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Bringing the Past to Life: The Making of 'Atonement' (2008)

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Sarah Greenwood ...
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Nick Jeffries ...
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Ian McEwan ...
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Ivana Primorac ...
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18 March 2008 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Dando vida al pasado: Así se hizo Expiación  »

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More about the main character and filming of the movie, "Atonement"
20 November 2015 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This documentary was made for Universal Home Entertainment in 2007 as a video release. It comes as a bonus item on the DVD of the movie, "Atonement." I highly recommend that people who watch the movie also watch this documentary. I didn't go through all the many comments by reviewers to the film, but from those I read it seems that many may not have understood the ending. The way the movie moved back and forth in flashes that the main character, Briony Tallis, was recalling or making up, could confuse anyone.

The movie surely is a tragic love story; but it is also a story of grave injustice and deceit that leads to the tragedy. And, as the title suggests, it is about atonement and whether or not that happens. But, it doesn't, as the film shows. So, it's about Briony's failure to atone. Instead, at the end of her life she simply confesses her lie and admits her fault – and her failure to atone. To atone for something means to make amends or reparation to those harmed. She can't do that because they are all since dead. Now she is just setting the record straight for posterity. And, unable to atone – to make amends or reparation to those she harmed, she will take her guilty conscience with her to her grave. Her statement about giving Robbie and Cecilia peace – in the realm of eternity, is a real stretch for Briony. She really wants peace for herself – her guilt and tormented memories of the wrong she did and then failed to correct all of her life. So, this is her last bit of denial about not having atoned when she might have.

Briony clearly wants to be forgiven; but she didn't want to tell the truth and be humiliated in order to be forgiven. By her pride, she holds onto the lie until near the end of her life.

This may seem morose to some, but I think it's a powerful portrayal of a wrong and the suffering that accompanies it when one doesn't fess up. Especially when it has caused grave injustice to another and harmed so many people. What a powerful message. How many other people may fail to own up to a wrongdoing and make atonement when it would have made a difference in the lives of someone harmed? How many others, like Briony, will be haunted by such failure for the rest of their lives? How many will take their denial and wounded consciences with them to their death? The movie will surely make one think.

And, this documentary gives some good background about the making of the movie. It includes interviews with author Ian McEwan, the film director, Joe Wright, screenplay writer Christopher Hampton, and the producer, Paul Webster. It has interviews and comments from the lead performers, Keira Knightley, James McAvoy, Saoirse Ronan, Romola Garai and Vanessa Redgrave. The comments by several help make clear some of the things that many reviewers – and thus audience members probably, were confused about or misunderstood.

That includes the notion that the bright and imaginative Briony at age 13 misunderstood what she was seeing. Briony was jealous of Cecilia's love for Robbie, who, Vanessa Redgrave says, "Briony had a crush on."

Director Wright says, "It's a brutal film. Briony is the focus. I mean, I was here playing Briony as director. She's written the film. She's the eyes of the film."

Author McEwan says, "Yeah, Robbie dies. But Briony, almost in a cowardly way, keeps him alive … somehow to keep him alive for Cecilia so she can reunite the lovers in her imagination. And maybe get forgiveness that way."

Redgrave as the 77-year-old Briony at the end of the film talks about her book: "So, in the book I wanted to give Robbie and Cecilia what they missed out on in life."

James McAvoy, who plays Robbie, says: "It's a story that deals with not just a tragic romance … It's actually a story about story telling. Telling a lie is telling a story. She's making something up, which is essentially what authors do."

McEwan sums it up and says, "What you must never lose touch of is that this is all being reinvented for us by Briony. Briony has, through letters written by Mason (sic) Nettle, Robbie's companion at Dunkirk – she has reinvented this for us so this is still part of her atonement."

Her failure to own up to her wrongdoing when it would have made a difference in others' lives will haunt the now aged Briony for the rest of her life. She will take her denial, and her wounded conscience to her death. She just sets the public record straight now, when she is dying.

The rest of this documentary shows and tells about the filming, the locations, the costumes and more. More than 1,000 extras were in the Dunkirk scenes. But for some technical and practical goofs that military veterans, historians and film critics might notice, the Dunkirk scenes are very powerful. The rest of the settings are very good and the technical qualities of this film are excellent.

The DVD with the movie also includes another short bonus documentary. "From Novel to the Screen: Adapting a Classic," has interviews with "Atonement" author Ian McEwan, film director Joe Wright, and screenplay author Christopher Hampton.


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