Everything Is Illuminated is based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer. The film tells of the author’s search for his grandfather’s past. Jonathan (Elijah Wood) is a quiet man who spends his time collecting rare and odd bits of his family’s history. On her deathbed Jonathan’s grandmother gives him a photo of his deceased grandfather who is standing in a field with an unknown women. Jonathan’s grandmother tells him that if it were not for the women in the picture his grandfather would have never escaped the Nazi’s who overran the Ukraine during WWII. She then dies, leaving the women’s identity a mystery to Jonathan.
Jonathan decides to head to the Ukraine to see if he can find the mystery woman from the photo and to see if he can learn anything about his grandfather’s history and his own heritage. Once he arrives in Odessa , Jonathan is joined by two members of the Perchov family. Alex (played by Eugene Hutz, lead singer of the Gogol Bordello) is Jonathan’s reluctant, and only partially competent translator. Alex’s grandfather acts as Jonathan’s driver and guide despite the fact that this older gentleman is convinced he’s blind. The last member of the group is Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., grandfather’s seeing-eye…dog.
Everything Is Illuminated is a beautiful film which traverses the range of human emotion. The cinematography is breathtaking and filled with rich and meaningful color. The film’s soundtrack and musical score are well fitted to the story line and make you feel as if you are traveling the Ukranian countryside. The story is both simple and multilayered and what begins as a straightforward, almost boring trip turns into a search for belonging, connectedness and identity.
Questions1. As the final credits of the film were rolling what was your initial reaction to the film? Did you like or dislike it? Why?
2. What did you think of the acting in the film? Did the actors do a good job fleshing out their characters or did they seem one dimensional and flat?
3. What do you think of Elijah Wood's acting in this film? How does his character here compare to other characters he's played?
4. Who was your favorite character? Why?
5. What do you think of how the film was divided into different chapters?
6. What did you think about the flashback scenes? Did they help or hinder the telling of the story?
7. Are there any scenes that stood out to you in a particular way? What made them stand out?
8. What are your thoughts on how the film made use of color? Were there any particularly dominant or recurring colors you noticed in the film? If so how were they used and why?
9. What your thoughts on the cinematography in this film? How is the sky shown in the film? The landscape?
10. What did you think about the film's soundtrack and musical score? Did they add to the film in a positive way or detract from the overall story?
12. What role does humor play in this film? Would you classify this film as a comedy? Why or why not?
13. What do you think of the narrator's opinion before the “very rigid search” that the past is past and like all that is not now, it should remain buried along the side of our memories?
14. What are your thoughts on Jonathan's “collection?" How do you think he determines what he collects?
15. Do you think there is any deeper significance to the cricket encased in amber? Why or why not?
16. What do you think about the introduction to the Perchov family?
17. How hard did you laugh when you were introduced to Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.?
18. What place does family have in this film? What role or function does family play in the life of the various characters in the film?
19. What do you think about the way Alex dresses and the way he at least tries to emulate American popular culture?
20. While Jonathan is riding the train into Odessa he looks out the window and sees two men who have crashed their cars into one another and are sitting calmly and chatting on the hood of one of the cars while drinking coffee. Why do you think the filmmaker included this scene in the movie? Was it just random or does it purposeful?
21. What do you think about the way the film depicts the infiltration of American culture into Ukraine as seen when Alex and his grandfather drive into Odessa?
22. How is the language barrier between Jonathan and Alex used in the movie?
23. What are your thoughts on the first conversation between Jonathan and Alex about Jonathan's collecting?
24. Jonathan tells Alex that he wants to see where his grandfather grew up and where he would be now if his grandfather hadn't gone to America . Alex responds by telling Alex, “You would be Ukrainian, like me.” How does this line function as a type of foreshadowing for the movie?
25. What do you think about the dinner scene with the potato? It is one of the only times in the movie where Jonathan smiles, why?
26. How does knowledge of history and one's past (family history, Ukrainian history and the history of Trachimbrod) function in the film? What are your thoughts on this?
27. How are the two grandfather-grandson relationships in the film similar? How are they different?
28. At what point in the film does Alex's grandfather stop pretending, or at least thinking, he's blind? Why is this?
29. What do you make of Alex's grandfather staring at and following the moon?
30. How does the director use the sound of thunder in this movie?
31. Why do we never learn the name of Augustine's sister?
32. Why is Augustine's sister's house in the middle of the sunflower field?
33. What is the connection between the two collectors?
34. Why would Augustine's sister's collection include dust?
35. What role do Jonathan's glasses play in the film?
What did you think about the “inside-out” references in the film? What was being conveyed in these references?
36. When Jonathan tells Alex that he collects things because he's afraid he'll forget, what do you think he's afraid of forgetting?
37. The woman says that the Nazi's destroyed Trachimbrod in a very logical way. How do you feel about this statement?
38. What are your thoughts on the story about spitting on the Torah?
39. How does the film address the issue of anti-Semitism both in the past and the present? How was Jewish identity and faith portrayed in the film?
40. After hearing this story Jonathan hears something like whispering and follows it down to the river where he collects some dirt. What do you think he heard?
41. What are your thoughts on the last flashback of Alex's grandfather? Why does he discard his jacket with the Star of David patch? How does this affect the rest of his life?
42. What do you think about the statement that Augustine's ring isn't in the story because of the characters but that the characters are there for the ring? What is this statement communicating? Do agree or disagree? Why?
43. Why does the women ask Alex's grandfather if the war is over? Is it because she really doesn't know or is there another reason?
44. What do you make of the last scene between Alex and his grandfather in the car?
45. Why do you think Alex's grandfather commits suicide? What do you think of Alex's reaction to his grandfather's suicide?
46. Why did the director decide to include the scene showing Alex and Jonathan on the return trip back to the bus station? Is there something important about this short scene?
47. What are your thoughts on the final scene between Jonathan and Alex?
48. What are your thoughts on Alex's final monologue?
49. What do you think of Alex's statement that he and Jonathan have shared something to exist for?
50. Why does Alex have the photograph of Augustine and Jonathan's grandfather at the end of the film?
51. What are your thoughts on the scene of Jonathan in the airport seeing familiar faces? What is the filmmaker trying to say here?
52. Why does the film end with both Jonathan and Alex burying their grandfathers with soil from the Brod River?
53. What statements is the director making about journey, self-discovery, and identity with this film?
54. What do you think is meant by “illumination” in this film? Why?
SourceEverything is Illuminated credits:
Elijah Wood (Jonathan Safran Foer)
Eugene Hutz (Alex)
Mikki (Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.)
Boris Leskin (Grandfather)
Jonathan Safran Foer (Leaf Blower)
Director: Liev Schreiber
Written by: Jonathan Safran Foer (novel) & Liev Schreiber (screenplay)
Producers: Matthew Stillman, Peter Saraf & Marc Turtletaub
Cinematographer: Matthew Libatique
Original Music: Paul Cantelon
Runtime: 106 minutes
Rated PG-13 (for disturbing images/violence, language, sexual content)