Alternate Title: The Truth Never Stands in the Way of a Good Story
This little girl named Briony (Saoirse Ronan) writes stories. She sees her sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and the gardener Robbie (James McAvoy) hooking up against a bookshelf in the library. She also finds a note using the word cunt and that freaks her out. Some of you probably flipped out just reading it here…
Then there’s this guy, Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch) staying at the house and flirting with Briony’s cousin. One of the best parts of the first half of the movie is The Benedict Cumberbatch Easter Egg Hunt. Not only does he also star with Keira Knightley in The Imitation Game, which will make it to this blog once a streaming service lets me have access to it, but there’s also a brief conversation between him and Briony’s cousin about Hamlet, a play in which he starred (and that I am truly sorry I missed.)
After Briony reads THE C-WORD and sees Robbie and Cecilia doing it in the library (with the lead pipe), Briony and the rest of the family have to go and search for her cousin, Lola (Juno Temple). Briony finds Lola getting sexually assaulted by someone that Briony says is Robbie. The police give Robbie a choice, to either join the army in the height of World War II or go to jail. Robbie picks the army.
Fast-forward. Briony is five years older and a nurse in training. Cecilia is a nurse. Robbie is in France fighting a war. And Lola marries Paul Marshall, the guy who actually accosted her. It’s the least likeable Benedict Cumberbatch has ever been (and ever will be, probably).
Fast-forward again to an elderly Briony with the same severe haircut as her 12 year-old self. Now she’s confessing on TV that her latest novel, Atonement, is a true story. While the entire film appears to show a woman haunted, what it could in fact be showing is a little girl who never quite grew up and has been making up stories all this time – perhaps even the story we just watched.
From the beginning of the film to the end, clicks like a typewriter can be heard with Briony’s movements. A lot of the movie feels like a play, something Briony has written when the movie starts. Some of the dialogue even feels rehearsed, not like way people actually talk to each other. How much of what we’re watching is real, and how much is just the imagination of a woman who’s lived in her brain all this time and whose brain has now betrayed her?
I would like to note that the alternate title is borrowed from one of Jan Harold Brunvand’s collections of urban legends – other stories that could be true, but might really not be at the same time.
At the end of it all, who is left to be trusted to tell us what’s true?
Now it’s Your Turn…
Atonement was nominated for Best Picture in 2007, but did the Academy get it right?