In Defense of Joe Wright’s Atonement (2007) April 12, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
Directed by Joe Wright
Cast: Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan
Based on Ian McEwan’s novel
Ian McEwan’s Atonement is unfilmable. It is one of those prime examples of sweeping literature that shrinks any forms of art that attempt to overstate its values. Its entire gravity of emotions is way beyond the capabilities of cinema and adapting it would only magnify the mistake, proving once again that the written word is the most convenient weapon of mass expurgation. Well Joe Wright’s take on the novel is not that bad – – it is not close to being lame, and it is too faithful it nibbles McEwan’s words in such precision and care it makes you wonder why it eventually throws them up; it is just unexceptional. And in this world of exciting film releases from different countries, hence the unwavering fruition of world cinema, an average work could easily go down the drain of anonymity. But to be fair with Wright, his film has its own virtues. It deliberately follows McEwan’s storytelling from start to finish, from Briony’s cerebral hedonism to her final effort to seek redemption, finally completing Robbie and Cecilia’s legacy of deathless romance; and her old life that serves as a painful reminder of her past, of the irreparable damage that she has done, where no amount of words no matter how beautifully-written, no matter how sincere and inspired could ever absolve her pitiful innocence, bringing everything into a feast of emotional fireworks, forever burning in her heart. As a filmmaker, Wright must be thinking that the biggest respect he could give to McEwan is to allow his words seep through his film – – the passages of regret that continues to haunt Briony and the remnants of her malice – – and trail behind his narrative time frame. It is a risk though, for the only thing you could possibly adapt from McEwan’s novel is the plot itself; the emotions are hardly filmable. What Wright comes close to successfully doing is replicating them – – the five-minute tracking shot of ruined toy soldiers in Dunkirk, which is actually a result of financial reconsideration, is fantastic but lacks the exact punch; its languid feel almost reflects McEwan’s narration of war except the lingering atmosphere of polemic dislocation – – and adding a lofty closure to Briony’s tale, with Robbie and Cecilia playfully befriending the waves, their taste of absolute freedom in Briony’s mind, and the devastating catharsis of hopelessness to seek atonement, summoning her into a lifetime of grief and an afterlife of indomitable sorrow. * * *