Saturday, December 08, 2007

Atonement Review


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.

See it.

"Atonement" by Ian McEwan- the atheist's response to Paulo Coehlo's children's story "The Alchemist"

3 comments:

upinVermont said...

You don't like the Alchemist? I read that story several years ago. After reading it, I felt cheated. The story is not Coehlo's. He based it on a much, much older fable and stuffed it with his own embellishments.

I'm probably the only one, or one of the few, who feels this way. If I'm going to read a fable, then I want to read something new. Otherwise, if it's going to be derivative, it had better do something novel with the original, and Coehlo, in my opinion, doesn't do anything novel. He just lards it up...

I think I'll wait for Atonement to come out on DVD. I heard a snippet on the radio...

He says: Why are you crying?
She says: If you have to ask...

(Or something like that...)

Me and my wife both started laughing... Wait until you're married, Aaron, after you have lived with a woman for a few years, and this intensely melodramatic moment will sound like something you have heard a million times.

Aaron said...

It already does sound ridiculous, which is why I'm not married, don't bother trying to date, and have absolutely no intentions of ever marrying. Think I'm joking?
But when you're 20 years old, it's how people talk. And the story follows the character into her 70's and she is looking back on it all.

When people ask if I believe in love, I reply, "do you believe in salty?"

What they really mean to ask is whether I think there is anything supernatural about love (including any of it's thousands of variations and corallary meanings). No, I do not. I solidly, emphatically do not. And neither does McEwan, clearly, which is why a "love" story is a perfect setting for such a nihilistic plot. To take the highest human sand castle and observe it's inability to stand the slightest wave thrown at it.

Read "On Chesil Beach" for an even more absurd and glorious examination of a young couple in "love".

ws said...

life really isn't the way mcewan writes it at all. his sanctimoniousness is baffling. he hasn't somehow dredged up the oft-unacknowledged core of our existence, he's just invented a world where he can exact whatever sort of cleverly and uniquely cruel fates he wants, regardless of their likelihood or their realism, and present them as some sort of tortured morality play. it's just silly, that's all. life is far more complicated than ian mcewan could possibly imagine.

at least that's what i think.