'Antonement': it ripped my heart out, but in a good way
Content Warning: mention of sexual assault, pedophilia
This article contains spoilers for "Atonement"
As I felt the readers of Pillbox may need a little break from Paul Dano content, and I happen to love a good period piece, I chose to watch “Atonement” this week, directed by Joe Wright and adapted from the Ian McEwan novel of the same name. “Atonement” follows the romance between Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner, and their subsequent separation due to the actions of Cecilia’s younger sister, Briony.
The film begins in 1935 with frantic clacking of a typewriter as thirteen-year-old Briony (played by Saoirse Ronan) finishes her first full-length play. Briony is a jealous and controlling young girl and thinks she is wise beyond her years (as teenagers tend to). She also has a crush on Robbie (played by James McAvoy), who has a crush on Cecilia (played by Keira Knightley). When Robbie and Cecilia have a disagreement that ends with Cecilia stripping down to her underthings and jumping into a fountain, Briony witnesses the scene from her bedroom window and assumes that Robbie and Cecilia hate each other. When Robbie writes a rather vulgar letter to apologize for his actions and confessing his love to Cecilia, he gives it to Briony to deliver and ends up regretting his decision upon being told that Briony read the letter prior to making her delivery. After a passionate confession of feelings by Cecilia and Robbie, things end up getting steamy in the library, but are interrupted by Briony walking in on them (and assuming that Cecilia is being raped). When Briony later finds her fifteen-year-old cousin Lola being sexually assaulted, she assumes that the man she saw running away was Robbie, and she gives a damning testimony. Coupled with the explicit letter sent to Cecilia, her account is enough to convince everyone but Cecilia of his guilt. The rest of the film takes place four years later, after Robbie has been released from prison in exchange for his service in the British military during World War II. He and Cecilia have stayed in touch, and she has never wavered in her faith in him, despite what the rest of her family thinks.
The chemistry between Knightley and McAvoy in this film is so phenomenal. Every single time they’re on screen together, you can feel the intense love between them yanking on your heart strings and leaving you no choice but to root for them. Although many of their interactions are through letters, even the narration carries such a deep sense of longing between them. I also happen to be insanely in love with both James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, so I was basically going feral with bi panic for the entire movie, and had no clue who to be more jealous of. The costumes were so perfect that I was so immersed in this movie the whole time. Another small aspect of the movie that I really loved was the back-and-forth storytelling, where it would show an event or stretch of time from one point of view, and then again from someone else’s. It’s really very helpful in illuminating a character’s motivations, and often allowed me to see the parallel storylines and how everything influenced the others.
My favorite part of this whole movie was the score. It was genuinely bewitching, and literally within the first thirty seconds of the score, I was going feral. The main theme is this beautifully bittersweet piano melody, very often set against a rhythm track featuring the clicking pinging of a typewriter, which absolutely sent me into a frenzy. It also heavily featured these frantic, urgent strings set against the ticking of a clock. I am an absolute sucker for environment noises in a score, and this soundtrack absolutely does not let you forget that time is always running out. I was absolutely not shocked when I learned that this movie won a Golden Globe for best original score and even less so when I found that it was composed by the same guy who scored “Pride and Prejudice” (2005), Dario Marianelli. I just know he is gonna end up in my top Spotify artists this year, and he absolutely deserves the spot.
I have not stopped thinking about this movie since I watched it. It truly has everything that I love in a movie: romance, war, a great love story, heart wrenching tragedy, a few characters that I can single out and focus all of my hate on, and one of the best scores I’ve heard in a while. However, there are some main plot points that revolve around sexual assault (both perceived and actual) and pedophilia, so if those are too triggering I’d recommend avoiding this movie. However, I think they serve the plot and are handled well, so if those things don’t bother you in the context of a story, I cannot recommend this movie enough. On my classic “had a bad time” to “had a good time” scale, I’d give “Atonement” a solid “ripped my heart out of my chest and handed it back to me, but in a great way.”