Petit Foer

Photo: Susanna Howe

In Jonathan Safran Foer’s celebrated Everything Is Illuminated, the lead character was also named Jonathan Safran Foer—though he was quite distinct from his creator. (For one thing, the author never had a semi-sexual encounter with a Ukrainian dog.) Now there’s a new doppelgänger on the scene, perhaps the strangest yet: the goggle-eyed, slack-faced Jonathan Safran Foer that Elijah Wood plays in the new film adaptation of the book.

Granted, Foer is still a quiet young man who sets out on a quest through Ukraine to uncover the Holocaust legacy of his grandparents. But this Foer is also a marvelously freakish oddball. He wears the same black pallbearer-meets-the-Strokes suit every day, while observing the world through absurd Coke-bottle glasses. Wood says actor Liev Schreiber, who makes his screenwriting and directing debut with Everything, told him to think of Foer as a kind of “Chauncey Gardiner from Being There, who affects the world by not actually doing anything.”

Although Foer’s novel is famous for its magical-realist flourishes—in one chapter, the entire Earth lights up, sparked by people having sex—many such sequences filmed for the movie were then cut. “There were grandiose dream sequences—specifically one about sexual positions—that were brilliantly funny,” says Wood. But in the shortened movie chronology, the ecstatic moments bumped awkwardly into the more tragic elements. “In that context,” Wood says, “those things would have distracted.” Similarly, even Wood’s bizarre getup isn’t played for humor.

“Wearing the same suit every day isn’t to make him look strange; it lends a sense of practicality,” says Wood, who is quickly leaving behind his best-known role, as the world’s most famous hobbit, with choice parts in Sin City, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Everything, and this fall’s soccer indie Hooligans. On the other hand, Wood has to admit that “those massive glasses” do look pretty bizarre—with lenses so distorted that he was forced to wear strong contact lenses. “It sets Jonathan apart and gives the sense that behind his eyes, there’s a whole world happening.”

Everything Is Illuminated
Written and directed by Liev Schreiber
Warner Independent Pictures
opens September 16 (PG-13).

Petit Foer