Film Adaptation of Everything is Illuminated: Hit or Miss?   

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Updated: Jun 22, 2022
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We all have that favorite novel of ours that either fortunately or unfortunately was adapted into a film. Sometimes, film adaptations can either be a hit or miss. In the case of Everything is Illuminated by Safran Foer, it was both a hit and a miss. In some cases, it is best to leave parts of books out of movies, but in this adaptation leaving out parts of the novel and changing the storyline definitely changed the meaning and message behind the novel.

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The most notable parts of the novel for me are when Jonathan, Grandfather, and Alex meet Lista in Trachimbrod, how Grandfather is presented to the viewer as being abusive, and the events leading up to Grandfather’s death.

In the novel, Lista tells the story of how the people of Trachimbrod were shot and killed one day by the Germans. She specifically tells the story of when her father was told to spit on the Torah or his family would be shot and killed and wouldn’t. In this story, Lista’s “sister” gets shot in the stomach while being pregnant and runs away, but comes back and collects things from the people who were killed. We soon learn after this when Lista says, “I must go in and care for my baby… It is missing me” (Foer 193), that she does not have a sister and she’s referring to herself as if she does have a sister. In the film adaptation, Lista in actuality does have a sister, Augustine, who was married to Safran. In this version of the story, her sister was actually shot while pregnant and it is her sister who collects the items not herself. These differences in stories affect the presentation of the story because Lista isn’t presented as someone who is disassociating herself from the horrors of her past. Often times, when someone goes through the traumatic events that Lista has gone through they begin to relive stories as if it was outside of themselves. The reader gets the chance to empathize with Lista and it gives us a sense of why she is very timid. The film adaptation of this scene gives the viewer a sense that nothing happened to Lista. She was just there to witness the events, she wasn’t a partaker in anything except being there to see and hear about the events. These two different things focus on two different issues.

The novel raised the question of why does Lista tell them the story as if she has a sister even though she doesn’t, and it makes us wonder about her mental state and how reliable she really is a source. Because these things happened to her she could’ve created stories in her head. It’s also interesting how the film presented this scene visually. When reading the novel, I imagined Trachimbrod as being some run-down section of land. Lista’s house to me was probably going to be very run down, seeing that she was now an old lady who had lived here for years by herself. But in the adaptation, her house is very beautiful and surrounded by rows and rows of Sunflowers. Everything is well put together. This adaptation of this detail of the novel I think works well because even without the telling the story of Trachimbrod and all the horrible things that happened, it shows how life still came out of it. Trachimbrod is supposed to be some place that is forgotten and not thought of or talked about. One would expect it to be run down like I did, but it shows that out of something so horrible something so beautiful was still able to survive and grow there and that’s what makes the scene beautifully.

From the beginning of the novel, Alex talks about his father and how his abusive and hits him. The reader gets this sense that Alex is scared of his father and how he treats him. Alex obviously wants to get away from him. The novel raises the question of whether abuse in their family was generational. Was Alex’s father abusive to him because his grandfather was abusive to his father? In the film adaptation of Everything is Illuminated, it is the complete opposite. In the scene where Alex and Jonathan go to, speak to the construction workers, Alex kicks Sammy Davis Junior Junior. Grandfather gets out of the car and starts beating up Alex for kicking his dog. But, in the novel the reader learns that Grandfather would never hit Alex. It is interesting that they changed this because both portray grandfather in a completely different light. From reading the novel, the reader doesn’t like the father for being abusive, but in the film, they make it so that the reader begins to not like Grandfather. These bring about two different messages.

Throughout the novel, the reader can see how Alex resents his father but doesn’t see this in his grandfather. Alex finds comfort in his grandfather because he knows his grandfather wouldn’t hit him. But, in the film, they make Grandfather seem as if he’s very angry and abusive. This also raises questions leading up to his suicide. Grandfather being abusive in the novel makes it seems as if he committed suicide because he felt guilty about how abusive he was and how he treated his family. Them adding in this scene made sense to the film, but was detrimental because it gives Grandfather’s suicide a new meaning. Because they couldn’t portray the abuse of Alex’s father in the film in the way that it was presented in the novel through Alex’s narration and letters to Johnathan, they still kept the abuse in the film but projected through a different person. Other than them presenting Grandfather as being abusive in the novel, the way he was presented as an actor was accurate. He was loud mouthed and cursed with no remorse just like he did in the novel. But, in the novel, it was funny the way he talked. In the film, it gives rise to the mind of the viewer that these are all actions of an abuser. It makes you wonder why is he so angry? Is whatever he’s projecting onto his family the reason he killed himself?

Now, if the film adapters had actually kept in a specific scene from the novel the cause of Grandfather’s death would seem much more different. In the novel, before leaving Lista’s house, she gives them a box named “in case” with different pictures and trinkets. After leaving her house Johnathan, Alex, and Grandfather go back to a restaurant and look at the pictures. Johnathan pulls out a picture of a man and woman standing together. Johnathan notices that the man in the picture looks exactly Alex. This leads grandfather to admit that he’s the boy in the picture and the other boy in the picture is his best friend. 

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Film Adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated: Hit or Miss?   . (2022, Jun 22). Retrieved from