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Atonement: ** (of four)

Enjoyed a nice date with my wife last night. We saw the movie Atonement. I loved being with my wife, but this movie frankly left me a little flat.

Atonement is supposed to be a poignant love story. I was expecting a sort of Doctor Zhivago story of lovers who are tragically separated for long periods of time, but whose love endures against all obstacles, yada yada. Didn’t happen.

Two lovers are indeed tragically separated, but the movie didn’t make me care about them all that much. The movie never convinced me these two young folks were really all that in love in the first place. Their whole relationship consisted of a single passionate encounter in an office (I kid you not)! It was physically passionate, but not particularly romantic. It lasted maybe 90 seconds and then was interrupted by a snoopy bratty girl. The lovers are then immediately separated for the rest of the movie (except for one brief encounter in a hospital cafeteria that wasn’t very emotionally compelling).

Sorry, but you just can’t leverage very much on one 90 second sexual encounter. True, you had the sense that these two people had loved each other for some time prior to this encounter, without acknowledging it to one another (leaving the viewer to guess why). And I’m sure this hidden love is fully developed in the book. But in the movie it was just too vague to make you more emotionally invested in their relationship.

So, as a love story, I felt it flopped.

But all was not lost. For this movie isn’t only, or even primarily, a love story. It’s even more fundamentally a story about living with guilt. You see, the reason the lovers were separated for years was because the little girl who caught them “doing it” ended up telling a vicious lie about the man that got him sent away to prison and then off to war. Basically, she destroyed the life of both the guy and the gal. She gradually comes to realize the seriousness of her sin and then must struggle with the question of how she can atone for it.

For me, the redeeming point of this movie was the brilliant way it addressed this issue. Basically, there’s nothing this girl can do to atone for her what she’s done. The message is, you can’t undo destroyed lives, and so you can’t remit guilt. The girl thus lives a condemned life.

I may be reading too much into this movie (Shelley says I always do), but I felt the movie (probably unwittingly) testified to the need for a Savior and the need for an afterlife, in which all wrongs are made right, if anyone is ever going to experience true atonement. If death ends everything, there is no hope.

In my view, the depth and poignancy of this profoundly important theological point atoned for the movie’s flat love story.




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