' ' Cinema Romantico: A 2007 Scene To Go Home With You

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A 2007 Scene To Go Home With You

(Be wary of spoilers, friends. Be wary. But this is the one scene from cinema in 2007 that affected me the most and so I must press forward.) 

The head nurse comes to Briony Tallis (played at this point in the film by Romola Garai) and advises a wounded French solider needs someone at his bedside and to hold his hand and offer conversation. Briony takes on the task. Once she is with the soldier we see he is not merely wounded but mortally so. These are his final minutes. He talks to her and as he does we recognize he does not know where he or who Briony is. "What is your name?" he asks. "Tallis," she tells him. "Do you love me?" he asks. "Yes," she says.

In the month since I first saw "Atonement" I've pondered from where my deep love of it comes. I think it's because I'm a writer. A paid writer? Well, no. Not yet. But being a writer has nothing to do with payment and if you think that's not true you're not a writer. Being a writer means you can't more than a couple days without writing for fear of getting edgy and freaking out. It means you tend to work out the issues of your life and convey your true feelings on paper rather than out loud. In the cases when you can convey them minus the written word it usually occurs to someone not directly related to the feeling you possess. You live with passion but said passion remains inside until written or until a moment when you simply can't hold it back any longer and it gushes forth.

From the first moment we see Briony Tallis we know she is a writer (she is placing the finishing touches on her first play) and so what I've just said can work as a summation of her and so this is why I she is a movie character I will forever cherish. "Have you ever been in love?" a fellow nurse asks Briony at one point. Briony says nay. "Not even a crush?" wonders the nurse and Briony confirms she did have a crush once.

This would be Robbie (James McEvoy) who was a servant on Briony's estate when she was thirteen. Robbie loved Briony's older sister Cecilia (Keira Knightley) and upon watching Cecilia and Robbie share a romantic moment - "something she thinks she understands, but she doesn't" - Briony comes back to this when a rape involving other people happens on said estate. She accuses Robbie and he is taken to jail and, later, forced to enlist in the army. Cecilia essentially disowns her family after this ugly incident and becomes a nurse. And, in time, so does Briony. Is this to atone for the sins of the past? Or is she losing whatever identity she had even further?

"Your name is Tallis", says the head nurse. "There is no Briony." Briony looks out the window and repeats the mantra. "There is no Briony." And so soon she finds herself with the French soldier. A French soldier who suddenly takes the place of Robbie. And Cecilia. Their fates are staring Briony in the face courtesy of this man she does not know. "I love you," says Briony. And so she has loved someone. She just couldn't admit it. Not until now. She never realized how much wrong she'd done lo those many years ago to Robbie and her sister and her family. Not until now. She never got the blood on her face. Not until now.

The French soldier passes away and she shoots to her feet. "Briony," she says to him, though, of course, by now he can't hear. "My name is Briony." She didn't know who she was. Not until now.

"Atonement" is told on a monumental scale. It spans decades. And, oh yes, the tracking shot. Everyone's talking about the tracking shot. Tracking shot this, and tracking shot that, and the tracking shot is spectacular and worked to the hilt for me. But that isn't the soul of the film. No, the soul of the film rests in this scene. Why? Because she bears her soul to this person she doesn't know it allows her to realize what happened before and influences - whether real or imagined - all that is to come.

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