(Spoiler Alert!) James McAvoy (Becoming Jane, Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe) is an exceptional young actor from Glasgow, Scotland, recently starring in the best picture Academy Award nominated film based on Ian McEwan’s best-selling novel, Atonement. I saw this movie with my fiancée a few weekends ago. Since Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley was superbly filmed, we both eagerly bought our tickets.
Before I watched the movie, I had Pride and Prejudice or Becoming Jane partly in mind. But Atonement is very different. The cinematography is artsy and frenetic and the story is depressing. In 1935, 13 year old Briony (Cecilia’s younger sister played by Knightley) falsely accuses Robbie (McAvoy) of raping a young girl while they are searching for two boys who had gone missing that evening. Shortly before the boys go missing, Briony, who has a crush on Robbie, is compelled to interfere with her sister’s blossoming romance. When Robbie and Cecilia declare their love for one another, Briony falsely accuses him and he is arrested, changing the course of three lives forever.
World War II swiftly reaches England during that time, forcing Robbie to war and Cecilia to nursing. Briony is 18 now, desperately seeking forgiveness from her sister and Robbie for her misdeed. However, it is too late. Robbie dies due to illness and Cecilia is killed by a German bombing that flooded the London tube station before she can plea with them.
Through a bleak and courageous act of imagination, Briony continues to seek forgiveness by changing their fates. She does that by writing a book about what happened. About changing the fates of Robbie and Cecilia in her final version of the book, Briony says, “Who would want to believe that the young lovers never met again, never fulfilled their love? Who would want to believe that, except in the service of the bleakest realism?” It was her hope for atonement. In part, her novel explores the question of whether the writing of fiction is not much more than an indulgence in imaginative play. What if fiction can bear witness to life and to history, telling its own serious truths? Briony is left wondering whether her novel, at least in her own conscience, is truly an act of atonement.
I haven’t read the book, and don’t intend to. However, I did find Briony’s desperate efforts to atone for her sin interesting. You don’t have to see the movie to get this either. Briony’s misdeed haunted her and she had to carry it with her all her life because there was nothing she could do to erase what she did.
What does the Bible say about sin and atonement?
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3).
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23-25a).