Atonement is another word for penance. There are wrongs that need to be paid for, but while they’re still in debt, hanging over your head all you can do is dread when the judgment falls. You think all the “If only”s and wish you could take back that one gesture, or word that caused the gavel to fall. And it looms over you, follows you until your atonement has been made.
Thirteen year old Briony (Saoirse Ronan) is an aspiring writer. Robbie (James McAvoy) is the son of the family’s servant and has plans of going to medical school. One day Briony sees her sister, Cecilia (Keira Knightley) take off her dress and jump into the fountain right in front of Robbie. Briony assumes this to be completely scandalous and with a few other events misinterpreted more and more she eventually accuses Robbie of sexually assaulting her cousin.
Well, there go Robbie’s hopes dreams and his budding relationship with Cecila. He’s sent to jail and four years later agrees to join the British army in WWII. Cecila becomes a nurse, hoping that once the war is over she and Robbie can be married. Briony, who is just realizing the repercussions of her childish accusation, could have gone to Cambridge, but trains to be a nurse as well. It seems they’re all waiting in purgatory, all three paying for Briony’s misinterpreted judgment.
Young Briony is just a kid; a bored little girl looking for more excitement in her dull life than there really is. That’s why she writes plays and makes connections between what she sees and hears to be the worst and most sensational situation she can come up with. Perhaps there was jealousy unconsciously wanting Robbie and her sister apart, but that certain word put a dark light onto poor Robbie and with Briony’s imagination who else could be the perpetrator? That little scene where she pretends to drown, just for the romantic idea of being saved by Robbie says it all.
The scene where Robbie is trying to write an apology letter to Cecilia is wonderful, I love the depiction of the writer’s struggle. He listens to different record tracts, smokes some cigarettes and stretches and even has to turn away from the typewriter and laugh. He just needs to pay attention to which letter he puts in the envelope. Rookie mistake.
Atonement won the award for best original score and I know exactly what did it. At times, it seems like a typewriter is used as a musical instrument. It’s beautiful, imaginative, catchy and perfectly captures the theme of Briony’s writing. The typewriter sounds (along with real instruments) create a real sense of movement in the film, sometimes urgency and kept me tapping along.
I’m not one for a love story, but I loved this story because there’s more to it than love and all its wonderful, happy, drippy moments. It feels utterly real. Perhaps because there is much more sorrow than there is happiness. There’s no hiding that.
Atonement is full of passion, sadness, grief, guilt and yet I didn’t cry. It’s moving, but not in such a sappy way. It’s a thinking kind of sadness that pulls at your heart, picks your brain by keeping little bits a mystery. And there’s nothing like a hard sucker punch to really make your heart weep.
I’m picking Atonement for 2007. I truly enjoyed all the films, but Atonement is the only one that really moved and engaged me on first viewing. It’s rare for me to find a recent film that can capture all my curiosity and keep me captivated the entire time.
“-If all we have rests in a few moments in a library three and a half years ago, then I don’t know… I don’t…
-Robbie… look at me. Look at me. Come back. Come back to me.”