atonement-film-coverAlee’s Analysis: A heart-wrenching tale of lies, hope, defeat, and triumph.

Atonement is a 2007 film adaptation of the novel by Ian McEwan. The action begins in a 1930s England estate, where a young author and playwright, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan) plans to put on her first play. While Briony waits to begin rehearsing, she spies her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and crush Robbie (James McAvoy) together outside. Jealousy takes hold of her, and Briony makes up a story which irreversibly changes the destinies of all involved.

Vengeance is Destructive

Briony is thrown into a fit of envy and vengeance at the idea of her sister and crush being romantically involved. Although neither her sister nor her friend are aware of her feelings for him, Briony plans to seek revenge on them for double-crossing her, and plans to split them apart for good. What she doesn’t anticipate is that her deceitful words will have far-reaching consequences beyond a simple childish act of payback.

It is only later that Briony realizes that life is not like storywriting — there is no rough draft; you can’t simply erase and redo life if you’re not satisfied with the way it turned out. Vengeance is harmful to both the person seeking it and the target of revenge.

Lifetime of Redemption

Briony, Celia, and Robbie atone for their perceived transgressions. Robbie ends up imprisoned, a social outcast, and eventually thrust into the chaos of war, while Celia leaves her family and its wealth to wait for Robbie’s return. Briony voluntarily forfeits an elite education to work as a wartime nurse, serving those who, in contrast to herself, have been unselfish and given up what they desire for the well-being of others.

But how can one truly correct the mistakes of the past? A naïve Briony attempted to make others pay for what they’d done, but the older and wiser Briony finds herself scrambling, it seems in vain, to recreate the life stories which ceased to exist when she allowed passion and yearning to overcome her.

The Intersection of Dreams and Reality

As Briony becomes more established as an author she vows to reveal the story of how her envy dramatically altered the lives of those around her — this is her final atonement. She tries to make things right by telling the truth and reuniting her sister with her lost love. Yet she quickly finds that time is running out, or has already passed, to redeem herself. Solemnly she realizes that the way she dreamed their lives would have turned out, and the way they actually did, are completely different, and she is the cause of this disparity. The revelation of this reality presents the greatest heartbreak of Atonement, and reminds us all to think twice before we act, lest we later regret what can never be taken back.


8 thoughts on “Atonement

  1. A very sad film with a twist at the end which is quite heart wrenching.
    I’m a bloke but there were a few tears in my eyes at the end, not really a chick flick but definitely a film everyone should see.
    I have done a few things I regret but nothing to compare with that.

  2. Ian McEwan is, with Toni Morrison, my favourite living author. This book… There are so many things I could say about this book. Spoiler (or not): the way I see it, it’s a book about writing; about the dangers of writing and mixing imagination and real world. The book you’re holding in your hands is Atonement.

    It’s near impossible to portray this on screen, but this film comes close enough. Pay attention on the music in the background and the sound of Briony’s typewriter mixing with the soundtrack. Whenever you hear it, you know that she’s making it up. I thought it was a nice trick and the closest you can get to the book’s message.

    I know McEwan liked the first part of the film, but not the second. Not sure what were his dislikes, but I do think the story became a bit too sugarcoated; even though you realize later why, it’s still worse than part I. But hey, so was in the book.

    PS- Benedict Cumberbatch in his most disgusting role to date. I hated him so much in this movie. He was beyond disgusting. Such a great actor.

  3. Billy,

    I almost cried too…Almost. I wasn’t expecting that at all. It was simply tragic. I agree, everyone should see this film. It was extremely well-done.

  4. Hi Mira,

    I was going to ask if you’d seen this movie because of Benedict Cumberbatch. I agree, he was totally nauseating. I was so mad about how things ended up for him — villains should never triumph.

    I had no idea you liked Toni Morrison so much. I’ve been looking more into Ian McEwan since I saw this movie. He seems brilliant. Some compare him to Jane Austen but eh.

    Everyone dislikes the second part of the film! I liked it, especially the scenes with the 18 year old Briony. I just am not fond of war scenes.

  5. No, I didn’t watch this film because of Benedict Cumberbatch. At the time I watched it (I think it was in 2007 or 2008, I didn’t even know who he was; in fact, this is the first time I watched one of his performances and he creeped me out a big time. Luckily, I had no idea he was Sherlock before I watched Sherlock so imagine my shock when I found out he was Paul Marshal!

    I thought you knew Ian McEwan and Toni Morrison were my favourite living authors. When it comes to McEwan, I recommend “On the Chesil Beach”. When it comes to Toni Morrison, not all of her books are translated here; her best one, IMO (“Beloved”) is not, and I think it’s a crime! I’m actually supposed to write a paper on Toni Morrison and her work for one of my classes, so I re-read certain books about a month ago. I really love her writing.

    Here’s what I had to say about “Atonement” the first time I watched it:

    And about the book:

  6. Mira,

    “No, I didn’t watch this film because of Benedict Cumberbatch.”

    Sorry, I meant, I was going to ask if you’d seen the movie so I could ask what you thought of Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in it.

    I thought you knew Ian McEwan and Toni Morrison were my favourite living authors.”

    I might have…my memory might be momentarily failing me. Because I think I vaguely remember being surprised the first time you said Toni Morrison was your favorite author.

    I don’t think I even knew you back when you wrote the posts on Atonement. But interesting stuff.

  7. Sounds too “Angsty” for me. I’m more of an action flick girl, though I adore Keira Knightly and James McAvoy. Happy she’s not too Hollywood. Will have to watch now, but high on something………Thanks for the review, Alee…….

  8. foosrock,

    I wouldn’t say it’s angsty. It’s rather comedic at times, at least to me.

    I don’t usually like Keira Knightley’s roles, but she’s bearable in this movie. James McAvoy looks cute too: he cleans up well!


    What’s wrong with Keira Knightley (You said “Even Keira couldn’t ruin this”)?

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