Story’s the Thing: Atonement

There is something about period pieces that I just can’t put my finger on. Two of the most monumental events of the twentieth century, the World Wars, have plenty of works dedicated to them, and plenty of works that one can fall in love with and cry over at that. Among the love stories that take place in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s is Ian McEwan’s never, which later became Joe Wright’s film, Atonement.

This post contains yet another discussion of the book and/or the movie: how they compliment each other and how they stand in each other’s way, but how I love them more because of it.

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Atonement is one of the films I saw in the very birth of my ever-growing love for Cinema, with a capital C. Filmmaking has been a passion of mine for years and I have been interested in all that makes a good movie good and how to recreate that goodness of a film.

Atonement, unarguably, is one of the films I have loved and have considered worthy. However, in 2007, I still didn’t feel the need to read a book before seeing the movie that was based on it. Thus, I saw Joe Right’s interpretation of Ian McEwan’s plot and loved it. Nevertheless, at that point I remember one thing quite vividly: I hated Briony, I really did, for her every word and action. Every misfortune in the story was her fault according to me. I did like the way that the character was built, but I considered her the main antagonistic force (as much as a girl in her early teens is a force… meaning, with every molecule in her body). So, instead of focusing on Briony, I paid much more attention to the lovely Robbie and Cecilia and fell in love with James McEvoy and Keira Knightley’s interpretations of the roles.

atonementWhen I read the book the movie had sprung out from, and it was only a few months later, so the plot was still fresh in my head, my thoughts and emotions were turned upside down. My love for Cecilia and Robbie didn’t falter at the least.

However, my feelings toward Briony were twisted at 180 degrees. The book’s brilliance arises from the ability to create a world for the characters, besides Briony, so that they have extraordinary, tragic lives, and also manages to get in the head of 13 year-old girl, later older or much older woman. Briony “degraded”, as much as this is degradation, from an antagonistic force back into the little girl that she is, and became truly relatable and intriguing. (Not only that, but Ian McEwan is now among my favorite contemporary authors and I read his books one after the other: Saturday, Amsterdam, On Chesil Beach, Sweet Tooth…)

Nevertheless, neither the book nor the movie is made lesser from the fact that the other one exists. Yes, the film version shows a much different Briony from what one can understand in the book. Yes, Keira Knightley and James McEvoy are both brilliant and gorgeous in the movie. However, the fact that both versions exist in different mediums is what makes them better. Together, they are that much better. So books and movies are not in fight after all, not for readership or viewership, not for quality. They are too different and too similar at the same time and can both be extremely precious.

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