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January 28, 2008


I had to watch the film Atonement for one of my classes. Unfortunately, the daytime showing was not going to work for me, so I had to catch a late night viewing. I haven't had an experience with a film like I did with this was for as long as I can remember.

In short, I thought the first half was truly excellent. It was engaging, intriguing, well acted, well written... everything you want a british victorian film to be. And then it just kind of fell off a cliff for me. And then the ending fell off another cliff and actually made me feel cheated and angry. More specific discussion after the link, in case you haven't yet seen it yet and don't want to be spoiled.

So the film is called Atonement right? And the basic plot is that this young girl misinterprets a couple of incidents she witnesses and as a result gets a man put into prison. Now this man was in love with this young girls sister, and the sister loved him too. But with him in prison, and then trading out of prison for service in World War 2, that relationship came to a tragic end.

The part that was very good was up until the man got arrested and put in jail. It was tightly wound, very interesting. Then it started meandering. Man in France or Germany or somewhere, trying to get to girl. Girl being a nurse, trying to somehow track down Man. Blah blah meander here, talk about missing each other there, etc etc. Now I have to admit, it was late at this point and I was tired. Very tired. But at the same time, this boring meandering nothingness of story was not helping my wakefulness.

So finally we meet the young girl all grown up, and she's a nurse too. And she feels guilt over getting the man arrested, realizes she was wrong, etc. So she goes to her older sister and apologizes. And her older sister is... surprise, entertaining the love of her life, he's in her bedroom, they are sharing precious moments! Huh, ok, that's nice. I guess. They got back together. I guess.

BUT THEN, it cuts to the young girl, now all grown up, and even more so, really quite elderly. And she's on CNN. Yes, that's right, they try to jolt me out of my stupor by cutting from these lush victorian sets to a CNN (Maybe it was BBC) soundstage. And the old lady is asking if she can go to the bathroom. And I'm thinking, hey that's not fair, I have to go to the bathroom, but I'm sitting through this boring weird ending, you should do the same because you are IN THE MOVIE.

So the old lady then tells us that the whole ending we just saw never really happened, her going to apologize, the lovebirds have their moment of reuniting. Nope, didn't happen. He died in the war. The sister died in the Nazi bombings of England. They never got back together. And no, she never had the courage to apologize to her sister either.

So why did they just show us that scene? Because she wrote a BOOK with that ending, to "make it up to them," for the way she ruined their lives. Yes, that was her ATONEMENT, she made up an ending to a story where they got to spend some time together. !???!! That's atonement!? Last time I checked, atonement was some kind of sacrifice that restored something that had been lost, to fix some of the damage that you created. THAT IS NOT WRITING SOME FICTITIOUS HAPPY ENDING so that "in some world they can be together."

Didn't work for me. Really did not work.

Posted by jason on January 28, 2008 02:26 AM


I just saw the movie yesterday. It really moved me. I wasn't bored at all but I'm the one that really liked The Last Emperor. However, the ending DID really disturb me and I felt cheated. I LIKED these two characters and the ending left me with nothing. It wasn't any definition of atonement that I know. The movie is about guilt and how to overcome it. The young girl's choice to do away with her guilt is not believable. It won't work in real life.

Posted by: Lynn on January 29, 2008 09:04 PM

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