As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Atonement

Posted by Hedwig on February 3, 2008

I finally got around to seeing this Oscar-nominee. I couldn’t go cold Turkey after the film festival, after all, from 3.4 movies a day to none at all. And I have to admit, my original disinterest in the movie was undeserved. It is a well-made, grown-up, literary movie that manages, despite all those adjective, to avoid being stuffy.

Much of this is due to the truly amazing music, which uses the sound of a typewriter to great effect. But credit must also been given to Joe Wright, who once again makes a period setting feel alive. I’m not sure I love the film though, not sure I can convincingly back it. Sure, it ended up on my Muriel awards ballot (#8, to be precise), and I admire its construction, but the film feels just a little too self-conscious. The looping back in time, the seriousness of the whole affair, even the earnestness with which Cecilia and Robbie love each other, it all felt just a little too constructed and convenient.

It’s not the ending I object too (SPOILER WARNING). I actually like the layered storytelling, like how it reminds us that we’re watching fiction. I like how it addresses our desire for a happy ending, while simultaneously playing off the notion that the sad ending is the more literary one. Because of course, the ‘sad’ ending is just as much fictional as the happy one is: within the movie it’s on a higher level of reality, but of course it isn’t any more ‘real’. It’s all straight out of the imagination of Ian McEwan, and Keira Knightley and James McAvond are currently neither dead nor frolicking on the beach together.

In truth, I love Atonement for the questions it raises: about the responsibility of writers and storytellers, about our willingness to believe what we would like or assume to be true, about the power of words. I love the music and some of the images, and the impressiveness of the tracking shot on the beach cannot be denied. I’ll even admit to getting a bit of a lump in my throat towards the end. But the movie is a bit too artificial and self-serious to really sweep me along. Cecilia and Robbie are characters, not people, which is the whole point of the movie, I suppose, but which also makes it a rather cold, intellectual exercise.

Still, I really shouldn’t be so negative. Because like so many great movies in 2007, it’s a movie that you can think about, that you even need to think about. And that never, ever is a bad thing.

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