Atonement (2007)

Rated: R for disturbing war images, language and some sexuality
Length: 123 minutes
Grade: DDDD=D
Budget: $30 million
Box Office: $133 million ($51 US, $77 Intl., $15 DVD)

Written by: Ian McEwan, who has written a bunch of novels I’ve never heard of, including Enduring Love, The Innocent, The Good Son, and The Cement Garden.
Directed by: Joe Wright, who directed 2005’s Pride and Prejudice and some TV miniseries.
Starring: Saorise Ronan, James McAvoy, Keira Knightley, Juno Temple, and Romola Garai.

As a young girl, Briony Tallis sees some things that she doesn’t fully comprehend, but they wind up making her think that a close friend of her sister’s is actually a sexual predator, and he is sent to jail based on her false allegation. He opts to enlist in World War II to get out of jail, and the rest of the movie is the story of him trying to return to the sister who knows the truth about him and still loves him.

Entertainment Value: D
Nominated for 7 Oscars, including best picture, and one win for music. Obviously I didn’t agree. For starters, I hated the ending. Also, the flashback/disjointed way it was told just didn’t sit well with me because I couldn’t figure out when things were happening, although in other movies I don’t normally have this problem. This struck me as a big production artsy movie that impresses the Hollywood crowd, but not me. And there’s something else here which I’ll mention below.

Superficial Content: D
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sexuality C, Violence D, Language D, Illegality NA
There’s a lot of bad stuff here, including some nudity, a couple of sex scenes, a rape, and several very unsettling graphic war images. It’s not Saving Private Ryan or anything, but it’s definitely properly rated R. Also, this is one of the few movies I’ve seen where the most awful word is used, no, not an F-derivative.

Significant Content: D
Okay, here’s the problem. This movie is genius, brilliant, wonderful, insightful, amazing…only it’s not. I’m torn on grading this movie because as a Christian I think there is an overwhelmingly great point here, but I can’t give the makers of the movie credit for it because I don’t think they intended it to be seen this way. The whole point of the movie is about a woman trying to make up for her past misdeeds through good works and eventually through a fictional novel. But all of this fails, and I think this is a stark demonstration that all our human efforts to right the world are doomed to failure and amount to nothing, no matter how meaningful they feel to us. Unfortunately, the movie itself believes that the end solution of Briony really works, but I see it as narcissistic self-indulgence that reinforces the mistaken notion Hollywood types have that what they do really matters when it doesn’t. Since I think the movie endorses her final solution, I rate it a D. If I thought they were intending the audience to realize how absurd her final solution was, then I’d have to give it at least a B.

Artistic/Thought Value: D See my previous comments.

Discussion Questions:
~Was Briony’s final solution really a successful act of atonement or something else? Was it admirable or pathetic? What would you say to her if you had the chance to interact with her?
~Did Briony ever really grow up?
~Do you think the makers of the movie intended us to see her act as a success or as a total and abject failure?
~What do you make of the fact that she initially tried to atone for her behavior by serving in a convent hospital?
~How did class prejudices play into the false accusation being leveled against Robbie?
~What’s the significance or purpose of Briony not revealing her real first name to the soldiers she treats?

Overall Grade: D
I only wish I could believe they intended what I saw in it.

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