Sunday, January 27, 2008

A great book, a great movie - Atonement

On Friday we saw the movie Atonement.

As this was one of the best books I have read in the past few years (and the other -Saturday was by the same author, Ian McEwan) I was anxious to see it. As always when attending a movie based on a book, I wondered whether it would do credit to the writing or whether it would disappoint. It did not disappoint.

It amazes me, thinking about it, how the author managed to create the mood, delineate the characters - and not only in snapshots but as evolving beings that grow and mature through time- and how he managed to get a complex message across without preaching but with that tender treatment that is so necessary to open the reader's mind to it.

The movie captures almost all of this. The visuals show the WWI era in England needed for the story through well chosen settings, costumes and vignettes. The casting is wonderful although the actors were mostly unknown to me, except for Vanessa Redgrave who has a cameo at the end. They all do a tremendous job. Especially the young Briony. The tensions are well displayed not only in the dialogue but in their body language, and in their little mannerisms. The twists of the plot are nicely eked out in the subtle replaying of events through different characters' eyes (a technique used in the book). The reality hidden under the surface dawns slowly as it would in real life for the characters involved (although having read the book, and knowing more than I should, this suspense was spoiled somewhat for me)

And the sound track! Wonderful. At one point we hear a group of men at Dunkirk singing the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" (to the tune Repton) one familiar to me. It was so moving; it seemed to so accurately express the yearning of the men for home and all that was good and dear to them and which must have seemed so far away at that moment as they were in retreat, near defeat on the Beach.

I love the almost frantic typing that the movie begins with and which recurs at points throughout the movie. The book the movie is based on is about writing. It is about childhood and the loss of innocence. It is about how we create worlds in our mind that only over time we see as fantasies, our own constructions, not God's truth. As Briony says about her manuscript " it's about something I saw... and I thought I understood but I didn't". Ah, how true that is of all of us. Blind to our own ignorance. It is well named as it is about atonement. It reminds us how flawed we are and how we have such hubris and how we cause such pain. The story of Atonement was Briony's guilt and awareness of her faults put on paper. It was her attempt to fix the injustices of the world on paper, trying to put it right. Isn't this what many writers are trying to do? Recreate the world.

With an excellent book there is a good chance for an excellent movie in the right hands. And the movie Atonement deserves to be called a triumph.


mamie said...

Oh my, I am so glad I checked your blog tonight! I saw the movie on Sunday and I couldn't agree more with the points you mention, although I could never have expressed them so well. Thank you, thank you, for this piece. I, too, thought the movie was wonderful and true to the book. Redgrave's part at the end was superb.

patrick said...

Atonement looked and felt a lot like Pride and Prejudice... come to think of it, both movies have the same director, leading lady, both are based on books and both take place in England

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)