Essay on Auerbach and Everything is Illuminated
Auerbach’s book Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature discusses the manner in which Homeric story telling is leisurely and digressive. To Auerbach, the Homeric technique illuminates through relating detailed past events and easy discussions. As such, there is no rush to create suspense. This aspect is typified by the long digression in the center of a significant moment from which the essay draws its title. That is moments before the nurse is on the point of recognizing Odysseus. What matters at this point is the outer description rather than the psychological aspect, narrative suspense, or historical development. As such, Auerbach recognizes that Homeric style celebrates the ironic and in-depth spatial appearances.
Auerbach contrasts Homer’s narrative with the story of Abraham in the Old Testament (Auerbach 3). He observes that Abraham’s story is full of suspense because it does not emphasize on peripheral descriptions. It does not give the descriptions of how Isaac and Abraham appear. Abraham’s story also does not provide a detailed description regarding the location. As such, Auerbach observes that there is no conversation in Abraham’s story. He concludes that Abraham’s story is a compressed story that is full of suspense. Auerbach believes that if Homer were to write Abraham's story he would have written a whole book and the outcome would have been different.
Likewise, the film Everything Is Illuminated is a reproduction of the 2002 Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel by the same name. Foer’s narrative sets out to recount a young American Jew’s journey to Ukraine to try to locate a woman who saved his grandfather during the Nazi invasion of the grandfather’s family shtetl. Foer refers to the way past events help people to understand the present. Alex, a Ukrainian whose family focus on "tours of dead Jews", narrates the film. Just like Homer, Schreiber diverges from the focus of Foer’s book. He provides descriptions that are insignificant throughout the film hence diverting the mind of the person watching to such things as the beauty of the Ukrainian landscape. The film also provides a detailed description of the car that Alex and his grandfather use.
Alex’s attempt to interpret Foer’s novel fails to reflect Foer’s imagination. The film ends up as soft and whimsical as compared with the novel. The film delves into Ukrainian’s past wars. The film also looks at the improbable English slang spoken by the Ukrainian. Such diversions in the movie captivate the audience in a way that the audience is ultimately refocused on things that peripheral to the main theme. In the end, the film does not illuminate much regarding the death and destruction of the Ukrainian Jews, the challenges that the warring history generates, or the guilt of the survivors. It is notable that these are the distinct themes of the film and not of the themes materialize throughout the movie.
Instead of translating the novel and illuminating the themes of Foer’s novel, the film diverges from the focus and takes a different approach with the desire to make the story flowery. Both the film and the text are epic. However, the style that Schreiber uses in the film vary from Foer’s approach in the novel. Schreiber incorporates ethnic humor that eases the suspense. Auerbach observes this technique in the Homer’s Odyssey. This technique ensures that the movie captivates in its own right as it manages to achieve the artistic aspect. However, it has not captured the major themes. In the movie, not every detail that is necessary to develop the major themes is articulated. Further, the increased deviations from the main themes generate alternating emotions for the audience. This is because the narration reflects mythical aspects rather than history. Eventually, the audience is unable to point out exactly the main character in the movie. As such, Auerbach’s views on the manner in which Homer recounts in the Odyssey narrative are applicable to the film ‘Everything is Illuminated’ as compared to the novel that inspires the said film.
Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Fiftieth
Anniversary Edition. Trans. Willard Trask. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.