Tuesday, 25 September 2007


Atonement carries the idea of 'covering' something. It's particularly associated when one tries to somehow cover a mistake that one has made.

It's also the latest film adaptation of one of Ian McEwan's books, currently out in the cinemas. James McAvoy is particularly excellent in a good all-round film, which looks good and sounds good (you can tell special attention has been paid even in the smallest detail to how things sound).

The plot centres on the life of Briony Tallis. As the film opens, she is aged 13 and it is the 1930s. Through a combination of misinterpretations of events and outright lies, she ensures that her housekeeper's son, Robbie, is imprisoned for rape, and separated from his love, Briony's sister Cecilia. The rest of the film concerns her attempt to try and make sense and make amends for her actions. What becomes evident as the story unwinds is that it is a mixture of real events and other events interpreted and even fabricated by a guilty conscience.

I think there are two interesting themes that emerge from this film. The first is that of justice. Briony evidently struggles with the fact that Robbie never experiences the life that he 'deserved', happiness with Cecilia, due to her actions. A good reminder that, if this life is all that there is, life is fundamentally unfair. We often struggle with the idea of God's justice, until we remember that if God didn't judge, his ultimate verdict on our lives (and on the characters of Briony and Robbie) would be, "See if I care!"

The other theme is that of guilt. Without giving too much away, it becomes evident at the end of the film of the extent to which Briony has been crippled by her guilt. She is unable to move on and still interprets other events through her guilty conscience. It's true that guilt is often hard to escape. But what would Jesus say to Briony Tallis? I think it would be something like this:

What you did was wrong, and you know it was wrong. You have seen how horrible it is to rebel against my way and to live your own way in my world. It hurts other people and it has offended me. Yet I will take the punishment that you deserve and give you a fresh start. You no longer need to feel guilty. You can have a clean conscience.


Dave K said...

Good film, but an unsatisfying ending for just the reasons you describe.

More than most films the absence of God is stark... yet you can just glimpse him in the knowledge of Briony that things aren't the way things should be.

peterdray said...

Cheers Dave - yes I completely agree. I found the ending pretty depressing; particularly, when the rest of the film is seen through that ending.