averted.
There is always a risk with having such a singular focus on a single theme; you might wake up to find the walls of that favored niche are closing in on you. And that is where we find Egoyan in "Adoration."
Though the filmmaker tries to tell a different story of death's aftermath, spun round with the accouterments of the Web, it all feels familiar -- that is, when it doesn't just feel lost. The simultaneous video screeds by a dozen talking heads - the laments and outrage of those who were on the flight, or knew someone who was -- seems as much a disembodied, and sometimes incoherent, Greek chorus as a new portal for connections.
Nor does "Adoration" come close to the effortless calibration of multiple storylines that Egoyan achieved with his 1997 breakthrough, "The Sweet Hereafter," in which 20 children die in a school bus crash but it is the parents left behind in the small town who become the greater tragedy.
What happened in "The Sweet Hereafter" felt firmly grounded. What happens in "Adoration," like Simon's imagined life story, never finds purchase in a rational world.
Instead, there is confusion everywhere: Simon's Uncle Tom (Scott Speedman), who took in his nephew after the accident, is forever looking as if he's shown up at the wrong house (or possibly the wrong movie). A woman turns up at Simon's house in a sort of high-end burka-esque ensemble with a mask of silver medallions, and a series of bizarre exchanges on ethnic discord ensue. The French teacher becomes a surprise player in the drama. Meanwhile, ethereal images of Simon's parents and their story are slipped in between the chapters of Simon's story like random bookmarks.
If all that sounds like Egoyan has created something of a black hole with "Adoration," you would be right. When we look for illumination, all we find is chaos and darkness.
MPAA rating: R for language
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: In selected theaters