Atonement: A Combined Book & Movie Review

*Please be aware that this post contains spoilers, so if you want to experience Atonement for yourself, you should stop reading now.  Just know that I highly recommend the book to everyone, except people who dislike unhappy endings, and people who don't enjoy having to skip over sex stuff.*

After finishing Atlas Shrugged in January, I immediately declared it to be one of the best books I would ever read in my lifetime.  I read Anthem, We the Living, The Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged right in a row {with time out for Wicked -- and wasn't that a mistake}, immersing myself in the fiction of Ayn Rand and loving every minute of it. 

However, since then, I have read nothing.  And by nothing, I mean no new books.  I've read magazines, and traffic signs, and e-mails.  I re-read Emma {instigating our Emma and Clueless movie marathon}.  But I haven't read any new books.  And that's strange for me.  Perhaps Ayn Rand spoiled me for any other reading, perhaps I was overwhelmed by my New Year's goal to read more books.  Maybe I was intimidated by Christian's reading prowess.  I don't know the reason, but I do know that Christian read 26 books this year, while I read a grand total of... one.

The one I read was Atonement.  And then I watched the movie.*  And here's what I thought: they were both super-good.

The book was exciting in its attention to detail and rich descriptions, in the relatability of its characters, in the way it took time to build before climactic moments.  The movie {as with many movies} doesn't have time to adequately explore every aspect of the book.  The beginning, although in one sense feels like watching the book, also feels rushed.  For example, Briony is such a sympathetic character in the book -- I remember my own moment when I realized that other people had consciousness as much as I did, and that they existed beyond what I knew of them -- but that's lost in the movie. The movie simplifies and antagonizes Briony, leaving out most of her epiphanic thought processes that take place in Part 1.  She also looks ugly in the movie, which I had a hard time dealing with.

The movie wasn't in all ways inferior to the book.  {Remember, I did say that I thought it was super-good.}  I loved the cinematography of the movie.  I thought Keira Knightley made a top-notch Cecilia, and James McAvoy wasn't as irritating as I had anticipated.  {However, I thought it was tres cheesy when he read his letter out loud.  How many times have you sat in a room by yourself, and read something you've written audibly and clearly, so that someone watching you would be able to understand?  Perhaps only when writing a talk?  Me, too.}

I enjoyed most that the movie made me realize that Cecilia and Robbie really never got to be together.  In reading the book, I read the end and was unaffected.  I felt like I could pick the ending that I wanted, and I wanted an ending where Cecilia and Robbie lived happily ever after.  I watched the movie and realized that the scene when Briony goes to talk to Cecilia could never have happened that way.  I don't know how it would have happened, but it's clear that it's a scene Briony constructed in her mind over years of regret and imagining.

Most importantly of all, I feel like reading Atonement has broken the literary block of ice in which I was encased, and I'm looking forward to doing a lot more reading in 2010.  See you then.

*{Christian and I have a strict no-R-rated-movies policy in our house, but we recently got a ClearPlay DVD player, which edits movies as we watch them.  I now have a Netflix queue stacked with R-rated movies, and I am mos def looking forward to all of them.}


  1. I'm so glad to hear that you liked Ayn Rand's novels! Regarding "Atlas Shrugged," you might find my still-in-progress collection of podcasts on the novel of interest.


    -- Diana Hsieh. Ph.D, Philosophy
    -- http://www.DianaHsieh.com

  2. Love the new layout! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season!