I try not to post more than once in a day, but I finally saw the film Atonement this afternoon, and it bears blogging.
I have developed a bad habit with movies that I know beforehand will be emotionally strenuous. If I even suspect a film of being serious enough to make me cry - a quality I once found almost essential in a good film (I was a melodramatic child) - I get nervous beforehand. I think this began when I saw Dancer in the Dark, a film ... .. I won't bother trying to describe it or its effects. Anyway, I get nervous now. It is better if I go to see it in a theatre, because the process of buying a ticket and wading through the previews reminds me that it is an event. The roll of the credits at the end, the slow walk out of the building, and the mindless drive home all serve to draw me back out of the story and into the world.
Not so in my living room. How can I just drop the disc into the machine, curl up on the couch, watch the thing, and then stand back up again like everything is normal? I need transition. Without it, I get this knot in my stomach. My heart beats unusually fast (it skipped to the brilliant rhythm of the typewriter in the opening score). I try to think of excuses to put off pressing 'play'. Since when? How did this happen? I am afraid of where the movie will bring me. Actually afraid of the grief and despair - real grief, real despair - I have felt at the end of those few films I've seen, so ugly and sorrowful and hopeless as to cause real bodily sickness.
Atonement was not one of these films. Why did I think it would be? I've read the novel. It was brilliant. Rather, it was actually uninteresting for countless plodding pages (necessarily plodding, as I later found out), until it went off like a rocket and came down weeping. The film sort of reverses that formula. Not exactly, because it's all good, but it definitely begins with the best brilliance. The rest of it... well, perhaps I just expected too much. But it's also essentially very difficult to film a conflict that is entirely based on its own written form. That is, at the heart of Briony's 'atonement' is her writing of her own crime. The act of reading the novel is a participation in her atonement (or her crime?), that simply can't be translated into film. I found the ending unsatisfactory precisely because it attempted that translation - through monologue.
Then, too, when reading the novel, you are able to take the narrative as it comes. If you find out that the narrator is unreliable, why, it's an awfully bit of writing on the part of Mr. McEwan! But watching them on screen, if you're going to give me a deceptive ending, then have Briony be a movie producer - not a novelist. The film doesn't carry off that kind of unreliability aesthetically. If the camera is on Robbie, there is no reason why we shouldn't assume he's in the room. Otherwise, we're not being deceived by a guilt-ridden wench with a typewriter and cape but by Joe Wright.
Let me not end on too critical a note. James was again phenomenal; the cinematography and score were breathtaking; and, against my will, I am beginning to think that Keira Knightley is an astounding actress. And her green dress was simply gorgeous.