Drama, Romance, War
R for war images, language and some sexuality
Joe Wright’s Atonement, the academy award-winning, visually-stunning film, is a story of love and war, of error and guilt, and a search for redemption. Based on Ian McEwan’s 2001 Booker-shortlisted book, it is also about language and words and is set to the staccato tempo of a typewriter and the sound of gunshots that punctuate the march to Dunkirk (Academy Award for Best Music Score).
The movie starts in 1935 England, in a country mansion where thirteen year-old Briony (Ronan Saoirse) is spinning tales and writing plays. She witnesses a sexually-charged scene between her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and Robbie (James McAvoy) which she misconstrues through later events. This leads her to tell a horrific lie that changes the fates of the three of them. The story then moves on to the Second World War and to the evacuation at Dunkirk seen through Robbie’s eyes. Cecilia is meanwhile a nurse, and so is Briony (Romola Garai). The horrors of the war continue from the beaches of Dunkirk to the hospitals in England. The movie closes with an ageing Briony (Vanessa Redgrave) and her contemplation of lives and wrondoings.
Three actors play Briony at various stages of her life but it is Saoirse Ronan, who is most evocative. I never doubted her convictions and how she came to commit her own crime. Keira Knightley as Cecilia plays the upper class girl perfectly, with an accent and mannerisms to match.
The back and forth scenes are arresting; the incidents show different viewpoints. It works well in the first part, in the countryside, but it becomes unnerving during the war; the alternating between the retreat in France and the bombing of London.
Atonement, at the very least, is about the power that words have. Briony uses words to build her literary worlds. Writing makes up a part of her attempt at redemption. But words can destroy too; a single, crude word sets into motion the events that ruin the lives of at least three people.
Visually, the first part is exceptionally beautiful, showing languid pace and the beauty of countryside. The war has powerful images and the beaches of Dunkirk burn through memory.
- The movie starts with idyllic England and creates an expectation of the resolution of a night’s events. But, the storyline diverges vastly to war and the evacuation at Dunkirk; to unfamiliar hospitals bearing the deluge and the horrors of war. The historical events are powerful enough to overshadow the individual fates of the three principal characters. The common thread is of Atonement, but the ending leaves us with more questions on the nature of redemption and whether it can be found through actions or art.
Atonement paints the stories of three torn souls through a vivid canvas, showing the power that a single word holds. A highly recommended watch.