Saturday, December 08, 2007
It's been awhile since I read the book, but I was shocked to noticed how everything looked just about how I pictured it. I don't know how McEwan does it, but reading his books is visual without reams of descriptive text. In ways he is minimalist with his setting descriptions but you never feel need of more description. The movie scenes were ripped straight from the book almost completely.
It could not have been made any better. Well one way. We could have seen knightly's boobs more clearly. All we get is a wet T-shirt image.
The brilliant directing scheme has the story told through Briony's eyes, misinterpreting events from afar, then flashing back to the events from Celia and Robbie's eyes at which point what really occured is revealed to the audience. It works perfectly and is believable, even more believable than the book for me.
The girl next to me was literally weeping and the ending had not even come yet. I was in a jammed packed audience in a small artsy theater. When the devastating hook came I could feel the people around me turn white. The weeping college student was now choking with her head between her knees. When the credits rolled people sat in stunned disbelief. The people around me said "that was so beautiful" and "that was so amazing".
The plot of this movie is incredibly original. It is important that it is set in WWII because one of the side-themes of the story is how much is lost in war. How war takes complex lives and relationships and rends them undone. Not just undone, but unsatisfyingly cut-off from their resolution in messy meaningless ways- a reality we avoid in our polished documentaries and reminisences of these grotesque historic events. But the audience has no idea exactly how cut off from the resolution the truth really is until McEwan lets go the molten wrecking ball right to the head.
The movie, like every McEwan thing I've read is an illustration of nihilism- the part we don't acknowledge about the truth of our lives that makes them livable. Of course you won't see that told anywhere or described that way anywhere, but that's exactly what it is. My favorite McEwan short story involves a very kind fat women who takes it upon herself to raise a couple of children who are neglected by their immature parents. The women is teased and ridiculed about her homeliness. McEwan delves into the psychology of the obese woman, her loving care for the children, the sadness and cuelty of her life and the trag and unfair way she is treated, despite her saintliness. In the end of the story, she takes the children for a leisurely boat ride. At some point they start laughing at a joke or something, I can't remember. But the fat women laughs so hard that the boat begins rocking. Her sheer girth creates havoc and as chaos erupts in the boat over her fit of choking and laughter, the balance is disturbed, the boat tips and the children drown because nobody had taught them how to swim. The end.
Atonement is much like this. And so is raw life, before a human mind comes along to organize it into patterns which don't exist.
"Atonement" by Ian McEwan- the atheist's response to Paulo Coehlo's children's story "The Alchemist"