browsing the flixster reviews on my list, and i find most people who enjoy this movie just generally tag it as a WAR-EPIC-ROMANCE, a sort of hemingway-esque farewell to arms scenario with a much more lurid modern sexual episode in the library. so what is the ingredient that distinguishes atonement? ADOLESCENT VOYEURISM. and this is a movie abot briony, the malicious perverted peeping tom who deliberately sends her sister's lover into jail, and the movie is entirely her wet dreams!!! (people seem to miss the focus) why people identity with it? because we've all been there.
in most people's wishful thinking, this movie is about a dynamic romance torn apart by misunderstandings. a 13 year-old girl discovers her grown sister having sex with a family acquitance in her household library, and what follows is that the under-aged family nanny gets raped right afterwards. what happens is she mistakes her sister's precious boyfriend as rapist and reports him to the police. after realizing the consquences of her doings, she spends the rest of her life repenting over it. thus she writes a book called atonement just to grant them a falsified happy ending.
but the visage this movie applies is through the gaze of briony, the 13 year-old adolescent. the pleasure of watching atonement is peeping-tom-ism. the movie is not about the beauty of epic romance but the remorse of a pathetic voyeur, whose fright toward the discovery of her own sexuality and the danger of having your sexuality awakened in such early age before you acquires the art of coping with it. (very puritanical, i suppose).
the movie is presented through non-linear narratives from various perspectives, firstly briony's view, then the omniscient third-person visage, maybe occasionally the man's view or the woman's view. at last, you shall find out it is all happening within briony's mind. the more she reveals, the darker, the more vile the truth is. the truth is: she has a crush on her sister's boyfriend (she purposely jumps into the deep water just to have him save her, and risking your own life just for the attention of your crush hides something deeper and more fundamentally diseased beneath), but she is just 13 and she represses that. one day she discovers her much more matured, sensual and attractive sister having enchanted the man she loves, she gets pissed! she even reads his letter for her without permission (act of extreme jealousy)! she wants to punish him and her, and the best way is to report him as a rapist and ruin their lives. come on, she could have squared his record immediately but she waits more than 5 years, eventually just never! she claims to give up cambridge to be a nurse to compensate her sin so she could have remained an idealized sense of herself. as a matter of fact, she prefers to suffer just to have both of them doomed! even years of labors as a petite good nurse cannot ease off her vengeful desire for that! she cannot forgive them until she is about to die, till then, she could just give them a fictional happy ending. (in other words, she must have spent her whole life resenting cecilia for banging robbie, or vice versa)
atonement is not a romantic movie, and it should be a thriller about how dangerous your seemingly innocent little sister could have wretcked your life! why people've found it romantic and touching, because we were all briony wishing to be cecilia and robbie, and have that flamy kind of first love as they do. this movie floats through the gaze of briony, which is shared by the audience as well, we step into her shoes, understanding her panic, anguish, bitter jealousy meanwhile insanely envying the couple , and we are also hypocritical enough to bestow a virtual happy ending to the couple just to make oursevles feel better.
SPOILERS (adults only)
(ps) personally i enjoy the part james mcavoy types the letter for keira knightly, he is intended to pen her an innocent note of apology but he ends up composing a dirty poem "in my dreams/i wanna kiss your cunt/your sweet wet cunt" (oops!)...then he sends off the wrong note by mistake. it makes me laugh to think of how a frivolous little poem leads to a wild sexual encounter. (telling a chick how much you wish to endear yourself to her "genital" seems to work better than a polite note of sweet tenderness here..lol)
honestly, if i were briony, yes, i might read the letter, or "accidentally" witness their lovemaking. but the normal reaction is to be scared and intimidated because you don't wanna lose your sister's camaraderie or secretly get excited for it. gee, how many times during adolescence my sister pretended to take me out but she went out dating instead. i had to be her camouflage for many many times.