Atonement

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I’ve been staring at my keyboard for the past twenty minutes, debating on a multitude of possible paragraphs that could open this entry. An option I considered was outright stating that Atonement is the best picture I’ve seen all year, while simultaneously declaring that I will never again watch it. Another option included breaking down one of the many sumptuous and majestic shots that adorn the film, each one as breathtaking as the last, a postcard perfect rendition to love and war. It’s rare when I’ve no clue as to where to start discussing a film, or the emotions brought about by one; but then again, films with the devastating cumulative power of Atonement are as equally rare.

Loyal reader(s?) of this blog will know (bless you) of my visceral response to romance films. One of the palpable symptoms of being in love with a ghost is to be attuned to its stories. Yet emotions rarely cloud judgement. Take for instance Blue Jay, another melancholic look at the love that could’ve been. I reacted strongly to that film, while at the same time being aware of its shortcomings. But there are no flaws to be found in Atonement.

The performances are masterful. Consider the scene, very early on, in which Robbie (James McAvoy) apologizes to Cecilia (Keira Knightley) for giving her an anatomically explicit letter. Cecilia’s words imply outrage, but her facial expressions convey something else; amusement, even a certain amount of flattery. Their exchange lasts about twenty seconds, yet it makes everything that occurs immediately after appear natural, logical.

The photography is also heavenly. Nearing the end of the odyssey, Robbie stumbles upon a giant screen showing two lovers kissing. The nameless film is in black and white, and Robbie is shrouded by shadows; when he looks up and sees the kiss, he immediately drops his whole head down. It is an agonizing moment in a picture replete with them; the way the camera frames Robbie, slightly off center with the giant kiss happening in the background, is one of the most memorable shots I have ever seen, in terms of both beauty and storytelling.

And of course love and regret, two words (emotions?) that appear to go hand in hand. This is an achingly tender picture. The brief moments that Robbie and Cecilia share burrowed into my mind, replaying over and over during the sad spectacles that tears and keeps them apart. “Come back”, she says to him, and it’s not only Robbie craving to do so during the entire film, but myself as well, aching to encounter peace and happiness again. Every time the camera cut back to either lover, distant from the other by a thousand miles of pain and loss, my heart broke.

But the film, being as smart as it is, also presents the catalyst of this tragedy, Briony Tallis (Saoirse Ronan), as somebody to feel tenderness for. The audience comes to understand her motivations, and while forgiveness may still be hard to come by, it is difficult not to be moved by her genuine regret. I will remember the last shot of her for a very long time.

Easily one of the most profoundly poignant pictures I have ever seen, Atonement crescendo’d its way into my very soul, and I’ll wager it will remain there for a while.

A+

 

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Blue Jay

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The following is an email I received from my ex-girlfriend after not having seen each other for almost seven years. I email her from time to time, in those nights where nostalgia reaches its peak, but never expected to hear back from her. A week later I watched Blue Jay. 

It’s nice to hear from you. I’m sorry I haven’t responded in quite a while. My life is pretty hectic these days. 

My son starts school next week, I cannot believe that I have a son who’s nearly 4 years old. The last few years of my life have literally just come and gone in what feels like a few days.
I still do think of you sometimes. I try not to always think about what’s happened in my past, it does make things harder for me if I do. 
After all that has happened in my life I feel as if I am living such a normal life now these days. I wake up, drop my son off at daycare, work, pick him up and follow our everyday nightly routine. I do really love being a mom. Even if I haven’t become the person I thought I’d be one day,  I am glad that I have had the chance to raise my son. 

B+

The English Patient

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This morning I woke up thinking of her. Although I will think of her at least once during my day, be it by being reminded of her scent by a quick passerby or something she said by something I see, this memory was much more immediate. As the hours progressed I realized it was because I had dreamed of her the night before. The realization made me miserable. There I was, thousands of miles away, months removed from her kisses and completely unaware of the state of her life, and yet in my dreams she was as vivid as the cool breeze that swept the university campus at 11:30am. I sat down and cried for a while.

There are similar moments peppered throughout The English Patient. Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) lays in bed, burnt to a crisp, and gazes at nothing as he recalls fond memories of the woman he loves. And I thought to myself, “what that poor man must be feeling! what utter sadness his heart is drowned in!”

B+

6 Years

6-Years-PosterI find it infuriating how a couple can spend 2,191 days together in a relationship, and then decide they want to break up.

Forget about the time and effort you invested in the other person; never mind all the sacrifices made for the sake of love during their tenure.
No, what bothers me is that you gave your heart to the other person, and after a thousand adventures together they simply give it back, as if there’s an unsigned lifetime warranty on romance.

Of course, as 6 Years demonstrates, there’s an array of reasons why such a previously strong relationship can begin to crumble. After all, you can plan for everything except for life.
Is it worth it then, to invest in love?

“Don’t you get bored?”, Mel’s (Taissa Farmiga) friends ask her at one point. “Don’t you want somebody else?”
And while that mentality is valid, in the way that one will avoid various disappointments by saying no to commitment, it also demonstrates a very clear flaw.
If my only excuse to not engage in a serious relationship is because I will one day want someone else, does that not mean that I will a) have to settle with somebody eventually, as I cannot go around like a bee all my life; or b) end up alone?

What this tells me is that love is definitely not for the cowards. It takes guts to hand your heart over to somebody, knowing there is an implicit agreement that they now have full and complete power over it.
Love is also not for the stupid.

It is here where what C.S. Lewis once said comes into play.
“Feelings, feelings, feelings. Let me try thinking instead.”

The couple in 6 Years has many of the former, yet does few of the latter.
Even though the last thing I wanted them to do was to throw away their relationship, I knew a compromise had to be made.
Compromises are almost always difficult, yet not impossible to achieve. I believe that if you heed Lewis’s words, you might still have success.

It is possible to have a long distance relationship from Texas to New York. It would be near inhumanely hard, but I do think that if both parties involved truly want to make it work, it is possible. But that would require thinking with a cool head.
And our characters do not excel at that.

So we end up with shattered hearts, burning tears and 2,191 days that they will want to forever erase from their memory.
They’ll fail.

B+