Up until about halfway, it’s pretty faithful.
After I read Everything is Illuminated, I wondered how the movie would be. I had seen previews to make me wonder if maybe it looked only at the lighter side of the book, and whether it ignored anything.
And the truth is, it does. It pretty much never tells us the story of Brod and very little of the story of the character (not necessarily the author) Jonathan Safran Foer’s ancestors. In fact, the river, which plays a large part in the book, is hardly explained at all in the movie version. Yet for whatever reason, Jonathan decides to gather silt from the river and give it to Alex’s grandfather anyway. (Oh, he knows.)
But it gets several things right. The character of Alex, for example, is portrayed fairly accurately. His English begins with the signature errors (including “seeing eye bitch” and “A very rigid search”), though Alex begins to sound suspiciously native at moments when he is not supposed to seem funny. His antisemitism comes off (as in the book) as harmless ignorance to be changed over the course of getting to know Jonathan.
Jonathan Safran Foer was played by Elijah Wood, and I definitely have a thing for him. I first saw him in a movie adaptation of Huckleberry Finn (he was much younger, but then so was I). When he played Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, I was excited to have discovered that he’d broken into a big film. And he played scared-pathetic-blue-eyed-hobbit to perfection. I haven’t seen him in Sin City, and I think I’m glad because it might have ruined his quiet, well-groomed (with an eccentric twist) appeal in this movie. More on that in a minute.
The actor playing Alex’s grandfather, Boris Leskin, is exactly what I had been picturing as I read the novel. He is quiet and plays “easily disgruntled” well, but his eyes give away his struggles and that deep-ingrained guilt that Grandfather carries throughout the novel.
Not-Augustine (If’ you’ve read the book, you’ll understand this one), seemed a far cry from her character in the book, though. In the film, she is surrounded by flowers, a kind reliable woman, though not Augustine herself. In the book, there is something dark, sad and almost dangerous about her. During passages with the woman, I always felt restless, worried, as though she might be holding back a darker secret that she was somehow a part of. In the film, she is a harmless witness and, like Jonathan, a collector.
Jonathan’s collecting is, of course, an invention of moviemaking. In the book, he has no such eccentricity and seems, apart from a lack of confidence, to be fairly normal. However, I liked this little departure from the source. It allowed Alex and Jonathan to mirror each other effectively, and Jonathan’s collection served as both a way to punctuate an important moment and a reminder to the audience that little things are precious, and they can have real meaning.
On the whole, a good interpretation into film. It made me laugh and feel appropriately sad in all the right places, though it didn’t capture the extremes of either that I rose and fell to in reading the book. The director/screenwriter didn’t get bogged down in summarizing. They skipped things that could never have been effectively translated onto film and left us with little visual gems that are so important to make an adaptation worthwhile. Otherwise, it seems to me, why not just read the book and be done with it?