Atonement (2007)

I’ve always known Atonement has a powerful ending. I had no idea in what way. But damn if this didn’t sound ominous:

When Atonement begins, it’s lovely — the scenery is filled with light, people smile and kids are being kids. Something doesn’t click, though, and after a while, I understand why. The music would fit to a funeral scene.

So the film is ominous right from the start. Perhaps not enough, though, because I wasn’t ready for that ending — nobody could be.

Briony, the storyteller, is portrayed by three people over the film: Saoirse Ronan as child, Romola Garai as a young adult, and Vanessa Redgrave as an old woman. Redgrave’s performance, the shortest one, is incredible, and perhaps only shadowed by James McAvoy. McAvoy and Keira Knightley are perfect together from the first moment we see them lay eyes on one another, but McAvoy’s intensity is what sticks. I love him, but I have never seen him as great as he is as Robbie.

james mcavoy atonement

If the story we follow over many years can be called a love story, it’s a cruel one. Robbie and Cecilia are a beautiful couple, but they are immediately torn apart by a child’s jealousy. Briony is the kind of child that rubs you the wrong way right from the start. Even if you want to feel compassion, it feels a bit useless since she does a horrible thing. If she had been lovely from the start, we could forgive her. But just like Cecilie, we cannot.

The film is so gorgeous that it agitates you. What happens to Robbie and Cecilia in their worlds is so ugly; there is no right. Atonement is a story that sticks, sticks maddeningly and irritatingly, melancholy and infuriation all at once. Just when you think that you have made your peace, Redgrave comes and breaks your heart.

atonement old briony redgrave

In the end, is nothing more but a story, and the ending is nothing but the story. We cannot just stick another ending to it when we are not happy how it wraps up, but in truth… they are both just works of fiction. Oddly, this is not comforting.

atonement, robbie and cecilie on the beach

The Blind Spot Series is a blogathon led by Ryan at The Matinee, where the aim is to watch an essential film every month. You can find my choices for 2014 here.

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18 responses to “Atonement (2007)

  1. Pingback: Blind Spots 2014 | Films and Coke

  2. Yeah, it’s horrible isn’t it? I mean I completely lost it at that ending. That was beyond cruel since the movie essentially lies to you and pulls the rug from under you once you actually found hope and some comfort. It’s seriously worse than what they usually pull on Thrones when something awful happens 🙂

  3. McAvoy is so good in this and Knightley is not bad either. So heartbreaking.

  4. A reason why I don’t see this often is because of the ending. I don’t think I’ve ever loathe a character as passionately as I loathe Briony Tallis. What she did was simply horrible. So there’s the ending, and that – when I catch even glimpses of the film, I can’t help but think, if Briony didn’t do that, Robbie and Cecilia could have had their happy ending.

  5. Atonement is so great! I just haven’t been able to revisit since because of how much I cried the first time. Seems like punishment to go through again.

    Briony is one of my most hated characters. She’s such a bitch.

    Great review! I agree McAvoy was very good in this.

  6. Great review! I absolutely loved McAvoy and Ronan in this. I thought they were both tremendous. That ending killed me, I did not see that coming, and I absolutely bawled.

  7. “..but in truth… they are both just works of fiction. Oddly, this is not comforting.” I love this! 😉 I agree, this has got to be one of the most difficult films to digest because it’s damn heartbreaking! But of course, a great film!

  8. Lovely write-up, Elina. I love this film, and the book is amazing too! You’re totally right, it’s just too beautiful for such a devastating story!

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  10. Altough the ending was sad I for one appreciated the change. I like it when movies trick me. Atonement was my choice for Best Picture in 2009. I really thought that one deserved it

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