Friday, January 11, 2008

The Power of Words - Atonement

First of all, let me just say Atonement was one of the best movies I've seen in recent years. OK, I'm biased. I love period drama with a romantic core, and I love beautifully shot movies. The book is rather beautifully written, too (although long on descriptions and slow in pace). Since I've been writing a period drama with a romantic core myself, needless to say I was very interested in reading and seeing the film. There's not much in common between my story and Ian McEwan's best-seller, and I can't pretend to think that I can write like him. Still, I was impressed.

The film itself was scrumptiously produced, brilliantly acted, and incredibly intelligent, thanks for the original material as well as Chris Hampton's faithful adaptation, as well as Joe Wright's meticulous direction. What impresses me the most are the layers and complexities in the story and characters that leave a lot of room for interpretation, study, and debate. I love movies like that, movies that not only entertain and enthrall, but also leave you thinking about it for weeks on ends, questioning everything you just saw, and everything you think you knew about the human condition.

Most of all, it is a movie about... WRITERS, and writing. Words. Fiction. The writer's imagination. The writer's God-complex. The writer's inability, sometimes, to distinguish between truth and fiction. The writer's need to hurt or heal through words. It's amazing.

Here's what one reviewer said, and I particularly love this paragraph -- because she got it:



But you can call Atonement a romance only if you take it out of the larger context in which this relationship we see onscreen exists. It serves a much larger purpose, both within the confines of the story onscreen and outside it: Atonement in that larger context is about the power of fiction, the honesty of fiction, and -- ironically -- the dishonesty of fiction.



I think some people who saw the film missed this very important aspect of the story, while talking about Atonement as a "romantic story." It really is larger than that, and it's all about words -- fiction or otherwise. The power of words, from the C-word (had Robbie Turner used a different word such as "lips" or even "breasts" the impact wouldn't have been so potent), to the letters Robbie and Cecilia shared to sustain their love for each other, to the lies Briony told, to the finale, to those incredibly powerful words: "I SAW HIM." It's a story about words. It is amazing to see a film so transparently and yet succinctly speak of the power of words. For a writer, you can't ask for anything better than that.

 

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