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Atonement: Beautiful and Perverse

Winning an Oscar, and nominated for six more, for best original score, Atonement is both beautiful and perverse. Based on the British war romance by Ian McEwan, the film tells the story of Briony Tallis, a wealthy upper-class thirteen year old who on a scorcher of a summer’s day stumbles upon her sister Cecilia (Kiera Knightley) making love to her boyfriend Robbie (James McAvoy) in the library before dinner.

With no explanation, they stop and simply stomp out. Later that same evening, Briony witnesses the rape of her cousin in a field. That night, Briony accuses Robbie of the rape, even though he is in fact innocent.

The prevailing sentiment is that, her childish flirtations having been earlier rejected, Briony is now exacting revenge. Treated like a child, yet expected to behave like an adult, it comes as no great surprise that her judgment is false.

That the adults, and the law, believe her is the real surprise. After all, Robbie has just rescued the twin boys from their attempt at running away.

Could he really have had the time to do all that raping and rescuing in such a short space of time?

One wonders why Cecilia doesn’t put in a good word for him. Nevertheless, Robbie goes to jail for several years.

Later, an older Briony, while working as a nurse, goes to visit her sister and apologize. Meeting both Cecilia and Robbie, Briony feels the weight of their wrath.

When both die young, Briony, now a writer, dismayed that her sister and her boyfriend never had the time together that they deserved, writes her last book as a way of preserving their happiness as a couple.

The story focuses more on the wrong Briony did to Robbie, but actually her wrong was towards her sister, Cecilia. Furthermore, Robbie wasn’t the most likable of fellows. His actions, while plausible, weren’t exactly generously.

He mistakenly writes a letter to Cecilia, calling her a bad name, instead of the letter of apology he meant it to be. And, when Briony jumps into the river just so Robbie will have to save her, he is cross and over the top.

Was Briony ever in danger of drowning? I don’t think so. It was her impetuous way of dropping her handkerchief at his feet. Leaving plenty for discussion, Atonement passes like an Irish summer, fragile and brief, a thing of beauty.

Release Date: Jan. 4, 2008
Genre: Drama/Romance/War
Runtime: 118 minutes
Rating: R
Cast: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Vanessa Redgrave
Director: Joe Wright
Stars: 4

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