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Atonement: A cinematic knockout

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 794
  • Category: Prejudice

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The various cinematic techniques used by Joe Wright and Seamus McGarvey in Atonement, have definitely given the plot a new depth and has proven this movie to be a work of true cinematic adepts. Atonement is not a conventional fairy-tale love story. It is passionate, heart-breaking and suspense-filled, with twists and turns that leave viewers breathless. The movie begins in 1935, in the English countryside. A naïve 13 year old girl, Briony Tallis (Romola Garai), has to deliver a letter written by Robbie Turner (James McAvoy), an Oxford graduate on whom Briony has a crush on. She has to give the letter to her sister, Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightley). Cecilia and Robbie have impassioned feelings for each other; however, there is an unfortunate mix-up of letters that leads Briony into believing that Robbie is a perverted sex maniac.

That same evening, things get intimate between Cecilia and Robbie, and with Briony as witness, they have sex in the library. Following that scene, Briony’s cousin gets raped, Briony befogged by her naïve and over-active imagination, accuses Robbie of being a rapist, and as a result, Robbie is jailed for 3 years. Cecilia and Robbie are further distanced when after his release, Robbie is sent off to war in Dunkirk. Seamus McGravey’s cinematography aims at dazzling the audience and there is no doubt that it has done just that, especially through the seamlessly stunning, single five-minute tracking shot, across that battle-wrecked beach at Dunkirk. This shot shows not only excellent camera work but it gives the movie a whole new depth, by allowing the audience to compare the damage Briony has caused, to the ruin shown on the beach.

Also, through the sex scene of Cecilia and Robbie in the library, which shows changes in perspective through shifting the camera focus from Cecilia and Robbie to Briony, Wright invites the audience to share the curiosity to know the truth and to experience for themselves how “different perspectives can alter one’s perception of the truth”. The editing is another laudable aspect of the movie. The scene where Robbie is typing a letter is match-cut and cross-cut with the scene involving Cecilia looking at herself in the mirror. Paul Tothill has through marvellous and skilful editing, managed to make the transitions among scenes smooth and plausible. They help in putting further emphasis on the increasing intensity between Robbie and Cecilia. The rapid, dramatic and vivid scene changes and scenes involving changes in perspective are other commendable aspects.

For example, the scene where Robbie hands the letter to Briony is quickly followed by a flashback and Robbie realizing that he had handed her the wrong letter and then another quick scene change to Briony opening the letter. Wright takes good advantage of these rapid and intense scene changes to create anxiety and eagerness among the viewers to know what will happen next and in keeping them engrossed in the movie. There is a clever use of a typewriter playing staccato notes, in Dario Marianelli’s score for the movie. Marianelli employs the clack of a typewriter as the central music piece to the movie and this recurring and urgent one-note beat of the typewriter helps create tension and an ominous effect, increasing the intensity of the scenes.

Wright has also created a remarkable contrast between the sets at the serene and lavish English manor and the sets in Dunkirk, at the war site in between destruction, emphasizing the devastatingly striking transition between Robbie’s life before and after going to jail. Wright also tries to show the transience of time through the lighting and the colour palette in the movie by dividing into three parts: First part in the 1935 England, where Wright has used clear and verdant lighting to present Briony’s naivety and the sexual tension between Robbie and Cecilia respectively. A use of a palette with more earthy tones is displayed in the second part (1940, war scenes) to present the sorrowful lives of Robbie and Cecilia.

In the last part in which Briony has grown old and she is being interviewed, a sterile colour palette is used to reflect Briony’s grief. Watch out for the ending! Just when you think that the ride is over, McGarvey puts in another twist leaving the audience re-evaluating the whole movie from the very beginning. The cinematic effects are the highlights of the movie from the beginning till the end. However the twist in the end lifts up the plot, allowing the audience to see the plot in a new light and to appreciate the depth of it. Atonement is definitely a movie that is worth watching. The movie’s amazing use of cinematic techniques to enhance plot is definitely something not to be missed out.

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