We finally got around to watching Atonement last night.
I read the book a couple of years ago and it affected me deeply, but I'd forgotten exactly why, my memory is always unreliable at best after all.
However, in a precursor to this blog I had started writing quick memory jogger notes about books, comics, films and the like so I reproduce it here:
(and if you haven't read the book or seen the film and want to, look away now)
A beautifully written book dealing with a life transformed by a childish mistake. Briony Trellis falsely accuses a family friend of the rape of her cousin, resulting in his imprisonment and separation from her older sister.
The story passes through time when the family friend Robbie is part of the BEF at Dunkirk, then to Briony's horror as a nurse tending the victims of the Dunkirk retreat. Only at the very end, following Briony's partial reconciliation with Robbie and her sister Cecelia in 1940, does it become clear that Brony, a successful writer since the war's end, has been creating it all. Her tale of Robbie's salvation at Dunkirk, the reuniting of the lovers and Briony's reconciliation with them, her attempts to make atonement, all of it just words from her final novel in 1999, before she dies.
McEwan's ability to create beauty from language, making his characters so real merely adds weight to the final hammer blow that damns Robbie to a tortured death at Dunkirk and Cecelia to a lonely death months later in the blitz. Briony's life is laid bare in the final pages as destroyed through guilt and regret that the atonement she sought, the atonement that you as a reader believed she had found, is only available to her after her death.
McEwan's writing, descriptive, stunning, kept me going through the slower early stages. But once into Dunkirk and the horrors of the military hospital there wasn't a thing that could make me put this one down. The first part took a month, the second and third, two evenings.
Well, the film was everything I had hoped for. In truth, the sloppy, sentimental side of me could have cried at many points through it, but that's just me.
In so many ways the film is a faithful adaptation of the book and I feel the strong desire to re-read the book to look at what they changed, what they left out. I started the film trying to remember exactly what was going to happen and in truth it didn't come back to me until nearly the end. I saw Bryony visit Cecilia and Robbie and the memories flooded back and the tears nearly came as well. The sense of loss and yearning for a happy ending that I remembered from the book flooded back as well.
In the book though I remember the climactic reveal, that Bryony had written a fiction around Robbie and Cecilia to bring herself Atonement, to be like a physical jolt to the brain, with a turn of the page everything changed and the entire basis of the book was changed. A spectacular moment in fiction, and one which I don't think they managed to convey in the film, but they at least attempted it, at least gave a sense of the shock expressed on the page.
A beautiful, moving and emotive film. Not a patch on the book, but a great film based upon a greater book could do no more.