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Atonement : Film Study

Essay by   •  August 3, 2013  •  Book/Movie Report  •  1,837 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,305 Views

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Atonement : Film Study

Question: Symbolism, narrative structure, and special effects are significant features of film. Focussing on one or more of these features, discuss the extent to which you agree with this view. Your response should include close reference to one or more films you have studied.

When director Joe Wright began the task of recreating the Atonement, written by Ian McEwan one of the first decisions that Wright had to make was to follow as close as possible the complex and time shifting narrative structure of the novel. Like the novel, the film Atonement has four distinctive parts, each given its own colour palette and filmed with its own camera techniques. Part one is set on one glorious summer's day in 1935. Parts two and three are set in overlapping times in 1940 during the war, first in France and then in London. Part four is the coda and is set in 1999 in a London television studio. However, within each of these parts is a much more complex treatment of time; a narrative structure that underlines the film's important themes of differing perspectives on events, and the damaging and redeeming effects of story-telling.

The first part of the film is deals the events that happened on a summer day in 1935. This day was partially hot and steamy, much like the sexual confrontations between Robbie and Cecilia. This part of the play sets up the entire story of events to follow in the years to come. The novel is told by a young thirteen year old girl named Briony. Briony is a girl with a "buzzing" imagination ass shown through the buzzing of the bees at certain parts of the film to show that her imagination is at a height and possible in its most destructive state for example when Robbie gives the anatomical letter to Briony to give to Cecilia or even when Briony is observing Robbie and Cecilia at the fountain. Briony plays the "eyes" of the film and the creator of the story. A way in which this is illustrated in the film is in the opening scene when the camera pans from the doll's house along a row a model animals, to Briony sitting at her desk, typing a play and the camera is directly over her eyes. This is also seen in the film by the high angle shots of Briony. One of them being Briony looking down and out of her second story bedroom window observing a confrontation between her sister Cecilia and Robbie at the fountain on the courtyard below. Briony believes that she is witnessing her sister being controlled by Robbie to reveal herself and therefore making herself vulnerable to attack. Though we are able to see that her version of events is distorted due to her looking through a window which symbolises a blurred view and the ability to not see things clearly. We see from that moment on that Robbie is characterised by Briony as a villain. We also observe narrative cuts back in time and these cuts back in time replay events but in greater detail. This shows the viewer that there are large discrepancies between what Briony imagines as the writer and what actually happens. This same narrative cut is utilized again, when Briony interrupts a love scene between Robbie and Cecilia in the library. Briony sees this scene as an act of violence, and attack on her sister and in some ways is trying to protect her. Though she fails to see this as a mutual act between the two lovers. The First part is mainly about the power of storytelling and the imagination. Briony wants her stories to be a reality so badly that she genuinely believes that Robbie is the rapist as he is also the villain in her stories as well. It's not until she is 18 and watching the marriage of Lola and Paul Marshall that she actually realises that the person that raped Lola was Paul Marshall and not Robbie. This is done through the use of a flashback to this moment when Briony actually sees the faces of Paul Marshall in the Grotto five years ago. These flashbacks and shifts in narrative perspective become more and more significant as the film proceeds. They not only show events in more detail but they also show the implications of Briony's lies and deceitfulness. Briony in some places where her lies have the most affect often looks blank of expression which may imply a lack of empathy at this age. Some phcolist say that is a parents duty to help develop such behaviours in children. Though because of adults and parents being obviously absent in Briony's life and along with her imagination is possible the reason in which she does feel remorse until later in the film when she is grown up and has finally realised the implications of her actions.

The narrative shifts in part two of the film have a more conventional purpose compared with that of part one. The film cut very quickly from that hot summer's day in 1935 to 1940 in Dunkirk/France. This abrupt shift is intended to dramatise the abrupt change in Robbie's circumstances. This part of the film shows the pitiless reality to war and also paradoxically shows the how story telling destroys lives and yet can give hope. For Briony this hope is the way of healing and atoning for her lies. As Robbie walks toward the beach at Dunkirk he repeats the words "The story can resume" implying that these words are placed into is mouth by the storyteller (Briony). It also shows the Briony wants to rewrite the past and deeply regrets it and be writing this passage for Robbie she is giving Robbie hope and in a sense giving them their happiness. When Robbie and the two other arrive at Dunkirk beach we get a seven minute shot which in a way is something out of the bible. It shows the destruction of war, the wasted lives, the wasted equipment, the wasted animals, buildings. Also in this seven minute shot of Dunkirk we see lots of symbols of childhood dreams such as a fairswheel, the singing choir, the horse. This are all things that we associate with happiness and happy memories and war has taken those away from us it has destroyed many of the good things in life much like the lies of Briony's that destroyed both Robbie



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