A Lost Chance at Amendment

Atonement

atonement

Joe Wright’s sumptious cinematic version of the acclaimed novel Atonement by Ian McEwan is really worth viewing a second time round…

Having read Atonement in 2007 and waited for the big screen version of the tale about real and imagined crimes, war and the devastation of innocence, I was suitably impressed by Wright’s cinematic version of a complex novel by author McEwan. Only on a second viewing do I fully appreciate the intricate variations of a grand tale about innocence, loss and the absolute devastation of World War II on all nations concerned. With a brilliant screenplay by the masterful Christopher Hampton, who brought us Dangerous Liaisons and the elegant film Carrington about the life of Lytton Strachey, Wright propels the viewer into an elegant scene of the snobbish society of English country life that is soon transformed forever at the approaching threat of war… showing both those that profits off war’s destruction and those that lose everything by the infinite devastation of endless violence.

*****

What makes Wright’s film version so brilliant, is his effective use of water as a motif both for purification and as a form of atonement and cleansing, whether its the illicit sexual encounters of a lazy English sultry summer afternoon or the sponging of blood and grime from the wounded soldiers as they return from the Theatre of war, that was France in 1940.  From the retreat at Dunkirk to the blitz of London and the losses suffered by all, Atonement paints a grim and prophetic picture of a world without order, direction or compassion, where many must suffer for the mistakes of the few. Wright’s cinematic achievement is that wonderfully long tracking shot on the beaches of France as the English forces prepare for an initial retreat, and the wake of devastation left behind, as one of the central characters Robbie turns and survey the catastrophe of confusion and anarchy. A society on the brink of collapse, seemingly without redemption.

Atonement focuses also on conflicting narratives, embellishments and the dangers of an imagination too rampant to remain real, only realised through the loss of innocence and that inexhaustible sense of wasted time. Besides alternative settings of elegance and destruction, are poignant performances by a superb cast that tackle the subject matter with an earnest command of look and suspense. The original score by Dario Marinelli is brilliant and exceptionally evocative, and is in line with similar films about war, love and lost chances in the tradition of The English Patient and The Remains of the Day.

Audiences should watch out for a superb performance by Saoirse Ronan as the precocious and prying Briony Tallis, who sets in motion a series of misguided accusations which can never be rectified. Saoirse Ronan deservedly received an Oscar nomination for her role as the imaginative 13 year old girl, who does not fully grasp the motives or desires of adults, particularly those of her sister Cecilia played by Keira Knightley and Robbie Turner played by James McAvoy.

Ian McEwan’s novel, Atonement is a multi-layed superbly descriptive account of the erosion of social stability in the face of a world inevitably altered by the onset of the most dramatic event in the 20th century…

The novel  is a thought-provoking and intelligent study of English society on the brink of a significant historical turning point, the affects of which still resonate today…

Even if you have seen the film,  the novel is worth reading and then set aside a luxurious afternoon to afford yourself a second viewing of Atonement.  Both endeavors are enriching and speculative, not to mention thought-provoking… After all, how is a person to atone for an accusation that irrevocably changes the course of a families history forever…

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