25 December 2005 | cdelacroix1
Illumination is Humorous, Sad, & Deeply Moving
I really liked this movie ... but the ads I saw implied, and one published review actually said, that this movie "benefits from a light touch." That to me is very misleading.
There is indeed plenty of humor: eccentric, un-subtle, sometimes somewhat twisted humor: the kind of humor I generally find very appealing indeed. But most of the humor is the kind that appears conscious at all times of things deeply serious, deeply sensitive, even deeply painful. The movie weaves together themes of Past and Present, Perception and Truth, Memory and Activity, Life and Death. The entire movie is suffused by the history of European anti-Semiticism in general, and of the Holocaust in particular.
How can Humor and Horror be combined in the same movie? The review I saw suggested that the humor is Absurdist. I don't think this is the case at all; at least not in the common sense. Instead, I think this movie stands in the tradition of much Jewish / Yiddish literature and theatre. I don't claim to be any kind of expert in this area; but from what I've seen, Humor is used, in this cultural context, both as a coping tool for the horribly tragic experiences of this people; and also Humor is used as a means of "recovering the Divine" for men and women who choose a path of Faith rather than a path of either Despair or Absurdism. See "Fiddler on the Roof" for Humor used in both ways in this rich tradition.
Elijah Wood (Jonathon) Wood wears horn rimmed glasses that really make him look, well, strange: compare Sin City when he wore the same kinds of glasses with chilling effect. In this movie, it's easy to see how the glasses become a metaphor for both his Search and for his Struggle between Perception and Truth. Eugene Hutz (Young Alex) and Boris Lesking (Old Alex) are both really just wonderful. Jonathon and Young Alex are from the same generation, yet seem so very, very different; and then find that they are not so different after all. And the way in which the Apparent Narrative Voice changes gradually from that of Jonathon to that of Young Alex .. as a journey of intended discovery for Jonathon becomes one of discovery for both Young Alex and Old Alex ... is to me so very moving.
There are some wonderful scenes and panoramas from (I'm told) Prague and environs, standing in for the Ukraine of the story line. All feels very authentic and seems to give a wonderful sense of place; although I've never been myself to the Ukraine and can hardly testify to this from first hand experience.
All in all, if you're looking for light comedy, I would not recommend this movie at all. On the other hand, if you are interested in a wonderful, delightful, and deeply moving film, please, check out this wonderful movie.