The Canadian filmmaker Atom Egoyan often tells his stories with scenes out of order to reinforce his theme that absolute truth is impossible to find. In an Egoyan movie, things are rarely what they seem to be, which becomes evident when he circles back and shows us the details he kept hidden at first. He possesses all the facts (obviously: he created the story) but deliberately obscures them for a while to prove a point. That matches some people’s view of God.
God and religion turn up quite a bit in “Adoration,” another well-wrought and intriguing drama by Egoyan that stars his wife, Arsinee Khanjian, as Sabine, the teacher of French and drama at a Canadian high school. Sabine is Lebanese, and she is compelled by a story told by one of her students, Simon (Devon Bostick). Some years ago, a pregnant woman was stopped at an airport checkpoint and prevented from boarding a Jerusalem-bound plane with what turned out to be a bomb, planted by her Middle Eastern husband without her knowledge. The near-catastrophe was a famous incident. Simon says the woman was pregnant with him: She was his mother, the would-be terrorist was his father.
We first meet Simon, an introspective teenager, as he interviews his dying grandfather (Kenneth Welsh). The old man seems kindly, describing Simon’s mother as a promising violinist but becoming gloomy when he talks about his other child, Simon’s uncle Tom (Scott Speedman). Tom, a tow truck driver, has drifted from job to job and is a consistent source of trouble. He cares for Simon now that Simon’s parents are out of the picture, though you’ll notice Egoyan doesn’t yet explain why they are out of the picture. What happens to married couples who try to blow up planes, anyway? Is Simon even really their son? He starts telling people his story isn’t true after all, but it’s difficult to tell, at first, what the truth is.
Uncle Tom, whose side of the family is Western and caucasian, didn’t care much for his sister’s husband or for anyone else from that part of the world. (I don’t think anyone is ever specifically called a Muslim or Christian in the film, but the implications are clear.) “Maybe people should stick to their own kind,” Tom says to a mysterious veiled woman who walks past Tom and Simon’s house while they’re setting up Christmas decorations. He has no compunctions about saying this.
Egoyan, using his omnipotence as storyteller to manipulate events, doesn’t seem to mind that several elements of the plot will feel like extraordinary coincidences. This person meets that person and that person speaks to this person because Egoyan wills it so. He’s in charge of everyone’s destiny. I haven’t mentioned many specifics of the plot because you’ll enjoy it more if you let Egoyan peel the layers back one at a time.
It’s commonly thought that if you get to know a person, you will understand him better and like him more. But in “Adoration,” we find that sometimes the opposite is true. Sometimes it’s learning more about “the bad guys” that makes you finally decide to pull the trigger on them. Egoyan drives this point home by withholding key information about certain characters and events until the revelation will be most powerful, and by having Simon interact online with dozens of strangers from all corners of the political spectrum, some of whom sound crazy and hateful but may have valid points after all.
The filmmaker employs some cheap symbolism in one scene (burning someone’s possessions as a means of exorcising your memories of them) and relies on some unqualified actors for several of the minor roles, but the film still coalesces into a satisfying and thoughtful whole. The leads — including Rachel Blanchard and Noam Jenkins as Simon’s parents, seen in flashbacks — seem like part of a troupe, committed to Egoyan’s vision and all of them handing in earnest, sympathetic performances.
B (1 hr., 41 min.; )