17 February 2008

Atonement ตราบาปลิขิตรัก

Again, this blog entry contains spoilers, as I'd like to comment on the whole film. The surprise ending of course is crucial to my interpretation. Those who haven't watched the film but wish to do so are advised not to read this just yet.


I've heard about the film for a long time and the novel has been sitting somewhere on the shelf since time immemorial. But it's only Friday that I had a chance to see Atonement. While others may like it because of the tragedy that befalls the relationship between the upper-class Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, a man who comes from a different class but tries to move socially upwards through his medical study at Cambridge. But of course this film is set during the World War so the class structure was then pretty volatile.

But I don't like the film because of the romance as much as its beautiful storytelling. Everything is so stylised and I think it's aimed to be that way, as the whole film borders on the thin line between fiction and reality. The whole thing might just as well have come from Briony's own imagination from the start. The attempt to stay away from the realist mode of narrative can be seen from the repetition of two crucial scenes that lead to Briony's own renditions that in turn lead to catastrophic results. The repetition is superbly done: one is the scene whereby Cecilia and Robbie has a row in front of the fountain, and the other is their sexual scene. Briony also witnesses these incidents and interprets them in her own way, influenced by her childish fantasy.

The repetition of these two scenes, significantly from two different perspectives, shows how the whole film is self-consciously aware of its own imaginary potential and that's perhaps why it 'unashamedly' flaunts its surreal side. Notice the scenes when Briony visits Cecilia again or when Robbie is at war in France. Of course part of the fantasy is to shed light on how Briony 'rewrites' the whole narrative from her own point of view and it's her story that is aimed to be her atonement. I think this is a pretty smart twist, albeit one wonders whether she actually feels guilty, considering the fact that she probably earns a lot of money from this 'last' novel of hers. Cynical as I am and have always been, I think Briony exploits her own atonement by turning it into a business that earns her both plaudit and money. Even though some people may sympathise with her thinking that it's the best she could've done, I wonder whether perhaps it'd have been better if she had decided to apologise and to remedy the whole situation when there's still time -- not when it's too late and you only see her victoriously voicing her own guilt on air with her eyes brimful of tears. She's a wicked girl, indeed, from the beginning to the end.

But another reason why fantasy is portrayed in the film is the war. War is ludicrous and the whole thing looks terribly absurd in the time of war. Soldiers have bad memories and terrible nightmares, simply because the reality is so harsh and brutal. Imagine you walk into the woods like Robbie and see twenty innocent people killed for apparently no other reasons than they're on the opposite side. Personally the scene that touched me the most is when Briony needs to be by the side of a dying soldier whose skull is split open. His brain is injured, causing him to imagine and mix up scenes from the past. Briony is there with him trying to play a part in his own imagination so that the soldier can die happily. Sadly to say, Briony should've learnt from this incident and at least gone to see her sister Cecilia and Robbie and help construct or at least remedy past memories before it's too late.

The film does make me wonder: what's the point of writing a novel to atone for those who don't have the chance to read your work? Is it fair that Briony confesses to her crime just before she loses her memory due to dementia and in the process gains acceptance and forgiveness from those who actually are not the victims? I think not. She's at least not forgiven by me.

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