Jonathan Safran Foer is not a writer, he is a collector. As played by Elijah Wood, Foer is a vegetarian, an American, and a descendant of a Holocaust survivor, obsessed with mapping the details of his Jewish heritage. In fact, he is so intent on discovering the history of his family that he flies to the Ukraine and asks an agency to help him uncover the story of the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis.

Foer's translator, Alex (Eugene Hutz), is a young Ukrainian who is unconsciously creative with his English synonyms. He asks Jonathan things like, "Are you carnal often?" and remarks that Michael Jackson is the "most premium" of pop stars. Three of the five stars that Everything is Illuminated deserves come directly from Alex calling his dog "Sammy Davis Jr., Jr." as well as, more professionally, the "officious seeing-eye bitch."

The movie, directed by Liev Schreiber (The Manchurian Candidate), deftly blends a sense of whimsy with a moving and serious story, adapted by Schreiber, incidentally, from the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. Illuminated asks some difficult questions about family and personal histories and how human beings come to terms with past tragedies. The title kind of gives the answer away: through the past, everything is illuminated, and the characters can receive closure for painful past events.


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