Atonement
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Joe Wright and Ian McEwan (the director and the writer of the original novel, respectively) mislead the audience about what happened between Robbie and Cecilia, and between the couple and Briony.

The meeting between Robbie and Cecilia at the cafe was the last time the two ever saw each other; after that, Cecilia gave Robbie the photo of the Beach House where she wanted to holiday with him when he had a short leave after completing his basic military training. Robbie departs for his military training, but before it is completed and he can take his leave the Germans invade France and he is shipped off to France where he dies in the retreat to Dunkirk. After their kiss on the street outside the tea shop they never see each other again. Robbie was killed several months before Cecilia, and she probably spent the rest of her short life mourning the loss of him.

The last true thing we see is Briony attending Lola and Marshall's wedding where she suddenly realizes she was wrong about Robbie. Briony had convinced herself that it was Robbie, to prevent her from facing the truth, but when faced with Marshall, she could no longer deny it, and she wanted to apologize to them. This for Briony is a huge revelation; she realizes what she has done, and how, now, it cannot be undone.

Robbie died on 1 June 1940; Cecilia died in October 1940. Therefore the meeting that happens directly after the wedding, when Briony goes to apologize, is the film's depiction of a fictional part of the novel (otherwise entirely factual) she has written. She fictionalized what would have happened if Robbie had not died, and how they would have reacted to her coming to visit. At the time, the audience believes this to have happened, but we find out (during the interview that ends the movie) that Robbie had died (of septicemia at Dunkirk) some weeks before this encounter at Cecilia's apartment happened. Although Cecilia was still alive at that point and would live for about another four months until dying in the Underground Station bomb shelter during the Blitz.

The same is true with the shot of Robbie and Cecilia walking down the beach together. Again, it was Briony thinking about what they would have done if they were able to go to that beach house together.

In McEwan's novel (which essentially is Briony's novel), there is no scene of Robbie and Cecilia at the cottage, but the presumption is that they would have had their romantic trip to the cottage after Robbie's training.

McEwan's (Briony's) novel just leaves Robbie and Cecelia on a London street at the end of the story. After the fictional meeting at Cecilia's apartment, they accompanied Briony to the Underground station so she could take the tube back to the hospital. And they are simply left at that point with whatever future they could make or wanted to make before them. Leaving them with that possible future before them is how she set them free to explore their love and share their lives.

In the novel Briony writes about these two events she invented (the meeting at the apartment, and Robbie and Cecilia at the beach) saying, "I gave them happiness, but I was not so self-serving as to let them forgive me."

Briony spent decades writing versions of her book, and as she says her "newest book is actually her oldest book." - a multiple reference referring variously to her previous attempts to get this story right, to the time when she was thirteen and for the first time let her talent for narrative fiction unfold as a real life 'play'. It was her way of giving them back what she had taken.

A clue to the areas of fiction is the constant use of the sound effects of a typewriter in the actual scenes, in the inter-titles, and in the film score. The soundtrack is rich with clues and creative interactions. Note the playful plucking of the piano string in the drawing room in tune and tempo with the atmospheric off-scene soundtrack.

Another interesting visual clue: Notice how when the young Briony is sitting in the library telling the police inspector how she definitely saw Robbie raping Lola, the background behind her goes all to black (then her mother's hand on her shoulder to let her know she was doing the 'right' thing). Then at the end in the television studio as the elderly Briony begins to finally tell the truth. the background behind her again goes to black. Wright is giving us visual bookends: the background going to black for the first time when Briony begins to tell her lies and then again when she begins to tell the truth.

No, he wasn't. Briony accused him of attacking Lola out of a confused mix of emotions where she only surmised it was him. She was also angry with him for ignoring her, and jealous that he was attracted and involved with Cecilia. She had also seen the 'note' that Robbie had written, which shocked her, but also fascinated her and made her more jealous. Briony shared the contents of this note to Lola as a child would do to impress Lola with her knowledge and experience. Lola and Briony excitedly convinced each other he must be a sex maniac.

As Briony was angry with him and both mystified and confused by the sexual affair between Robbie and Cecilia, she could have allowed herself to jump to conclusions over something she had not really seen and accuse him. Whether she knew she was guessing at the time is unclear, but she seems sincere.

There is much more ambiguity in the novel than in the film. In the novel Briony has no light. It is utterly dark and she can only sense that a shape is with Lola (and the shape quickly takes off when Briony comes close), and hear Lola crying. So in the film she clearly sees Marshall's face (although apparently represses the memory). In the novel it could have been either Robbie or Marshall: there was simply no way for Briony to know for sure. Because of this, Briony's process of coming in the novel to understand that it was Marshall and not Robbie is far more round-about and indirect.

The police and family believed Briony as Robbie was of lower class, and Briony swore on what she had seen. That Briony was able to produce the written explicit note from Robbie to Cecilia gave her charges an added, though unrelated, sense of confirmation. The police would have seen this as at least worthy of making the arrest. It would seem that the twins or Cecilia might have been able to confirm his whereabouts during the search.

Briony twisted her mind to believe that she saw Robbie do it, but when she sees Marshall at Marshall and Lola's wedding, she realizes that it was Marshall who was with Lola, and it is far too late. Regardless, Robbie was of low class, and Marshall was of high class, therefore the police would have been predisposed to suspect Robbie.

There is ambiguous evidence in the film that the liaison between Lola and Marshall could have been either an assault or a willing assignation or a seduction, whether craven or consensual or some mixture of innocent flirtation that was then abused. Those who have read the novel claim the book makes it slightly more explicit that this was a consensual act.

Based only on the film, the morality of this interaction given Lola's age (15) is clearly problematic and likely to be statutory rape (though not sure of British laws of 1935), but Lola (and the twins) have previously shown they know Marshall was a millionaire and Lola has been fretting over the financial instability of her divorced family. Lola was clearly interested in Marshall and flirting with him in response to his attention.

As Lola was underage, Marshall had to flee when discovered by Briony. Lola's initial response to Briony is "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," and she seems more embarrassed and startled by Briony than hurt. The film depicts the scene in a very ambiguous manner that leans towards rape, but the social context of the rest of the film certainly leans towards a consensual affair. At the moment of discovery, Marshall did have his hand over Lola's face - whether from trying to prevent her from crying out during an assault or from trying to cover the sounds of their lovemaking from an approaching flashlight is unclear.

Briony's interpretation is that she has witnessed a rape by an unknown assailant, and this makes a convenient cover for Lola (if she is seeking to protect Marshall). Lola never claims she was assaulted. The convenience of Briony's interpretation, particularly once Briony has confirmed that she thinks it might be Robbie, makes it a useful foil to protect Marshall if that is Lola's wish (further protecting Marshall, who would be without an alibi). Lola never goes so far as to identify anyone, or to falsely accuse someone she knows to be innocent, but she does go along with Briony's claim it as an assault by someone she could not identify. If it was an assignation arranged with Marshall, she does not move to protect the working-class Robbie. It is also deliberately left as a possibility that Lola was attacked, and never knew her attacker.

Aside from the odd dialog with Briony at the moment of discovery where Lola is falling all over herself to apologize, there are prior suggestions that Marshall and Lola had already had sexual interactions. Marshall shows early and inappropriate interest in her, the kids and her trousers, and rather lewdly seduces her with the candy bar in a heavily sexualized scene.

They come to dinner together in apparent good spirits with each other and sit beside each other, she arriving with rope burns around her wrists. Marshall quickly interjects, before she can come up with a response when Briony mentions the marks, blaming the fresh marks on an "Indian burn" from the long-departed twins. (The visual indentation do not look like an Indian burn, but seem to be clearly the marks from her being tied up with a rope). Lola generally, but not specifically, supports this story at the dinner table. Emily (the mother) finds this unlikely behavior by the twins and directly asks Lola if indeed the twins did this. Lola does not reply and Marshall quickly interrupts to confirm this, and also explains away an injury on his forehead as coming from rough-housing with Lola and the twins.

Lola refers to this roughhousing earlier with Briony and speaks of being bruised and made black and blue by the twins and that she is having a terrible day. This sounds false and theatrical when presented to Briony, in part because the earlier scene had shown Lola to be entirely in command of the very compliant twins. It seems more likely to be an arranged explanation for the physical evidence of Marshall's and Lola's rough play, concocted jointly by them. Lola is histrionic in describing it to Briony and then drops the issue and the drama entirely when Briony changes the subject.

The twins refer in their note that they were leaving because Lola was mean to them, likely shunting them off so she could be with Marshall. Some sexual interaction between Lola and Marshall seems heavily indicated.

There is nothing in Lola's behavior at dinner to suggest she was uncomfortable with Marshall. The twins have not come to dinner so Briony is sent to fetch them and it is then discovered that they are long gone. Something that entirely startles Lola, who was supposedly minding them all day.

The clearest confirmation that the union of Marshall and Lola was a mutually agreed upon, or at least accepted, tryst comes from the fact that as soon as she became old enough, she accepted Marshall's offer of marriage. There are again multiple interpretations here. Lola could not have known in was Marshall, Marshall could be protecting himself from prosecution, or Lola could have been traumatized by the assault into identifying with Marshall. The marriage scene, as played, certainly suggested a consensual reunion of the two lovers.

Briony's shock on learning of their marriage is what immediately causes her to realize the identity of the man in the second scene of adult sexuality that she may have tragically misinterpreted. Their shock and surprise and shame at seeing Briony at the wedding spoke volumes, as they too now knew she must be aware of their original scene and thus their complicity in Robbie's false imprisonment. Further, the director heavily underscores their guilt and Briony's agency by choosing to highlight Briony witnessing the pastor's calling for anyone to testify if this union was improper.

As usual, in real life, Briony cannot come forward to tell the truth. She can only try to set things right in her fiction. There are many curious parallels here. Briony is too young to imagine sexual desire and still has a romantic and chaste interpretation of sexual love. Also, her dramatic narrative skills cause her to reshape the ambiguous nature of two sexual encounters, and in both cases she cannot conceive that they were consensual. There is a balance here in showing the tragic effects of her not understanding this.

On the other side, one could argue that the film is just as effective in formal balance to have the pure love of Cecelia and Robbie remain unfulfilled, but to have the improper and squalid love of Lola and Marshall be recognized in a formal wedding. This could be seen as a balancing point whether it is a holy blessing of something that started as rape or as a rather ugly or mercenary statutory debauch.

The music in the second half of the Atonement trailer is 'The Vision' by X-Ray Dog.

X-Ray Dog compose music for trailers etc and is not available commercially.

'The Vision' is not included on the Atonement soundtrack.

Briony atones for her lie by writing a book and, later, discussing it.

In the fantasy apology scene that Briony created for her book, Robbie's reaction was out of character. His anger and relentlessness was unusual, despite his obvious emotional wound; in addition, he had never once shown any disdain for "common servants" or tried to distance himself from his origin. Now I realize that the writer's intent was to use the scene as a catharsis for Briony, and not to explore some philosophical sense of an identity after death which might still hope to find peace. That was simply Briony's fantasy to help alleviate her guilt. Briony wants to be berated by Robbie, and as penance, she devised the event and lives through it. Her internal conflict is evident as she defends herself against Robbie's aggressive description of his suffering by claiming that she was "only 13" and that she is sincerely sorry for "the terrible distress [she] has caused." Perhaps she also wants to remain begrudged, and to paint her sister and Robbie as ruthless, unfeeling. This reduces their innocence, and only this can lessen the guilt of having destroyed two otherwise wholesome and deserving lives. If so, Briony is as selfish in old age as she is as a child.

However, an alternate justification of her actions stems from an interesting dramatic device: Briony is describing a book which doesn't exist when she claims she wanted to give the reader a sense of hope by creating a posthumous happy ending for Cecilia and Robbie. There is only a movie, the movie "Atonement" that you and I watched. As opposed to the fictitious book, after the movie, the viewer is left without hope, but with a powerful sense of oppression and confusion and pessimism. Briony does this to us, despite the more comfortable feeling a lie would have created in the immediate future. She knows better than that by now...

I wanted to leave the preceding paragraph as is - it is an entirely reasonable way to view this issue. But I have a different point of view to present. Briony's book - within the context of McEwan's fictional story - is real: Briony did write a book, essentially just we see it on the screen up to the point where Briony is riding the Underground train. The Cecilia's apartment scene is written in Briony's book by Briony. The beach scene is not. My take is that the "happiness" Briony gave to Robbie and Cecilia was not their time at the beach house, or really any specific experiences. To explain: After the confrontation in Cecilia's apartment Robbie and Cecilia walk Briony to the Underground station for her ride back to the hospital. That is where Briony's novel ends - with Robbie and Cecilia on a London street, Robbie having to leave shortly to resume his military duty. For me that is the "happiness" Briony gave them: standing together on the sidewalk, alive, and with a future before them. What that future would hold, what they would do with that future is unknown - but Briony gave them what they desperately wanted for four years after their encounter in the library and Robbie's arrest: their life together ahead of them.

About a direct answer to the question here: "Should Briony's atonement be accepted?" Accepted by whom? We (the viewers/readers) are not Briony's God/god. It is not in our power or purview to accept her atonement or grant to her absolution. Here is how McEwan addresses the question on the last page of the book. (This is Briony writing in the first person.) "The problem these 59 years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God? There is no one, no entity or higher form that she can appeal to, or be reconciled with, or that can forgive her. There is nothing outside her."

This last bit adds an interesting aspect to this question. Within McEwan's fiction Briony is a 'real' person who did a 'real' wrong and wrote about it. So she can appeal to God for forgiveness for her 'real' sin. But this last quote makes it sound as if the entire Robbie/Cecilia story she has told is entirely fictional - that Robbie and Cecilia are entirely fictional characters, and that Briony is also an entirely fictional character (personifying the novelist in a third-person voice) who has committed and entirely fictional sin as part of her made-up story.

Lots of interesting ways to go on this question.

No, It is not based on a true story.

In "Elegy for Dunkirk", the soldiers on the bandstand can be heard singing the hymn "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind", sung to the tune "Repton".

Lyrics: Dear Lord and Father of mankind, Forgive our foolish ways! Re-clothe us in our rightful mind, In purer lives thy service find, In deeper reverence praise. In deeper reverence praise.

In simple trust like theirs who heard, Beside the Syrian sea, The gracious calling of the Lord, Let us, like them, without a word Rise up and follow thee. Rise up and follow thee.

O Sabbath rest by Galilee! O calm of hills above, Where Jesus knelt to share with thee The silence of eternity, Interpreted by love! Interpreted by love!

Drop thy still dews of quietness, Till all our strivings cease; Take from our souls the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of thy peace. The beauty of thy peace.

Breathe through the heats of our desire Thy coolness and thy balm; Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still small voice of calm! O still small voice of calm!

It's above all for keeping the theme of writing in the viewers mind and it's also to create an atmosphere and to induce tension.

r73731


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