The press alternately booed and applauded the Cannes premiere of Atom Egoyan’s new film, Adoration, and few came to greet the director at his press conference. Granted the film, which tells of a boy who reinvents the mundane story of his parents’ death as an international terrorist conspiracy only to face the truth at the end, falls as flat as the bomb that never went off on the plane. Still, the high-minded intellectual ambitions of the director were apparent and intriguing throughout, echoing the themes of his more successful films such as Exotica and Felicia’s Journey. The boy constructs his myth of his parents by borrowing the story of an Arab who arranged for his pregnant wife to detonate en route to Tel Aviv.The boy’s French teacher becomes obsessed with the boy’s construction.The scenes are contrived, the acting stilted and yet one cannot help but busily think during the screening: What inspires us to construct stories about our lives? Can one story ever contain the conflicts between a family, let alone between rival groups?
In the end, there is a “true story” that seems to wrap up all the threads, bringing the disjointed characters—the boy, the teacher and his strange uncle—into a harmonious web. Yet even this satisfaction seems like a momentary pause in the ongoing journey of narrative need.
Atom Egoyan, a sincere-looking intellectual with boyish dark eyes and a warm regard, leaned forward at the podium with an excited air as he explicated the sub-topics of his film—many of which were more captivating, unfortunately, in his telling than in the production. He explained that the various “props” in his movie—a Christmas nativity decoration, a violin, a burka—were “fetish objects for something else, ways of dealing with loss.” The film’s title, Adoration, alludes to how the characters adore each other, but sublimate this adoration into objects, the director explains.
Fetishism is also true of our attachment to technology. Egoyan’s films obsess over modern methods of communication—cell phones, chat rooms, video cameras. In this film, the boy puts his constructed story on the Web, and it becomes the subject of a chat room. While many critics assume that Egoyan is celebrating our technological ease, the truth is quite the opposite. “The issue of the Internet is that we are saturated with intimacy, but the film is about the boy’s own journey. It is not about the Internet, but about the way the Internet is used to draw him out. But he becomes overwhelmed by the multitude of responses in the chat room. All that noise does not solve his issue. The film is ultimately about finding that one person who can help us understand our history… I am more concerned with emotional concerns of people rather than technologies.”
We continue the conversation the next day at lunch…. or a sort of lunch. We journalists had already eaten, and Egoyan, in his enthusiasm to respond to our questions (one intuits his generous approach to students in his sideline as a university lecturer), barely connected his fork to his plate.
Fork suspended, he admits that the issue of our attachment to history, to cultural props, was personal to him, as an Armenian who grew up in Egypt and then moved to the west coast of Canada. “We were the only Armenian family in Victoria, while the rest of our family had moved to Montreal. What aspects of tradition my family held on to were very particular. I am obsessed with identity and what I hold onto to construct identity.”
The punchline: We are “burdened by traditional artifacts that we feel pressured to conserve, but they have lost meaning”.
Yet Adoration has a happy ending. The props are dispensed with (the violin sold) and the boy, his uncle and his teacher convene in the teacher’s home, agreeing for the first time on one story—and creating, Egoyan explains, “a new nuclear family.”
Perhaps the story of this film does not ultimately work, but stories themselves can.