The best movies they have the ability to haunt you long after the credits roll. Usually, it’s the brilliant or shocking endings who strike the final match to etch these films permanently into your memory. It’s the final triumphs or the gut punches that make movies and their endings unforgettable. The Atonement the finale delivers both a triumph and a gut punch.
For all Atonement, we look at two narratives. One that is nebulous about the facts and another that is told matter-of-factly. It is only in the last moments that we realize that we have always watched the film from one perspective. Briony is the narrator and we are stuck in her reality. This makes the Atonement more complicated and deceptive ending. Let’s discuss what happened.
Warning: Atonement spoilers ahead. Proceed with caution.
What happened at the end of the atonement
Briony (Romola Garai) visits Cecilia (Keira Knightley) after the wedding of Lola (Juno Temple) and Paul Marshall (Benedict Cumberbatch). She finds Robbie (James McAvoy) living with Cecilia. Briony attempts to apologize but Robbie lashes out until Cecilia can bring him back.
He also tells them that Paul was the one who raped Lola that night. They realize that this means that he probably won’t face consequences for his or her actions. Robbie then tasked Briony with “writing everything. Just the truth: no rhymes, no embellishments, no adjectives. He also asks her to leave them alone.
Briony rushes to leave and the film then cuts to an interview with an older Briony (Vanessa Redgrave). She talks about writing her latest novel, which tells the story of Cecilia and Robbie. He is called Atonement.
She is dying, and this finally grants her the freedom and the courage to tell the truth. She says everything in her novel is true except the part about her reunion with Robbie and Cecilia.
Both died before seeing each other again. She died in Dunkirk of septicemia in 1940. Months later, she Cecilia died from a bomb which destroyed the gas and water pipes above Balham tube station.
He adds “but what sense of hope or satisfaction could a reader derive from such an ending?” That’s why, inside Atonement, he wanted to give them what they lacked in life. This is his last act of kindness.
The death of Cecilia and Robbie and the end of their story
Due to the deaths of Robbie and Cecilia, their romance remains unfinished. The story cannot resume. They will never be able to continue what they started in the library. There is nothing after for them. A happy ending is not an option…at least not in life. They cannot write their own ending together because death has given them both a lonely and tragic end.
Briony (Saoirse Ronan as the teenager) is the catalyst that separates them and causes Robbie’s death, because he only enlisted to get out of prison. Briony stole their romance and indirectly forces an end to her story.
James McAvoy offers one of its best performances in Atonement, which allows you to feel his tragic death even more. Keira Knightley also gives one his best performances in this movie, so you want nothing but the best for them.
However, knowing the truth, the ending feels empty. You cannot ignore their truth once you know it. This is not a story with a happy ending, no matter how Briony writes it.
The loss of paternity in expiation
Atonement it’s about storytelling, imagination and the roles played by the authors. It is also about their duties to the reader. Should they tell a truthful or compelling story?
The Atonement the ending makes it clear that the story unfolding on screen is from Briony’s novel.
In an interview with Atonement the author Ian McEwan at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon (via Cairn International), McEwan talks about writing the novel as if Briony were writing it Atonement. This makes it difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in the story we watch (or read) unfold. Sure, everything here is fiction, but we’re not sure what fiction is in the context of this world.
Briony is an unreliable narrator, so we see Robbie’s perspective but we don’t know if these are really his thoughts and memories or if Briony wrote what she wrote. believed they would be Robbie’s thoughts and memories. However, in the end, it doesn’t really matter. This is just a story where Briony is constantly writing Robbie’s story for him.
His actions make it impossible for him to forge his own path. He convinces himself that he is a sexual deviant and then convinces others by accusing him of rape.
It once again takes away Robbie’s power to tell his story when he doesn’t show his death. If you pay close attention, when Robbie dies, he says, “You won’t hear another word from me, I promise!” He tells Nettle (Daniel Mays) this, but it’s also a nod to the audience that this is where the story and Robbie’s supposed perspective ends.
Then we hear Briony’s typewriter. She once again becomes the author of Robbie’s story, changing her future. As an author, she holds all the power. Her job is to be sincere or hopeful. She chooses hope until she blinds her reader (us/the audience) with what really happened.
He allows his imagination, once again, to control the narrative, and once again steals something from Robbie and Cecilia. She takes from them the ability to tell their own story, because of her part in their deaths.
Did Briony atone for her crimes?
In the same interview at the École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, Ian McEwan said so Atonement it is a “novel for other writers; a book on the moral responsibilities of the imagination, if they exist at all. He further states in a Publisher penguins active functionality Atonement that “Briony’s imagination holds her”, which means:
Briony’s crime is not just her lying, but the fact that her imagination consumes her and plays with people’s lives. She makes her a good author but destroys other people’s lives. Her way to atone for these sins is to tell the truth. However, she doesn’t tell the whole truth, so she sees her atonement as a happy ending for Robbie and Cecilia and to give readers what she stole from her lovers.
In my opinion, giving them a happy ending doesn’t feel like an act of kindness, as you’d hope. Instead, it seems that she wants to cleanse herself of her sins by giving them a happy ending, despite her actions. However, this isn’t realistic or right for them. They deserve all the truth.
Saoirse Ronan gives one of his best performances like Brionia. It’s so good that it’s almost easy for you to hate a child.
Ian McEwan doesn’t consider her a bad person, and neither do I. She is, after all, a confused child. However, her story shows the importance of her fatherhood. It’s the power of being able to tell your own story and not let someone dictate a story to you, or borrow your story and change it as they see fit.
Whether Briony’s novel atones for her crimes depends on what you value in a story and storytelling: does a happy ending with hope make up for a tragic journey, or should the truth be told, skeletons, devastation and all?
Atonement can easily be added to the list of best romantic movies, despite the lack of a happy ending (or maybe because of it). It’s full of wonderful performances and an unforgettable love story, and I think it’s one of the best movies streaming on HBO Maximum immediately. The the ending adds to the legacy of the film and makes Cecilia and Robbie’s story tragic but in a beautiful way.
Flow atonement on HBO Max. (opens in a new tab)