HMWYBS 702: Atonement

As we talk about a wonderful adaptation of one of my favorite books for the second episode of HMWYBS, we need an appropriate soundtrack!

We all know how gorgeous Atonement is, I think? Despite the fact that the film’s script is a little bit too tied to the book in how it reveals things about the primary cast, Joe Wright is still very focused on motion. Every frame in Atonement feels animated even when the characters or objects are fairly still, for the little movement that does happen is always intently centered and focused on like a laser.

One shot that I think about when I think about Atonement, aside from the obvious green dress/Dunkirk long take stuff, is this shot of young Saoirse Ronan in the window:

It feels alien and out of place with the rest of the film, but more importantly, those colors are stunning. I’m not sure what I can say about it other than that, though.

Much more fun is the shot that leads to all the misery:

I originally was going to be snarky about how they’re having sex fully clothed, but really, it actually works upon further thought: the fact that young Briony would think something so proper and innocuous was a rape just makes the descent all the sadder.

But then I decided that going for the early idyllic scenes in HMWYBS would be the easy thing to do, and thus, we come to this sequence when Briony has grown up, gotten a new actress, etc. I suppose I should warn you all that it’s slightly gory?

Best Shot

The innocuous subtitles add to the charm, honestly.

Worth noting is how unsteady the camera is in this sequence when Briony must comfort a dying French soldier named Luc, which is a far cry from the rest of the film when it moves on a perfect line or curve. Here, it twitches and shakes. Everything is unnatural and wrong at this moment-for Briony, Luc, everyone. A sign of deeper emotional honesty? I think so.

But it also leaves bare the tragedy for all to see, with Briony, the most natural liar and storyteller, completely unable to handle something that should be a natural fit. When Luc, thinking Briony is some other girl, asks if she loves him, she says yes (and if you’ve read the book, you know she means it), but breaks down quickly and tells him her name before he dies.

Luc’s exposed brain should mean he’s the most susceptible to Briony’s lies just like the police officers she mishandled so long ago. And the setting is just as theatrical as her aborted play from the early scenes, with the closed curtain separating him from the others being a glamorous red one, like something out of Baz Luhrmann, in a hospital of otherwise sterile whites.

And yet, she cannot tell another lie when push comes to shove. For despite the fact that she’s a natural storyteller, Briony ultimately fails at all her charades. She gives away at the end of the movie that the happy ending she created for Celia/Robbie-an ending she portrays as being inspired to seek out via the experience with Luc-is untrue. Considering her demise via vascular dementia, one has to think that Briony and Luc are well-matched in more ways than one, and she’s denying herself a happy ending as part of, well, look at the title.

On further thought, it actually makes a good parallel with the library shot: Robbie and Celia’s moment of passion is not fully felt, while Briony and Luc’s is raw and real. It all lends further credence to the foreshadowing of this being all in Briony’s head, even if I do wish she hadn’t been a writer in this adaptation to make the transition neater.


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