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Atonement

June 25, 2008

I really don’t know. Obviously all art can’t be uplifting, but I was upset by this movie.

My friend Hugo often complains about the sugar sweet endings of so many American films. And I don’t think I require only happy endings to feel nourished by a film. But this was so g-d bleak.

I object to the DVD cover note: ‘Joined by love, separated by fear, and redeemed by hope’.  The last phrase is simply untrue and leads one to believe that things will turn out all right after all. They don’t,  not by a long shot.

It is based on the book by Ian McEwan, whose work I have been warned against by friends as having a brutal edge to it.

I am questioning what function this kind of art expression has. I certainly am still mulling about it, whereas, if it had been happily resolved I’d have forgotten it by now, probably.

But it tells the story of an intelligent and spiteful child and one act which has tragic consequences for her and several people close to her.

It is exquisitely made and acted, the Dunkirk evacuation scene, a 5 minute long camera shot with 1000 extras is dreamlike and stunning. And throughout the film, there is great beauty to be seen.

What I was left with from seeing the movie is that small actions can have horrific consequences, that war is more brutal than you ever want to imagine or can imagine, and that often people’s lives don’t have a happy ending.

I am not alone in my complex reaction to this movie, even the lead actor, James McAvoy said in an interview that he was still quite upset by the movie.   

So my question is what is the function of a piece of art that confronts you with some hard truths of life? How does it add to the quality of my life?  Is it just bitterness clothed in good technique? Or is there a more existential reason for taking someone’s time and attention to tell them a story like this, where something lovely was utterly and arbitrarily ruined?

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