Monday, December 17, 2007

Atonement and the Image of Water

I saw Atonement yesterday, the first film I've seen since Michael Clayton. And I liked it very much. The adaptation was the best of an Ian McEwan novel (which isn't saying much - Enduring Love with Daniel Craig was a huge disappointment).

I've been thinking a lot about the use of images ever since I attended a talk on revelation dreams by a writer. He spoke of how metaphors work or don't work. They don't work when they are superimposed on the words. Rather, for them to be effective and powerful, the words should attach to the image.

And this is easier to do with film.

In Atonement the image of water repeated over and over. A pot chip in a fountain, a girl in a fountain, a man in a tub, a hand on the surface of water as if to still it (or still the emotions within), a child recklessly jumping into a waterfall. And then there's the sea - as a means of escape from Dunkirk, the sea as a dream or a smell, the sea as a place of retreat. Then there's the powerful image of a mother washing her son's feet. Powerful to me because of its religious evocation and the message of redemption and humility and love. And the horrifying image of water rushing into a London tube station.

And then there's the tears - tears of longing, tears of horror, tears of fright, tears of guilt. So many emotions qualifying human tears.

For me the image well mirrored the story. The child grows up to be a writer, and she rewrites her life; in her writing she atones for her sins and rewrites reality. She asks what good is honesty? What use is reality? We want kindness and happiness. Honesty and reality seem to be neither kind nor happy.

Water is there but unable to be grasped. Likewise, in the story, reality is there but unable to be grasped.

Some reviewers thought the movie too heavy handed with the images, referring to the images of horror and war. They argued that one picture conveys enough horror - that the viewer doesn't need as many as are offered. Perhaps that's a fair critique of the film. But the darkness, for me, matched theme of the story and of storytelling. And that storytelling improves that darkness.

I'm going to go back and read the book, which I admired but didn't engross me. If you've seen the film, let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

I saw the movie last night and I thought it dark, beautiful, and haunting. I noticed the imagery of the water in the theme of atonement as well and thought it so completely appropriate. The movie was beautifully done and I am going to read the book as soon as possible.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie last night as well, and I too noticed the heavily repeated water theme. In fact, I "googled": atonement water theme, and found this blog.
In addition to the images you stated, the two lovers are also killed through this "water" theme. The man, through dehydration, and the woman through drowning. They are killed by their reality and their love.

heather said...

Actually...robbie didnt die of dehydration..he died of Septicemia. Which is the presence of bacteria in the blood (bacteremia) and is often associated with severe infections.