The Role of Guilt in Ian McEwan’s Atonement
The term “atonement” connotes the action of making amends for a wrong or sin. In Christian theology, it refers to the reconciliation of God and mankind through Jesus Christ. The movie Atonement is one of cumulative power, reflecting on the unfinished, unmoored mind of a vulnerable young woman, Briony Tallis, who is seemingly trapped by unimaginable guilt in a life of suspended animation. The denouement of the film siphons off with Briony atoning for her guilt that has, since her adolescence, tainted her life with treacherous effects. Her atonement comes off as a corrosively elegiac way of reconciling with the past, and is filmed beautifully, with pyrotechnic complexity, displaying adequately the scalding moral vision of war as a backdrop. With a luminous juxtaposition of the stream of consciousness mode of narration and multiple voices, montage and flashbacks, Joe Wright unilaterally weaves a tale of self-discovery and the retelling of a story that centers around guilt. Guilt, therefore, features as an inalienable poetry of experience in the film, coming off almost as apparent, real, and firm to the touch. In an interdisciplinary approach of psychological study of artistic work, this project illustrates the dynamics of guilt and atoning for it after over half a lifetime to reach psychological transcendence and attain a cohesiveness of the fragmented concept of “self”.
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