The Process of Adaptation
In this chapter I will discuss the types of analytical approaches as seen in Snyder’s Analysing Literature-to-Film Adaptation, as well as some theories of the intertextual play between the source text and the film. The adaptation seen as a process and not just as a product will be the main focus of this chapter. The most important element found in the disocurse of fiction and discourse of film will also be identified, relying on Chatman’s Story and Discourse, respectively on Desmond and Hawkes’Adaptation:Studying film and literature. Some fundalmentals of novel adaptations will also be discussed, identifying the limitations that the film-makers might encounter in the process of adapting literay texts.
Adaptation has been discussed from many points of view and the process of such a complicated manipulation of texts is not the only thing that should be analysed. The product is the last standing piece of proof revealing the bits of texts transformed during the process of adaptation. As Snyder claims, lit-to-film adaptations should not be discussed in terms of competition between the two types of texts. Noticing and highlighting differences can be celebrated in this point of view exactly how children are supposed to find differences between two images and are gaining points only for discovering them in challenging, personality-developing games (Snyder 245). Noticing differences is not the only concept coming to light when looking at lit-to-film adaptations. Sanders also comes with the idea of pleasure being involved in the “intertextual relationship” between the source text and the film. More exactly, intertextual comparison lies at the heart of lit-to-film adaptations in Sander’s theory and the feeling of “play”, activated in the readers’ minds when challenged to identify the source text and what it has remained of it, helps trace “the ongoing process of juxtaposed readings” (Sanders 25). Sanders also draws attention to the fact that one text may hold in it bits of several other texts. Based on Bakhtin’s definition of dialogism,”a constant interaction between meanings” that can influence each other (426) and Kristeva’s later reinterpretation of dialogism as intertextuality, a “field of transpositions of various signifying systems” (111), adaptation can be looked at as a “purposeful intertextuality”, the result of an intertextual project where one can play “find the differences” only to notice the brilliant product of this process of adapting words, passages and direct quotes (Snyder 246). Hutcheonalso discusses, in her work called A Theory of Adaptationfrom 2006, the “extended intertextual engagement with the adapted work” and invokes the idea of a process and a product that need to be analysed (8).
1. Adaptation Theories
When trying to analyse lit-to-film adaptations, five critical approaches have developed in terms of intertextual comparison. Snyder begins with “adaptability analysis”, an invitation to a close textual reading of the book as well as of the film adaptation in order to find out how “adaptable” a book is. When analysing the level of adaptability of a novel, looking at the complexities that might be encountered when faithfully translating the text into film on screen needs to be taken into consideration. Complex scientific experiments or states of mind are sometimes omitted in the adaptated version of a book. An osbtacle that also needs to be taken into consideration in adapting books is the one involving the writer’s involvement into the creation. Researching the history of how many times a book has been adapted is also a way of finding out how adaptable a book is (Snyder 248).
The second critical approach that Snyder proposes is one involving a closer look at the process of how a novel has been transformed into a film. The “adaptation process analysis” is based on Hutcheon’s idea from her 2006 work that we should focus on “how adaptations allow people to tell, show, or interact with stories” (22) instead of analysing the final product only. Snyder notes that the succes of this approach is yet dependent on the existence of “behind the scenes” material, as well as “commentaries from the film makers and actors”. The good news is that lately more and more creators involved in lit-to-film adaptations are willing to give access to this information and thus allowing critics a perspective to the entire process of how a written text has become a film. Thus, Snyder opposes critics such as Stam, who are against the inclusion of previously cut sequences because that would encourage the perspective on the literary text as an “arbitrary reuslt of constantly changing decisions about inclusion and exclusion” (13). This information puts forth how the novelist, the screenwiter and the director alltogether contirbute to the process, how actors feel and which constraints they have to face while filming and shows exactly what went on in the process, how the film is reliant on specific details from the literary text in portraying and shaping different characters or general moods on screen.
A third perspective to lit-to-film adaptations is based on fidelity criticism. What Snyder calls “fidelity/infidelity analysis” should not be used to judge whether the film was better or worse than the literary text. This theory is to be applied only to answer the questions of why the filmmaker decided to adapt the novel in a certain way. This perspective is to reveal the reason behind retained scenes from the literary text in the book, the inclusion of scenes on the screen that were not in the book or the use of certain scences that were adapted exactly as they were described in the written text. From this point of view, several differences of styles or perspectives between the writer and filmmakers come to light. Snyder notes that the directors’ decisions to make “drastic changes of plot or character” aim at creating an effect, a feel in the film (251). The fidelity criticism only studies whether the “desired goal”, i.e. the effect, has been achieved through the processes of retaining/deleting/rescheduling/keeping “as is” scenes. (Snyder 252). Desmond and Hawkes raise the problem involving the uncertainty around this type of criticism in their work Adaptation:Studying film and literature, arguing that a literary text can support several interpretations and with no “standard, agreed-upon methods”, it is hard for critics to correctly analyze why only a few film adaptations which were very faithful to their source narrative text came to be “memorable movies” (3).
Creating a film includes not only the process of reinterpreting a literary text. It also includes mediums that have a very important role in transforming what is written in a story that can be seen. “Specificity analysis”, Snyder’s fourth critical approach, relies on the techniques that are used in the adaptation process. When we talk about the format of the text or the use of certain words or plots or points of view, these techniques are used in the book in order to create a tone. That tone is transported on the screen by means of costumes, makeup, hair and props. The specificity approach is thus used to identify the tools that help transform the most important written information concerning aspects of tone in visual or auditive impulses in the film and why they were used in a specific way.
The audience is also very important in how a film inspired by a book is being received and the filmmaker has a great repsonsability in analysing and, in the end, influencing the way in which the public will be responding. The fifth proposed analysis is the “Audience Reception Anxiety Analysis” which focuses exactly on the anxiety which the filmmaker confronts when wondering about how harsh the audience’s opinions will be, based on the popularity of the book, a delicate subject discussed in the story or even the author’s life, religion, race.These problems raised by the filmmaker affect in some indirect ways the making of the film and thus must be taken into consideration.
Besides all of these aspects, book cover images before and after the movie was released also offer opportunities of exploring the lit-to-film process and it gives way to a more complex and a better understanding of the product,i.e. the film as well as of the book and how the adaptation influenced the audience’s perception of it (Snyder 261).
2. Story and Discourse
In his work Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory, Barry argues that the interrelationship between form and content in literature is undeniable and what is to be most valued in literary text is the “silent showing and demonstrating of something”, instead of its explanation and telling (17-20). Having these ideas in mind gives a better perspective in understanding literary theory, a subject that has preoccupied critics from Aristotle, Russian formalists and French structuralists to modern linguists.
Seymour Chatman is one of the linguists who clearly analyses and classifies elements of narrative theory in his book Story and Discourse. He claims that narrative theory, unlike others, has “no critical axe to grind” and authors can create a large spectrum of possibilities only by establishing the “minimal narrative constitutive features” (19). Defined by structuralists as “histoire” and by Russian formalists “fabula”, the “story” represents the content, made up by events, where their chronological order and the way in which they unfold is described, and by existents: the things, the places and the characters. This first element of the narrative responds to the basic question “what” (Chatman 18-20). The “discourse” or, respectively, the “plot”, is the other element that answers the question that intrigues more: “how” (See Fig. 22). According to Chatman, the discourse, as opposed to the story, represents expression, the way in which “the reader becomes aware of what happens” and it consists of the structure of the narrative transmision and the manifestation, be it verbal cinematic, balletic or pantomimic (20-25).
The discourse is what Barry values as significant, the “showing” of the story. Ingarden, in his article Aesthetic Experience and Aesthetic Object explains the binary opposition between the “real object” and the “aesthetic object” (304). These two terms can be reinterpretated in the way in which a reader interacts with a book or film instead of an observer admiring a picture in an art museum. The objectbecomes aesthetic when the reader gets to experience it in his/her own way, as manifested by elements from the discourse while the real object, the story, represents the medium which organises it and makes it accesible to the reader in the form of a hard copy, e-book or any kind of material object (Chatman 27).
3. The discourse of Fiction
The discourse’s “substance” may be different from art to art, as Chatman claims. Thus, an entire paragraph from a written text can “manifest a single narrative statement” as well as a 2 seconds film shot would do (Chatman147). The analysis of the discourse starts with a discussion on the author, narrator, reader and their roles in the narrative manifestation.
3.1. The Author and the Reader
Chatman mentions the “implied” author, the one that creates the idea of a narrator and governs the set of norms of the narrative. He is different from the real author of a book simply because he, or better it, does not involve personally or directly in telling the story and this can be seen by comparing books written from the same real author, as a person and discovering different implied authors of himself in each of them. The real author may also be represented by a group of people or by several grandfathers and grandmothers over long periods of time and yet, there will always be an implied author. Where there is an implied author, there should also be an implied reader, that one entity present in any story told anywhere, anytime. The implied author always addresses to one implied reader. The real author may not have nothing to do with the implied author, as well as the real readers might not be suited to read the certain work or interpret it as expected. (Chatman 147-151)
3.2. Covert/Overt Narrator
In terms of non-narrated stories, Chatman claims that the discourse may be lacking narrators and, respectively, narratees. Yet, it happens that a “covert, hidden” narrator mediates the story i.e. the events,the characters, the setting. This hidden voice can appear as an external one, in communicating speech or, what Chatman calls “indirect tagged” or internally, as a thought of a character and respectively called by Chatman “free style” (198). In some cases, the reader might also get the impression that the narrator is not there while he is actually shifting his “mental entry” from a character to another,with or without a certain purpose, creating an interrelation between “limited and omniscient mental access” on the ground of the narrative, as Chatman also discusses (215).
Rimmon-Kenan, in his work on Contemporary Poetics called Narrative Fictionopposes Chatman’s perspective on the existence of a covert narrator. He considers that the narrator can never be excluded from the story-telling process, believing that “there is always a teller in a tale” and defines the narrator as an “agent” whose role is to “serve the needs of narration”(91).
As far as the overt narrator is concerned, Chatman brings the “temporal summaries” or “temporal abbreviations” into discussion, since they are a hint that a narrator has made his presence felt by modifying or adding transitions to temporal features of the discourse of fiction. This is why, Chatman states, in some narratives story-time differs from the discourse-time (222-224). The overt narrator can also be spotted in the discourse in the process of “space-summarizing” i.e. descriptions of large landscaped as seen from above, as well as in the “direct characterization” of characters or settings through a single word, showing off his omniscient nature towards the story and its contents (Chatman 225). Reports of what characters did not think or say or actions, events that could have happened found explained in the narrative are also clues of an all-knowing narrator.”Verisimilitude” is what some authors want to transfer intro their stories. Thus, the “ethos”, a term coined by Aristotle in the Rethoric, is used to persuade implied readers into the feeling that what is told is true, using “philosophic generalization”, fact about real life in general (8-9). Yet, there are even strategies aiming at the opposed effect to reliability, in order to create an ironic tone, as Chatman states in his extended discussion on ethos and commentary as elements of discourse in overt narrated texts (227).
The condition of the narratee is discussed more by Rimmon-Kenan, who classifies it into “extradiegetic” and “intradiegetic” that could be easily undertsood as synonyms to the implied reader and, respectively, a character from the narrative. The narratee can also be covert or overt and realiable or unreliable (107-108).
3.3. Point of view and Narrative Voice
Be it “literal”, “figurative”, “transferred”, ” interest” or a combination of two or all three of the previous stated types, point of view is concerned with the way in which the narrator and the characters perceive the events and the existents around them. It is the “ideological situation” in relation to the content of the narrative and it is very important to be analysed because it gives “access to a character’s consciousness”and the thoughts are considered to be “truthful”, shaping the reader’s opinions and feelings (Chatman 156-158).
Readers of fiction sometimes perceive the point of view through the character’s thoughts, actions or words. Thus, “point of view” and the “narrative voice” may be easily confounded wih one another. Chatman differentiates these two terms by stating that the latter one “refers to the speech or other overt means” which play the role of tools in expressing the story’s features to the audience.The point of view is based only on the “ideological” life perspective or a “physical place” related to the events (Chatman 153). The presence of a narrator and, as well, his absence solve a lot of problems in identifying more types of point of view, since, in some, the narrative voice might not be overt.
3.4. Speech representation
Rimmon-Kenan recounts the beginnings of speech representation theories starting with Plato’s “diegesis” and “mimesis”, also known as the “indirect speech” and, respectively, the “direct” one. Trying to understand in which ways the writers create the feeling of “mimesis”, thus convincing the readers that “it is not he who speaks”, Rimmon-Kenan classifies the types of speech representation based on its degree of “illusion” (109-111). Genette, in Figures 111, draws attention to the fact that the increased number of details and information given about an action places the narrator in the background and redirects reactions indirectly to the reader. (187).Chatman also discusses this “convention” where the covert narrator can be interpreted as a “neutral reorder” and has the role of a “camera” surrounding the setting (154). From some types of summaries to indirect or direct discourse, be it free or not, the most interesting one to this discussion is, as Rimmon-Kenan also argues, the “free indirect discourse”. This type of speech representation functions on a very thought-provoking hypothesis, where the reader opens himself to “deviant linguistic and pragmatic practices” as well as “unacceptable attitudes” of the characters and, implicitly, of the narrators, while the implied author remains reliable. Free indirect speech, combining dialogues and monologues and long descripitions, allows a great number of voices and points of view around the narrative and also leads to the establishment of stream of consciousness (Rimmon-Kenan 116-117). This strategy is also known as the “conceptual” or “perceptual interior monologue”, the moment when characters are randomly thinking or speaking, without any goal or purpose and their thoughts are not mediated in any way by external elements (Chatman 194).
4. The discourse of Film
Desmond and Hawkesdiscuss the process of adapting a literary text. When analyzing the discourse of film and how its content gets to be expressed and manifested on the screen, some specific film terms need to be taken into consideration as well as some features of the camerawork and editing strategies.Plot, characters,setting, point of view, writing style and the theme also represent elements of a film-maker’s decisions on ways to cinematically express his lit-to-film adaptation. The multitrack theory, established by Robert Stam, draws the attention to the fact that, while the text only uses words as a tracking device for readers, the film is a multitrack medium, it uses”theatrical performance, words, music, sound effects and photographic images” (Desmond and Hawkes 36).
4.1. Film terms
When expressing a story on screen, some specific elements are used. The “mise-en-scene”, the first element that Desmond and Hawkes mention, reffers to “what is placed in front of the camera” and that could include “sets,costumes,lighting,make up, props, placement of some objects and people” including their “gestures and movements” (24). While sets reffer to places especially chosen to serve for background and the props represent the material objects placed on it, make up and costuming has more to do with the characters and can change the actors natural phyisical appreances in order to suit a certain rolenor a period in time or a social class. Lighting serves as a tool for bringing attention towards a certain person, object or action, depeinding on the degree of its intensity and the imposed direction. (Desmond and Hawkes 26).
In analysing the “camera work”, the “shot” needs to be taken in consideration, because it represents the “basic unit of film”. The features of shots in film aim at achieving reactions from the audience or creating a certain atmosphere. That is why Desmond and Hawkes identify four types of shots: “long, medium, close-up and extreme close-up” (27).
4.2. Fundamentals of Novel Adaptation
Screenwriter Nicholas Meyer claims that the film is “primarly a visual medium” and “the best screenwriters think in pictures, not words”(Desmond and Hawkes 91). That is why screenwriters have to adapt to several conditions that the field of cinematography imposes and have to stress the visual imagery starting from large descpritions of places, situations and characters.
“Length to length” is the first fundamental issue that Desmond and Hawkes identify concerning the fact that a novel that contains around 400 pages,in order to last 2 hours on screen, must be reduced to around 120 pages in the script. Thus another important feature appears: “cutting” (Desmond and Hawkes 85). They claim that this process, along with “condensing”, is necessary in adapting a novel and should be used in deleting details that the novel contains “in abundance” or “at length.”
“Visualizing” is another fundamental of adapting novels, because long descriptions of landscapes or of characters can be presented in one second on screen. Most of the adapters also find an oportunity in projecting the novel’s exposition on screen and thus assert a “double-task” for the opening scenes where not only the “time, place and characters are diplayed”, but also “the film title, director, major actors, screenwriters” (Desmond and Hawkes 87)
As far as the point of view in a film is concerned, the “voiceover” is one of the most interesting and offering techniques. It helps not only to establish from whose position we are visualising things, but also to present the exposition “economically” in terms of length. Desmond and Hawkes bring into discussion the “intertitle cards” too, which, from the emergence of silent films, help organize the film exactly as the exposition does for the novel. They sustitute the exposition and in the modern days, they became shorter and rarely used. Chatman also discusses the point of view in film. He considers that films have an advantage in conveying point of view thanks to the two “information channels” to which they have access: the visual and the auditory (Chatman 158). The director has more ways to convey the point of view of a specific character: either by postioning the camera right in front of him or taking shots of him starring at, or interracting with other objects for third person perspective or by putting the camera right in the back of the character’s eye, allowing the viewes to see what he sees, what Chatman calls the “subjective camera technique”, specific for the first person narrative styles (160). First-person narration can also be conveyed in film with voice-over at auditory level or with point-of-view shots (Desmond and Hawkes 94).
Chatman also discusses interior monologue in the cinema. Although it may seem hard to obtain the same effect as in the written form, this type of monologue only requires that the character’s lips do not move while his/her voice can be heard. Thus it becomes clear for the viewer that what is heard are his/her thoughts, a form of stream of consciousness adapted on screen (Chatman 195). Yet, since Chatman claims that this type of visual technique combined with auditory impulses might be, at times, confusing for the viewers, in the way that one may think that a character that is filmed is talking when actually the voice is just conveying explanation or a commentary on the action filmed, there are also other ways of expressing inner thoughts and feelings in films. Otherfundamentals in lit-to-film adaptation areadapting some long, written first-person monologues in short dialogues in the movie, where the respective character suddenly expresses some personal ideas, or having the character talk shortly to himself (Desmond and Hawkes 93). As far as dialogue is concerned, some long passages of dialogue from novels can be compressed by cutting some of the characters’ lines and only preserving the most relevant ones.
Efforts are made by adapters in transforming novels in films. Some use economical ways of altering exposition and long description while other skip the exposition and begin the film with an “intense conflict”. Some characters are also sometimes “sacrificied” for the sake of the length of the film, as Seger also explains, especially for the novels that are very long and have a large number of characters (3). Unnecessary or unrelevant scenes can also be dropped, especially if they don’t contain information that clarifies the development of a character and subplots can also be deleted or “compressed”. Yet, if one cannot simply delete an entire scene, combining two different scenes or “truncation” are other processes that help. Truncation consists of showing just a “slice of it to suggest the whole”,as Desmond and Hawkes note (90).
Dialogue has its function in the written text. Yet, on screen, visualisation of a scene might substitute entire pages of dialogue, Thus, adapaters often cut the dialogue or only maintain some keywords from it.
Yet, concerning all the processes to which the adapter has access, one thing that he should not forget about is maintaing “continuity and coherence”. The scences have to be arranged in a certain order so that the viewer understands when, how and why some things are happening or where some of the reactions of some characters come from. Some adapters “rearrange” the plot on screen drifting away from the traditional novel’s specific order of events. One of the most interesting technique is the “framed narrative” , where a scene in the present is shown at first and then past events start to be revealed. (Desmond and Hawkes 93)
Desmond and Hawkes discuss the outside factors too, such as the “production determinants”. Some films cost too much to be produced and some complications may appear because of this factor, not based on the adaptability of the novel. The mass audience is another outside factor that mediates the way a movie is made. Most of the film consumers expect happy endings, for instance. The adapter must also verify whether the “contemporary standards of decency” have been observed and no one might be offended by the film’s content. Desmond and Hawkes note: “commercial considerations supersede artistic preferences”(99).
Brian McFarlaneargues, in his work from 1996 Novel and Film,that there are some elements drawn from the process of adaptation that influence viewers’ reception of it. He states that “the stress on fidelity to the original undervalues other aspects of the film’s intertextuality. By this, I mean those non-literary, non-novelistic influences at work on any film, whether or not it is based on a novel” (McFarlane 8).
A Close Textual Reading and Stylistics of Ian McEwan’s Atonement
When reading a book or watching a movie, for a closer and more extensive reading of it, someone must put the question of how “various elements of the work reinforce its meanings” and how “these elements are related to the whole”, as Snyder states in Analyising Literature-to-Film Adaptations(40). In this chapter, the focus will be on the two principles she identifies as needing to be taken intro consideration when closely reading a text: the organizing principle and the stylistic interpretation principle and criticism. Some elements of the discourse of fiction will also be of great use in this process. Thus, beginning with plot and the characters, some symbolic implications that the authors chose to add by using a certain point of view or a certain title will also be discussed. The themes will be the main refferences in discussing some relevant fragments and identifying their motifs and the way they are stylistically conveyed. Lastly, the discussion will be on the reception of the implied readers according to some standard factors such as background experience, age or gender.
Some questions need to be answered in the close textual reading and stylistics. Firstly, the focus should be on the plot and its formula, predictability, conflicts, sequence, climax, events, ending and structure in general. Secondly, the characters should be taken into consideration, noting the protagonists and the methods the creator used to reveal them while trying to find a reason why they exist in the story and describing them and their actions as it can be seen in the text. The point of view is the third aspect that Snyder adds to the strategy of the close textual reading and reffers to finding out who tells the story, the number of narrators which focalize it, if it is the case, how limited the narrator’s knowledge is and whether it changes or not during the course of the story. Setting is also extermely important in detalied analysis of work of literature and film, since it is used to “flesh out” characters and even develop them, sometimes being so vital that itself becomes a character (Snyder 41). The next elements needed in this type of reading are symbolism, which involves the interpretation of key objects or scenes in the story and their contribution to the meaning-making process, along with style, tone and irony¸ which applies to the way the story and the character’s thought or dialogues are presented, contributing to the tone of the narrative. The title is also a great marker of certain aspects of a story and needs to be analysed while the themes represent the messages conveyed to the readers or viewers by the creators of such works.
Peter Barry discusses stylistics and explains that it helps to identify the linguistic details of a work and the meanings and effects conveyed by them. He argues that stylistics “uses the methods and findings of the science of linguistics in the analysis of literary texts” while linguistics represents only “the scientific study of language and its structures” (Barry 196). Therefore, a stylistic approach may examine the morph-syntactic or grammatical structures of some sentences in a novel and how they contribute to the sense making and transmitting of the text. Stylistics involve, thus, descriptions of the technical aspects of the language of the text, objective linguistic data and sometimes new reading of the text (Snyder 41-42).
Ian McEwan is one of the most significant authors of British fiction. During the development of his carreer, his work has undergone great changes and improvements, therefore most of his novels are widely recognised in the entire world by various publics and discussed by several critics. Most of the themes he tackles in his works relate to childhood, adolescence, family relationships and the portrayal of war. The plot of his literary texts is mostly based on traumatic events and cause in the end desintegration, as it can be seen in some of his great books such asThe Cement Garden, The Child in Time, First Love, Last Rites, and Atonement. Julie Ellam, in her study of Ian McEwan’s Atonement discusses the evolution of McEwan’s writing style and choice of topics:”over the decades, his writing has moved from placing a covert rather than overt psychological pressure on his characters and readers” and one can easily notice a “more developed use of characterization and intricacy of structure in each of his later works”, given the fact that his “desire to please with more complexity has taken over from the desire to shock” (8).
The entire plot in Ian McEwan’s Atonementspreads itself on three major parts, the first one beginning with a letter and a shorter, final one called London 1999. While the “formula” does not seem so complicated, the narrative thread that it is based on and the secret revealed in the last part concerning the real narrator of the things that happened or did not, makes it more complex than it looks at first glance and requires a second reading. The story seems to be focused on one hot day in the year 1935 in the Tallis’ country home, where some members of the family as well as associates meet. The main narrative seems to focus, however, on the hypotetical love story between Robbie and Cecilia, destroyed by the relative, innocent lie of an adolescent girl, Briony, who has not yet developed a great sense of the real world around her or was simply driven by the tacit, unshared love for Robbie.Elements of the narrative that constitute the plot also reffer to the Second World War, there being, in the first part, clever hints towards the great suffering that is about to come and in the following parts, where some gruesome scenes from the war, such as the nurses’ experiences while treating injured soldiers or the emotional soldiers’ retreat on the beach at Dunkirk are revealed, given the fact that the author jumps sixty years over the initial story placed in the Tallis home.
In terms of sequence, the author decides to jump a relatively big amount of years, moving from 1935, setting the atmosphere of a few years before the war in Tallis’ country home, to the 1940’s depicting the horrors and difficulties the soldiers endure as well as the nurses taking care of them, and moving to 1999 with the newly revealed, aged narrator, uncovering some hidden lies directed at a more positive, opthimistic view of the tragic, impossible love story.
As far as the structure is concerned, the three part of the novel are related to their content by means of the time and place they focus on, as well as by meand of the characters that the story is focalized on. The first part contains fourteen chapters and, focalizing on different characters, reveals the setting and the charactersand their social status with some their most significant characterstics and hints at some of the tragic events that are about to happen. It all starts in the Tallis country home, in 1935, some years before the Second World War with the family expecting a visit from twins Jackson and Pierrot along with 15 year old Lola, their maternal cousins and brother Leon with his friend, Paul Marshall. The sequence also includes Robbie, the more humble and low-class son of the housekeeper and his silent love for Cecilia, his childhood friend. Given the fact that the attraction between the two seems to be mutual, there are some scenes containing sexual content such as the fountain scene, Robbie’s vulgar letter that was not supposed to reach Cecilia or any member of her family and the not-so-private sex scene in the library, some of which are falsley interpreted by the imaginative Briony.
Climax can be identified in more moments throughout the book but the most tense one seems to be right at the end of the first part. The moment when the two young boys dissapear and Robbie is accused of raping Lola and sent to prison in spite of his mother’s and Cecilia’s accusation toward Briony’s dashed decision to identify the aggresor based on the unclear shadow and some of her other, personal clues that Robbie is an actual “maniac” obsessed with his sister and, seemingly, with young girls he can’t have.
Part two is shorter and depicts the difficulties that Robbie, as a soldier whodecides to join the British Expeditionary Force in place of jail to fight in France,has to endure. In part two, therefore, the novel jumps to the year 1940 in war time and also describes some gruesome images focalizing Robbie, revealing his hard time dealing with the absence of Cecilia and his only hopes emerging from letters with optimistic plans for the future. The second part ends with the seriously injured and delirious Robbie falling into a deep sleep at Dunkirk, beside his new friends, the night before the retreat, this scene being revealed, in the end, as representing the moment Robbie dies.
Part three depicts the horror in the hospitals and the hard time the nursers have when seriously injured and close to death soldiers arrive and have to be taken care of. In a very harsh and over disciplined programme, where nursers have no identity of their own in front of the war survivors they have to offer company to before or after surgeries, Briony finds a way of compensating for her newly recognised mistake of accusing innocent Robbie. Instead of going to study in Cambridge, the adult Briony decides to get involved in the one thing that now affects the lives of Robbie and Cecilia, who cannot be together. Thus, wishing to either reencounter Robbie as a war survivor or simply to atone, on personal level, for her sin, she chooses this path instead. Some new threads are included in this third part, such the marriage between Lola and Paul Marshall, which comes as a confirmation for Briony that Paul was actually her rapist and also as an empowerment to do something, at last, to help Robbie recover his reputation. Some events such as Briony meeting Cecilia and Robbie and the tension created in the apartmenet they shared are all subject of reinterpretation given the last and most important part of the novel.
London, 1999 is the shortest and the most ground-breaking ending of most of Atonement’s contemporary novels. It depicts Briony, now more older, sick and of great success as a writer, and her confession revealing how the whole story and events where part of her novel. The new form of atoning for her mistake seems to be writing and creating a more positive, optimistic story for Cecilia and Robbie. The interesting technique leads to the idea that, although announced in the first chapter by the omniscient, third person narrator that Briony has great artistic and imaginative talent and is “one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so”, it is hard for the readers to read the book from beginning to end thinking that she, the seemingly ficitonal character, might actually be the author of the novel they’re reading (McEwan 4).
The reliabily of the narrator is put at stake by McEwan by choosing this plot and by transforming the ficitonal chararcter in the virutal writer of her story. In terms of predictability, it is a matter of fact that most of the readers would not have expected such an ending. The conflicts lead to the tense atmosphere and arouses mixted feelings and reaction among the readers. What makes everything more interesting is the choice of the magic ingredient of the McEwan’s formula of adding the shocking truth-revealing element at the end of the novel, an element which actually uncovers the abscence of some of the conflicts from the plot.
Each of Ian McEwan’s characters have carefully chosen characteristics that unveil some of the most significant elements of the narratives and modern literary techniques he truly seems to contain.
Briony Tallis is the portagonist of the novel,since her importance to the immense turn of events in the end can be easily acknowledged, since her mistake is the “raison d’etre” of the novel in question. She was born in 1922, her birth is noted to have been “difficult” and her mother’s migraines might be a reason for it. Physical description of Briony is mentioned in the interaction with her mother, Emily, while embracing her: “that hot smooth little body she remembered from its infancy” (McEwan 3). The fact that Briony is a passionated, talented writer who wants “the world just so” and is gifted with literary abilities which can be noticed form “the age of eleven”, when “she wrote her first story”, is not included in the novel by chance. In her great imaginative capability, she realizes that “the imagination itself was a source of secrets”, and this seems to foreshadow the upcoming secret and its role in atoning. (McEwan 4). The Trials of Arabella, her creation in the fictional text is, as she claims, “the piece that was intended to inspire not laughter, but terror, relief and instruction”, in comparison to Atonement itself, also her creation, which tends to appear as a classic melodrama until the very end when the secret is revealed and the sad, horrific reality comes forth (McEwan 5).
Briony is the character that seems to develop on many levels as she grows up and discovers “the very complexity of her feelings” which confirmed her “that she was entering an arena of adult emotion and dissembling from which her writing was bound to benefit” (McEwan 113). She gets inspiration from all the things that happen around her such as the fountain scene or the library one which she, with such little understanding of the real, unorderd world and relationships around her, only partly understand. Her ambition to make “something greater of them her day’s experience that would be polished, self-obtained and obscure”, rather than writing “a simple diary account” is ironically sustained by the final creation of the actual novel Atonement which emodies the complex re-writing of her experiences (McEwan 116). Briony is the “high-brow” who is, as explained by Virginia Woolf in Middlebrow, her letter written but never sent to the New Statesman,someone”of thoroughbred intelligence who rides his mind at a gallop across country in pursuit of an idea”, who seems to be “wholly incapable of dealing successfully with what is called real life”, a thing which “often leads to disaster” (Woolf 1)
Since the novel is revealed by an omniscient, third-person narrator, it has various focalizers which vary in terms of abundance and sequence. Robbie Turner can, therefore,be considered the protagonist of the second part, given that the focus is on him and the difficult times he has to endure while taking part in the Second World War fighting the German troops in France. Given the fact that he is the son of the cleaning lady and his father Ernest, is gone and nowhere to be found, Robbie is part of a lower social class but is intelligent, familiar with literature such as Shakespeare and is described as an aspiring doctor. In his daydreaming, “he thought of himself in 1962, at fifty, when he would be old, but not quite old enough to be useless, and of the weathered, knowing doctor he would be by then, with the secret stories, the tragedies and successes stacked behind him”, it can be noticed that he had bright plans for the future, seeing himself as “a better doctor for having read literature” (McEwan 54). The fact that McEwan chose Robbie and his situation as one of the most important characters looks as a message of transcending barriers. The fact that he falls in love with Cecilia Tallis, a girl higher in the hierarchy and she falls back in love with him, also stands as a proof. Grace, her mother, being one of the servant but being given patronage on the house by Jack Tallis, receives benefits such as high education for her son.
Danny Hardman is a minor character but is included in the story with a purpose indeed. The fact that he is the servant and of lower class, he is the one firstly accused of raping Lola. According to Ellam, the author wanted such a character in the book in order to keep the readers far from the truth. He also seems to be the “scapegoat” and this fact stands as proof that rejection and stigma according to class is still present in the book, considering Robbie’s and Cecilia’s tendency to point the finger of scorn at him, the Leon or Paul, from higher social classes might also be guilty (49). Betty is another servant that acquires importance by being the one in whose hand the vase breaks, a symbol for destruction on more levels. Other minor characters include Mace and Nettle, friends of Robbie who he meets during the war and only appear in the second part of the book.
The reason why McEwan included the visitors, “the cousins from the North”, Lola and the twins, is evident given that their appearance almost instantly generate the most tensionate moments in the plot. The disappearance of the twins in the forest at night, the rape, Lola’s avoidance of telling the truth, are all actions that the author attributes to his characters in order to lead to the climax, to Robbie’s arrest and the tragic story that follows. They are all catalysts of the main action. The fact that the brothers are also children of divorcing parents and come “from the North” automatically places them in a negative position, as antagonists that are expected to disrupt the initial calm setting (Ellam 49).
While some of the characters maintain their initial opinions in the readers’minds as created initially by means of direct or indirect description, others suffer some changes. With Briony it is clear that she begins to see the consequences of her rushed accusation. Marshall is described as a succesfull, rich man, “the chocolate millionaire” (McEwan 17). But “he is drawn unsympathetically by an older, recalcitrant Briony and it is elemental to her atonement that she also reveals his guilt” (Ellam 48). Robbie hates him too: “He’s a greedy fool” (McEwan 204).
The way the members of the Tallis family act and interact with each other also sends a message about some faults and dysfunctions in the typical 1930s English bourgeoisie family. The Tallis house, 40 years old, is now under construction and also has some defects. Since it might be seen as embodying centuries of traditions and cultural heritage, its faults represent the destruction of some certain valuable moral about family and peaceful interactions between them. It might also foreshadow the horrific war that is about to burst five years later.
3. Point of view
The way the readers receive and perceive the story in the novel is also of great significance. For this, Ian McEwan uses various, shifting points of view. While the novel is considered as being narrated from a third person narrator perspective, the epigraph that preceeds the beginning of the story and the last part called London 1999 are written in first person singular. Chatman’s classification between “narrator” and “narrative voice” is of great use here. The narrative voice related to the speech representation, it is the exact voice readers here in their mind telling them, for instance, about how Briony looks at Robbie and Cecilia in the fountain scene. It is a matter of the overt elements on page. The point of view is related to the “ideological” perspective implied in the act of looking.
Since the first part has as focalizer Briony herself and her understanding of what is happening around her, it can be said that Brinoy is talking about her younger self, in third person. Since the second part of the novel is focused on the atrocities of war that only Robbie can experience besides all the other characters, it can be said that the focalizer is Robbie but after finding out the truth in London,1999, Briony puts herself in Robbie’s shoes and relates everything from a third person perspective, after documenting herself on the Dunkirk retreat and other details from the Second World War, as she states that she “spent a while chatting with the Keeper of Documents. I handed over the bundle of letters Mr. Nettle wrote me about Dunkirk” (McEwan 210)
The concept of covert and overt author, also explained by Chatman, is also significant here because, since readers realize that Briony has been the author of the story they have just read, some things shift in their perspective on the story. The implied author is not anymore McEwan, but instead Briony, an actual fictional character, an author kept covert until the very last pages. Now the covert author becomes Ian McEwan who seems as if he has nothing to do anymore with the entire unveiling of events. The implied readers, as it is to find out at the end, are actually the ones who want to read something nice, with a positive ending and a slight romantic twist of regaining love after war. Yet, these implied readers have to face the truth at the end and inevitable become the real readers of a realist story, with endings that are more horrific but more anchored in reality, as the new contemporary trends especially for war fiction suggest.
Rimmon-Kenan’s perspective on the narrator as being unavoidably present and bearer of agency is also relevant here. Briony Tallis, with her fascination with writing and her great talent in creating works of art, becomes the agent narrator of her own story.
Having found out that the narrative voice is Briony’s all over the story, her knowledge seems to be limitless yet, taking in account the fact that she has not patricipated in war and suffer from dementia, one can question her reliability in terms of the truthfullness of some of her information through other character’s eyes.
The story is set in 1935, at the Tallis home. Then in 1940’s in France, and at Dunkirk beach, then shifts, at around the same year, to hospital where Briony works and jumps to 1999, in London, when Briony makes the confession before going to sleep, most probably in her bed or maybe in a hospital bed, the act of “sleeping” reffering maybe to the end of her life.
The time in which the story is placed in, right before, during and a lot after the Second World War helps to shape an impressive view on the way a war influences and affects people’s life. The Dunkirk scene is also significant because it is very detailed and reffers to an event that took place in real life during the war. The temporal background choice fleshes out and helps to develop such chacters as Robbie, at least in the Briony’s more optimistic version. It also stands as a way of fullfiling the process of atonement for Briony since, if there wasn’t the war, Briony wouldn’t have had the occasion to atone for her mistake by not going to study and instead being a nurse to engage in the horrors of war too or getting the chance to help other men like Robbie or even Robbie himself.
The spatial plane also shifts from period to period. The first part is located in the Tallis house which, with its faults, as discussed above, represents the deconstruction of the British bourgeoise family, where appearant priviledges are actually migraines, depressions, divorces, rapes and false accusation ending up with death and unachievable love. The fronts of war where Robbie sometimes sees gruesome images of death people, the beach at Dunkirk retreat and the hospital where Briony works are spaces that depict the war and its destructions.
5. Symbolism, title and the themes
There are several scenes that are symbolic for some of the messages that the author wants to convey to his readers. For example, the scene where Briony opens the letter meant to be read only by Cecilia since it was the wrong one, while having Briony thinking that “it was wrong to open people’ letters, but it was right, it was essential, for her to know everything” (McEwan 113), somehow hints at the fact that she is the omniscient author of the whole book.
The fountain scene is also of great significance since the reader can see it unfold from various perspectives four times in the book. Firstly, in part one, chapter two, the event is focalized by the angry Cecilia engaging in a fool lovers’ game with Robbie (McEwan 29-31). Secondly, the reader receives the scene from Briony’s perspective from the window in the third chapter of part one. In her eyes, the scene gets a totally different turn. Looking from the distance, “from two storeyes up, with the benefit of unambiguous sunlight”, through the window of the Tallis house, Briony interprets the scene as a “proposal of marriage” and Robbie’s pointing to the broken vase becomes the act of “issuinf a comand which Cecilia dared not to disobey”, leading to her “removing her clothes … at his insistence” (McEwan 38). Briony considers the opportunity of witnessing the “tableau mounted for her alone” and how she should put the memory of it on paper (McEwan 39). There is, therefore, another interpretation of the fountain scene in part three in older Briony’s drafts of her novella sent to her editor. Two figures by a fountainis a piece that she receives feedback on, which cleverly reconsiders her interpretation of the scene through Robbie and Cecilia’s eyes with Virgina Woolf’s writing style and techniques. Yet, a haunting question which somehow foreshadows the consequences of what started with Briony’s revelation as a little girl, is addressed by C.C.: “If this girl has so fully misunderstood or been so wholly baffled by the strange little scene that has unfolded before her, how might it affect the lives of the two adults?” (McEwan 312). It affected Robbie and Cecilia’s love story and the scene is once again given to the readers from Robbie’s point of view in the eighth chapter of the first part, with the exploration of his burning desire and love for Cecilia, contemplating her anger, fury and wish for humiliating him for breaking her “ridiculous vase” (McEwan 80-81).
The library scene from the first part, chapter ten is one that conveys the motif of sexuality, having Briony coming inside the room while Robbie and Cecilia were having an intimate moment. The moment is, of course, misunderstood by the little sister as “an attack, a hand-to-hand fight” (McEwan 123).
Drowning and being saved is another event that comes in the book two times, in different ways, though not directly related. Robbie, after a while witnessing horrific scenes from the war in which he takes part as a a soldier, in his will to understand Briony and the child’s mind, remembers a scene from the past, June 1932. While he was offering her swimming lessons, Briony jumped in the water and it was required of him to save her, a thing that, given it was intentionally done, infuriates Robbie to the present day in which he is remembering everything (McEwan 229-231). Briony’s fascination as a child with this act and drowning and being saved can be seen in part one, where she contemplates the scene seen by the fountain where Cecilia goes in the water with Robbie looking at her. The girl considers the sequence of events “illogical”, since she thinks that the drowning scene and rescue, the moment when Cecilia really got into water to get the broken lip of the vase, should have been preceeded by the marriage proposal (McEwan 39).
The vase is an object that carries symbolic refference to the powerful implications of the First World War and the upcoming emergence of the Second World War as well as the destruction of the love story between Robbie and Cecilia. It is broken two times, in two scenes that at first might not seem of great importance: the first time during the fountain scene in part one, second chapter and then by “wretched” Betty, who “dropped Uncle Clem’s vase carrying it down and it shattered on the steps. She said the pieces had simply come away in her hand, but that was hardly to be believed”, as Briony recounts the news from home in the third part (McEwan 279).
The vase represents Cecilia’s “dead uncle, her father’s dear brother, the wasteful war, the treacherous crossing of the river, the preciousness beyond money, the heroism and goodness, all the years backed up behind the history of the vase reaching back to the genius of Höroldt, and beyond him to the mastery of the arcanists who had reinvented porcelain” (McEwan 29).
The title seems simple but it refers to more than it seems. It sends to Briony’s will to atone for her false interpretation of events leading to the accusation that ruined two lovers’ life. It is interesting that, by choosing Atonement as a title, McEwan deceives the readers once again, into thinking that it refers to the fact that Briony gives up her education at Cambridge while choosing to work in the hospital as a nurse until a point in the narrative. In the end it is revealed that the Atonement is actually related to the narrative thread and it represents, in fact, the entire process of writing and Briony’s granting the lovers a more pleasant story and ending.
The themes conveyed in the novel Atonement refer to various aspects of life in general based on the lifestyle on social, political and even economical point of view in the period it is set in. One of the themes is coming of age, since it covers 64 years in which several characters grow up or go through experiences that seem impossible not to alter their personalities. Compassion and forgiveness is another theme is announced directly through the title and appeares to be one of the most important, given the fact that the whole narrative thread is based on the procces of gaining forgiveness in terms of altering it at some points by the manipulative narrator. The family and British values of burgeoise is another theme that appears in the book by means of deconstruction, given that there are serious faults and problems affecting the members of the Tallis family. Warfare is an issue that also appears in the pages, since the book is set during the years when the Second World War took part, various elements of the narrative having to do and being deeply affected by it. Literature and writing is the theme that seems to be the most interesting in terms of the technique through which it is conveyed. By creating a character that is extremly imaginative and passionate about writing and desprerately seeks inspiration from the events happening around her, McEwan discusses aspects of the process of creating literature. Other themes might be sex, with the library scene and the rape, to which Briony is the witness, different versions of reality, refering to the way the readers are conveyed with the events seen from various perspectives.
Stylistics reffers to the literary techniques that the author uses in order to convey certain meanings to the events in the book. A look at stylistics requires, therefore, an analysis strictly on linguistic terms in order to connect the reasons for their choice later. Patricia Canning describes, in her article Functional Sylistics, the textual metafunctin of language, which aims at providing “the formal properties of language” and represents the “clause as message” (46). Cohesion of sentences or even entire scene if one is to think about novels is acquired by means of different grammatical or lexical techniques. For example, McEwan uses shifting third person perspective in the first, second and third part of his novel while the epilogue called London 1999 is constructed in first person perspective. The linguistic technique conveys the layering of perspectives and the final choice of absolute subjectiveness in the epiloque allows the author to reveal the truth about the narrator. Lexical techniques can be seen in the choice of words, collocations and even the repetition of certain structures. In Atonement, Cecilia’s sentence “Come back” appears 21 times. Literary foregrounding can also be discussed here and the concept of “schema refreshment”, reminded by Christiana Gregoriou in her article The linguistic level of foregrounding in stylistics, seems to be suitable for Ian McEwan’s tendency of disturbing and refreshing conventional ways of perceiving texts and their narrators by having his readers realise only in the end that the entire novel had been secretly written by one of the fictional characters, sending to the idea that reality is also a big narrative thread which we ourselves create and interpret the way we want (88).
The metaphor is another stylistic device that is used to transmit meaning by means of word-combination. The meaning conveyed establishes, therefore, “a relationship between two things based on a resemblance, sharing a common property, which encourages a comparison”, as Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle state in “Basics Film-Making 04: the language of film” (24-25).
7. Reader response theory and criticism
Jennifer Riddle Harding discusses, in her article called Reader response criticism and analysis, several historical points of view concerning the ways in which readers receive and react to the text they are reading, following contemporary theories on this matter too. She starts with Holland’s view of literature as “a transformation of material intro psycholofical experience for the reader”, a view based on Freud’s theory on psychoanalysis (Harding 70). Then Culler’s idea is noted, where the system belongs to the readers, not authors and the set of conventions and “rules and norms” are required of the audience in order to produce the effects implied in the text. The feminist Fotterly’s approach sends to a less harmonious relationship between the language and the reader where she encourages the readers to “resist” and combat some certain, imposed rules of reading, avoiding blindly surrendering to respect them. She refers here to the gender norms which indirectly or directly impose a sense of empowerment for the males. Iser’s concept of “Leerstellen” is not left behind, since it reffers to the “gaps” that the author lets in the text and which the reader has to fill in, enaging his personal experiences and knowledge in creating meaning. Lastly, the more radical view conveyed by Stanlet Fish is explored, where he proposes that the text does not exist without the reader to convey meaning and content to it (Harding 70-72). In the light of these theories, certain aspects from the novel Atonement lead to the establishment of each individual’s response as a reader. Be it because of individual experiences or knowledge of other books of the author or resistance to some themes because of religion or other reasons, as well as The plot, containing various sex scenes, rape and false accusations, the rape victim who marries her rapist, is a factor in the different readers’reactions which depend on their gender or attitudes towards these subjects. Prior knowledge of other Ian McEwan novels is also a factor that contributes to the way in which readers respond to some of his techniques and choice of themes and symbols. Also, one reader living in Great Britan or who have been more directly or indirectly affected by implications of the Second World War might have a better understanding of some of scenes involving the war (Harding 80).
A Close Analysis of Narrative and Cinematic Devices
in Joe Wright’s “Atonement”
Reflecting the second chapter’s schema, this chapter will focus on an analysis of techniques used by the film-makers to convey the same feeling as the book offers to the reader, but using images in screen.While some elements of the discourse of film are the as the ones of the discourse of fiction, some are different due to the two information channels of the film: visual and auditory. Semiotics will also be of great concern, certain techniques and choice of cinematic devices being closely analysed din order to identify their role as signifiers based on theories from Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle’s Basics Film-Making 04: the language of film. The analysis will focus on the idea that the mise-en-scene, with its three-fold classification: setting, subjects and composition, is one of the most useful tool in achieving the desired effects and trasmitting certain messages to the viewers.
As far as the ways of “reading” a film are concerned, John M. Desmond and Peter Hawkespropose some steps in discussing adapted films. Carefully analyisng the elements of the narrative, which are the same as the ones from the literary text analysis, the opening sequences of the film compared to the first chapter and the focus on changed elements, while trying to find a reason for each choice of the screenwriter, are some of the steps for a successful analysis of such works of art. The focus on the sequence of the text and the moving image is also important in defining the elements that have been substituted, dropped or added. Noting cinematic elements is of great concern too in “reading” movies, their defintion being somehow equilvalent to the definition of stylistics offered above by Barry. The question that the involved critic must answer is whether the adaptation is close, loose or intermediate, in the sense that the film maker may decide wether he or she wants to totally conform to the text or simply use it as “a point of departure” (Desmond and Hawkes 50-51).
There are also two types of analysing literature-to-film adaptations, according to the amount of information that is discussed. When analysing in fine detail only one chapter of a book and its repsective sequence in a film, the analysis is called microcosmic application. Analysing the whole literary text and film, paragraph by paragraph and, respectively, scene by scene is part of what Desmond and Hawles call the macrocosmic application, which offers a more “complete relationship between the whole literary text and the whole film”, where some passages might be closely or intermediately adapted, while others only loosely inspired from the book (Desmond and Hawkes 80).
Since the way the events are described in a book differ to the ones in which they are created on screen, some elements of narration must be taken into consideration. The title can be kept the same as the book or can be changed according to what the film focuses on or adds to the narrative thread from the book. In the film, speech representations include more dialogs and monologues as well as part of narrations with an omniscient narrator talking in voice over. There can also be voice recorded over the image of a character, implying in this way that the voice belongs to the person filmed and it represents the flow of thoughts of that certain person. Point of view can be achieved by filming over the shoulder of certain characters or through the eyes, allowing a very subjective perspective. The sequence of the events is achieved through flashback or flashforwards, also called analepses and prolepses. It can be chronollogicaly or not and it can start with a frame story, letting the viewers find out which event came first or last in correct chronollogical order and which scenes are actually flashbacks. While authors achieve these effect by means of entire paragraphs of descprition or stylistics: using third or first person narration or other grammatical features such as past or present tense, the directors lean on the cinematic techniques mentioned above.
Joe Wright’s Atonement, for instance, keeps the shifting of perspectives from the book but alters their order. In this way, certain scenes or objects become markers and are used to indicate wether the film is going backward at some points to reveal another perspective. These markers are being repeated, take for example the folding of the vulgar letter written by Robbie or the switching of the lighter three times. In what regards the fountain scene and the order in which it appears in the book, where it is narrated firstly from Cecilia, and then from Briony’s point of view, in the film, it is seen from Briony’s perspective first, on whom the opening sequence focalizes, then from Cecilia’s. For achieving Briony’s perspective, the director uses point of view shots as well as shots illustrating Briony and the window through which she looks. With Cecilia and Robbie, the shots are implying a more objective gaze, by illustrating the event from outside of neither the man or the woman’s eyes. Also, to achieve a certain tone or atmosphere, the director may choose to keep the same schema of shots, lighting or setting for the scenes involving the same effect on the viewers. For instance, the interview in the library with 13 years old Briony and the television interview of her in the studio 60 years later maintain the same techniques on some levels. There are certain pillars, such as the Robbie’s testing of the lighter three times or Cecilia’s diamond hair-clip, which are repeatedly shown in certain moments, to keep the audience aware of where the storyline is at one particular time and to point out which thread of the narrative the viewers should remember and focus on, making them aware that there may follow a shocking turn of events.
Semiotics study the way information is transmitted in a film. As Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle discuss in Basics Film-Making 04: the language of film , there are various conceptual distinctions concerning the signs and the way they combine in order to convey meaning. They claim that there are two sides of the sign: one physical and one psychological. The first one defines the “sign-as-object” or “the signifier” while the latter refers to the “sign-as-concept” or “the signifed” (22). These two faces of the sign underline the connection between film-maker and audience, since the signifiers the director wishes to add in the visual story are interpretated and given a suitable reaction from the ones watching his or her work. As Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle raise the problem concerning that a single signifier can be associated with numerous, varied signifeds. They exemplify with the idea of a tear that can be interpretated in many ways by the viewers: sadness, happines, fear, grief (Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle 23). A case study on Joe Wright’s Atonement in this view can be made based on the choice of colours of clothes: white for Briony. For instance, the signifier “white” might produce the mental image of innocence, something pure and may even convey the idea of irony for those already aware of what is going to happen next in the story. Bruises and scratches can signify violence and even rape. While the visual elements are stable, i.e. the colour white, the bruises, they can be interpreted in various ways by many members of the audience, depending on many personal factors or background experiences and knowledge.
The meaning can also be transmitted by means of metaphors or metonymy. While metaphoric meaning is established based on resemblance between two or more combined words, metonymic meaning establishes a relationship based on association, substituing “one thing with another” (Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle 24). The process involved in the use of the mentonymic device is significant to the film-makers since in visual texts, one object, one sequence subtitutes what cannot be seen or read as in a book. As Edgar-Hunt, Marland and Rawle perfectly explain, “Films have difficulty conveying the experience of power, wealth or love, but they are good at conveying the trappings and rituals that surround them” (24). The synecdoche is also relevant in the process of conveying meaning through images. This technique allows the relationship of part to whole, for instance as Robbie’s army uniform conveys the idea of war to the viewers or as the short shots of the typewriter cover the theme of story-writing and, indeed, of story–telling in the audience’s mind.
The mise-en-scene refers to the process of staging and includes everything put before camera in preparation for filming. The way in which different elements of the mise-en-scene interact to achieve an effect in the viewers’ perception of the film. These elemenets might be the objects or props around, the background itself, the characters, their make-up and their clothes, the way the characters move or talk and all the ways in which these images, including the props, persons and their actions, are transmitted on the screen by means of frame, shots, colors and sounds. In film-to-lit adaptation studies, an analysis regarding the reason of the choice of some certain elements or colors or sound or different actors playing certain characters is interesting to make. According to Desmond and Hawkes’ two proposals of applying analysis on novel adapted films, the “microcosmic application” includes one or two scenes being evaluated in terms of how certain cinematic techniques help to construct the themes and motifs implied in the book by the author through other aspects of the discourse of fiction, related to the narrator or literature writing techniques. In this way, some cinematic techniques exist paradigmatically to literary techniques and the director has the power to choose which element on the set or camera movement is the best for achieving on screen the same effect achieved by the author on page.
Joan Driscoll Lynch also discusses, in his essay included in The Literature/Film Reader: Issues of Adaptationfrom 2007, how “setting and decor are used to reflect the characters’ psychological fixations” (264). Lynch relies on Thomas Elsaesser’s ideas from the “Tales of Sound and Fury”from 1987, where he contemplates the influence of cinematic techniques in movies of melodramatic styles: “elements such as montage,lighting, framing, close-ups, oblique angles, visual rhythm, blocking, decor, and style of acting become functional and integral elements in the construction of meaning”(Elsaesser qtd. in Lynch, 50).
The setting is the place where filmed action occurs and may be the subject of the scene, blank or even out of focus. Either way, it has a certain effect on how the viewers receive it. From the opening sequence in Joe Wright’s Atonement it can be noticed that the setting is not imaginary but true to life. The doll house is the prop that firstly appears during the opening shot. The frame is tight and loosens by zooming out. The emphasis on the house, which is actually a replica of the real Tallis house, may portray the power that Briony has over the household and will achieve over it occupants. Further props are the toy animals and the way in which they are poistioned illustrate, just as in the novel, Briony’s obsessive need of control and overall knowledge. In this way, the setting is expressionistic, revealing the character and its temperament. The wealth of the upper class family and the nostalgia of that era is illustrated by the camera following Briony around the big, luxurious places of the house and the beautiful, green landings in the garden. The ending sequence requires a totally different type of setting: there are 15 television screens where 76 year old Briony appears. The purpose of such simple surrounding has the effect of portraying the modern setting.
In terms of the functionality of the setting, it can indicate place and time or it can expressive, adding elements of symbolism to the screen. For example, the setting in the opening sequence contains the words”England 1935” written on screen, which have the role to set the place and time. In the same time, what is expressive of the theme of story telling and writing itself, is the film’s title itself, Atonement¸ appearing in the style of typing. The mirror, a prop which appears in the ending sequence and in which Briony looks before confiding the truth in the interview, sends to the feelings of the elder Briony and through the act of reflection, to the theme of regret of past events. The juxtaposition achieved by Briony looking throguh the glass window where a picture of Saint Matilda stands is also expressive of guilt and false accusation, since Saint Matilda is a symbol for the unguilty, falsely accused people (See Fig.16).
The subjects in a film are the characters and the actors playing them. While in the book characterization can occur directly, by description from the narrator, or indirectly, by their actions and speech representations, in the film there are other, various techniques to illustrate their features. The primary means would be by their action and appearance which refers to clothes, gestures, postures, physical characteristics, hairstyles, make-up and costumes of the actors. Sometimes these features of the actors also place them in a certain time or space or even hierarchical status. For instance, Briony’s physical appearance tells the viewers a lot and helps at composing the entire narrative. Her short, blonde hair, the bob hairstyle, her impressive blue eyes are kept the same at 13 years old and at 76. Although it does not seem realistic enough, this tactic helps in the localization of the same character in more periods of time. The costume Robbie wears in the cafeteria scene lets the viewers know he is going to enrole in the army, as well as Cecilia’s nurse costume. The way Danny Hardman and the other servants are dressed in the opening sequence is also an indicator of their social status while Leon is clearly dressed to emphasize on his status as a rich man. Lola is sexualized by wearing the cleavage dress, to send to the fact although she is 15 years old, her sexual relationship with Paul is possible. Keira Knightleys’s emerald green dress is also not randomly chosen, since Jacqueline Durran, the one who designed the costumes, also stated that she chose the color because it symbolizes temptation, and this is feature of the character that it was meant to focus on, regarding Robbie’s relationship to Cecilia. The costume also reflects the time period as seen in the slim fit, low back and long train. These were all characteristics commonly seen in dresses during this period. Mau-Reen Callahan, in an article in the NY Post, thinks of the Cecilia’s dress as illustrating “the way a young girl, who is not yet as sophisticated and worldly as she wishes to be, would want to look in 1939 as well as in 2007”. Briony’s conservative dress, on the contrary, seems to make her blend into the background in the opening scenes and creates the basis for the shock that a girl who does not stand out manages to create such chaos around her.
There are two types of characters inside the narrative thread. Examples of round characters would be Briony, who ages and develops during the film’s progression, Robbie who becomes, from a literature passionate reader and aspiring medical student, a convict in jail and then a soldier in the Second World War and Cecilia also becoming a nurse and moving from the Tallis house to the apartment of the temperamental landlady. Lola and Leon can also be considered round characters, since they develop in a married couple. Flat characters would be the servants of Betty Tallis who only appear in the sequences involving the house.
In terms of cast and the real actors walking inside the shoes of ficitonal characters in the film, there are various types of actors to identify based on their biography. There are cast-with-type and cast-against-type actors. While Keira Knightley tends to choose the role of wealthy women in one certain period in time and Joe McAvoy seems to love playing heroes in films containing modern and medieval war scenes and can be, therefore considered actors with type in this movie. Examples of actors who seem to be cast against type could be Juno Temple, the actress playing Lola, who appeared mostly in SF or Fatansy films such as Mr. Nobody(2009) or Maleficient (2014) and Benedict Cumberbatch, playing Paul Marshall in Atonement, who is most known for more recent SF films such as Star Trek (2013) and Doctor Strange (2014). Yet, his role in Dunkirk (2004) might signal his past passion for movies illustrating instances of the Second World War. In terms of process and performance of the actors, several interviews reveals the way in which the actor, the script, the castig and the scriptwriter along with the director relate to each other in order to create masterpieces. The adaptation theories on how the budget or the time limit influence the process of adapting literature to film is also relevant.
The uses of the filming space also reveal the writer and director’s intention in order to convey some certain ideas or perspectives. Therefore, the way the subjects appear on screen is important to be identified. They can be grouped within the frame or spread apart. Major characters may appear in the center and the minor ones off to a side. The way they are positioned reflects the relationships to each other. The scene where Briony and her cousins from the North: Lola and the twins, somehow portrays Briony as the major character since the three cousins are filmed only in group while Briony is always filmed alone. The library scene and the position of Cecilia and Robbie in the moment when Briony sees them is also of great importance. Cecilia stays in form of a crucifix and it seems as if the message conveyed is that Cecilia was crucified by Robbie from Briony’s perspective, since the viewers see the images from her point of view (See Fig. 19). The posture of the subjects is, thus, important. Briony’s posture at the desk typing is also a marker of her writing passion. Even empty spaces left in the setting also mean something and there can also be foreground or background focus. In the ending sequence from Atonement, for instance, when Briony begins to talk for the interview, the backgroung turns to black and the focus is on her face, in order to let nothing else distract the viewers from what the old lady has to say. The same devices are kept for the interview in the library while accusing Robbie (See Fig. 21a and b).
4. Camera work, color, lighting
Camera work is extremly important in altering some of the greatest literary techniques on screen. PoV shots allow viewers to find out from whose perspective they are watching the events. Extreme close ups on Briony’s eyes, for instance, achieve the effect of subjective experience of the world presented in the film (See Fig. 20). Voice over while filming a character stand for the illustration of the character’s thoughts, just as in the stream of consciousness technique. In the scene where Robbie is taken to jail, the extreme close-up on Briony’s frightened eyes create the sense that she is aware of what she has done and feels guilty.The use of a medium shot allows the juxtaposition between Briony and Saint Matila, a symmetrical setting, where Briony is looking through the glass window.Long shots or short shots may be a matter of practical or time economical issues but they may also strenghten in viewers’ minds the sense of “being there”, on set, with the characters. One example of the most touching and thrilling picture of the soldiers’ condition is the scene from the beach at the Dunkirk retreat, 5 minutes long, following Robbie and his colleagues through elements self-refferential of the horrors of war.
Color is also an important factor. The warm colors and blurry effect of the images illustrate on screen what McEwan describes on page a “heat wave” (See Fig.18). Cecilia’s emerald green dress may express temptation. And the color red spread around from the police car in the night Robbie was arrested indicates the danger and destruction of Robbie’s succesful future. It may also portray the blood that is going to spread in the following war in which he will be taking part. Lighting indicates a warm, sunny day in Britain and the light coming out the window from Briony’s room in the opening sequence, for instance, is very bright and clearly natural, in contrast to the artificial light used in the studio where Briony, in the ending sequence, offers the interview. Lighting is also important in the library scene where a straw of light emphasizes the unclosed door and how Briony is about to look through the door and see the thrilling sex scene. The use of shadows is also important. The way the side lighting creates shadows exactly on 13 years old Briony’s face in the library interview somehow implies the idea of lying and delusion.
The editors have the responsability of choosing shots, scenes and sequences and putting them together in different ways, to convey certain meanings and feelings to the audience, just as in puttin blocks together to build a house. As far as the transitions are concerned, Atonement is generally characterized by slow cutting in the scenes before the false accusation and before the war, while fast cutting is involved in the tensionate moments such as Briony looking through the window at the two figures by a fountain where there is a lot of information given to herself as well as to the viewers. Shifting the rhythm of editing can change the viewer’s emotional response. There are also straight cuts and one great examples could be the one after Grace’s intervention when Robbie is being taken away by the police. The movie cuts directly to Robbie during the war, a moment criticised by many. What Wright did was just faithfully following McEwan technique of shifting from part one to part two of the book, where glimpses of war are directly described from Robbie’s perspective. The atmosphere changes very abruptly, the lighting is different, in terms of color there are darker, brown and green shades, which seem to send the image of the soldier’s camouflage costumes implied in the viewers’ mind as a general cromatic experience of the war and the army life. Continuity editing can be seen in the scenes following Briony around the house or on the beach at the Dunkirk retreat. The 180 system, the reverse shot, the cutting on action and the eyeline match are elements that can be discussed while analysing this type of editing.
There is also parallel-edtiting or cross cutting given the fact that Atonement shifts back and forth between two plot lines. For example, Robbie contemplating on the moments he spent with Cecilia in the cafeteria or when she gets into the bus are conveyed by means of cross cutting into shots of him sleeping in an old house during the war.
While dialogue is dominant and directly conveys the representation of speech and relationship between characters, music and sound effects are aspects of a film that can help define a location or support and intensify atmospheres or tones of the narratives. Dialogue can be single, between a limited number of characters or ovelapping in busy, chaotic atmophere where the audience cannot understand all the words from all the background conversations, as in the cafeteria scene where Robbie and Cecilia meet for a few moments before he enroles in the army. Several other people around them and their noisy conversations are being presented by fast cut shots and serve to illustrate the mood of 1940’s atmosphere in Britan, before the war had begun. Sound effect are usually part of the editing process and are added after the final cut. They sometimes tend to be unnoticed because they are played at a lower volume as the dialogue. Yet, no one can avoid hearing the sound of the typewriter at various moments in Atonement¸ which leads to the theme of the writing process and story telling. Music’s function of inducing certain emotions into the audience and even arousing audience’s interest in the movie has great influence in the succes of Joe Wright 2007 masterpiece. The music’s tempo is also important in creating emotive effects for the character. For example, the music going louder and faster implies Briony’s urgency to show her mother the play she has written. Also, in another sequence, after Cecilia and Robbie’s conflict on the broken vase the tensionate music stops with Cecilia’s pinching of a string from an instrument after which the pace becomes slower and the viewers’ get the sense of relaxation. Silence can create a distrubing mood too. Crescendo of the music is a marker of conflicts between the characters.
7. The reception of the film
Julie Ellam aknowledges the fact that with the great popularity of the book, its adaptation came and made it one of “the most high profile of his books to be adapted” (67). Since the premiere at the Venice Films Festival in 2007, the reception of the critics seems to have been mixed. Most of the negative criticism comes because of the fact that, the writer and director, having such respect for McEwan’s work, actually ruined the film’s pace and purpose. For instance, James Christopher for The Times and Scott for The New York Times both agree that steering away from the novel at some points would have been better given the abrupt shift from the 1930s in Tallis house to the war scenes as a “melodramatic turn” which makes the movie look “disjointed” (Ellam 69). Cosmo Landesman also comments upon the movie, arguing that it offers two glimpses of the world in terms of style : “the taste and nostalgia of the 1930s and the 1940s Hollywood melodrama” while attaching certain postmodernist themes to it (Landesman qtd. in Ellam, 69). He discusses the Dunkirk scenes, kept as in the book, where the traditional “heroic exodus” becomes the “nightmarish vision of horses being shot and men going crazy” (Landesman qtd. in Ellam, 69). Yet, after Robbie is portrayed as a hero during the war, there is no comfort for the viewers in realizing his death in the horrific episode. The film is based on the prevailing theme in the book where the unreliabilty of the 13 year old girl as well as of British history is concerned. Thus, viewers with previous knowledge of works of art dealing with “critique of deconstruction” might get a better sense of what is going on and might receive some of the scenes with more understanding (Ellam 70).
The film is also criticised by Mihnea Columbeanu, in his online article Pe cale de consecin?? ?i atât… – Atonement. He claims that the sequences from 1935 are extermly expressive and well-thought while, after Robbie’s arrest, the narrative thread tends to be too abruptly cut and loses its structual form. The war-time sequences, he states, are too slowly paced and after the Dunkirk scene, the film is again suddenly shifting to the older Briony, letting the viewers a bit confused. He thinks that the element of causality is lost after these two parts. For Columbeanu, this avoidance of the structural and dramaturgical rules seems to create an exaggerated depiction of real life. The viewers are expected to understand for themselves that Briony has grown up and realised that what she did ruined the two lover’s life. Therefore, while other critics see this unusual technique of implying real life, unspoken social rules in the film as a remarakable one, others criticise it as causing the loss of comprehension and structural coherence.
A more positive view to the film comes from Philip French, recounting the elements that the film brings to the book: “apart from excellent performances, fine images and a powerful period atmosphere” in his article for the online newspaper Observer, where he also praises the “immense narrative verve” that the film visualizes in the first part according to the book (French 18).
The Second World War: Representation of British History
in Novel and Film
The portrayal of history has been of great concern to writers and movie makers of all times and also of great contribution to the establishment of new and exciting techniques and writing styles, as well as to the creation of great, impressive films. This chapter will start with an introduction of current fiction dealing with history and some periods of time with great changes and intense tension on political and social backgrounds. Discussions on other contemporary novels such as Graham Swift’s Waterland, Nigel William’s Star Turn and McEwan’s The innocent will be useful in shaping the analysis of the portrayal of war in Atonement,having in mind the concepts of “secrecy”, defined by Vicotria Stewart, “historical metaficional” writing and the “(un)realiability” of the narrator, discussed by Linda Hutcheon and Calder and Noakes’ “civilian and public memories of the war”. The following step will be an analysis of how war film shifted their ways of exposing wartime expreiences from propaganda films during the war to anti-war contemporary films, based on Paris’, Chapman’s and Stuart Bender’s theories who bring into discussion other miths and real memoirs of the war which had an impact on the British masses such as the ambiguous Dunkirk retreat or the following “the Blitz”. After having identified certain patterns on wirting war novels and directing war films during different periods, a close textual reading and stylistics of McEwan’s and Joe Wright’s Atonement will be conveyed, focusing straight on elements that foreshadow the war, that describe the hard phyisical and psyhcological conditions of the people and place directly or indirectly affected by war and the linguistic elements that strenghten the rhetoric of difference in wartime.
1. Contemporary War Novels
Elias, in his book SublimeDesire: History and Post-1960s Fiction,interrestingly notes that “what is kept concealed at one point in time may be spoken of freely at another” (117). Victoria Stewart, in her book “Second World War in Contemporary British Fiction” also discusses the theme of secrecy in post war fiction portraying events of the past, focusing not only on what is included but also on what is neglected. She claims that contemporary fictional representations focus on the tension between what the reader is expected to know about the Second World War and what the writer actually constructs in the narrative, therefore giving the reader the chance to position himself as “knowing or not knowing more than the protagonist” or the narrator (Stewart 16). Stewart examines the issue of reliability and the doubts that the readers of postmodern works on the great war have. Thus, in exploring pre-war years as well as particular scenes from the war, “what is at stake is how an individual’s memories can be related to, or are excluded from, … the narrative of the Second World War” (Stewart 14). What is important in post-war contemporary British fiction is not neccesarily “who knows what” but “who knows what about the past”, as Stewart also claims in her book.Peter Middleton and Tim Woods note in their work Literatures of Memory:History, Time and Space in Postwar Writing that more contemporary fictions involving the past have “a different emphasis, being concerned with the relation of the past to the present, where the past is and how it persists in our lives, and how it can be experienced or resisted” (22). Mark Connelly, in his work We Can Take It,also argues that there are various types of popular cultural representations of the Second World War. He believes that the media has an important role in both constructing and continually presenting the modern, twentieth centrury, representations of the conduct of war, using the “main elements skechted during the war itself” (Conelly 227).Angus Calder’s study “The People’s War”proposes another way of looking at representations of history, suggested by the actual title of his work. The examination of “civilian experience” is brought to discussion. The idea is that the focus in narrating traumatic war experiences such as bombings is no more on the “diplomatic or political manoeuvring or military tactics in war time” but on the public’s reactions that are being collected in the “public memories of the war”, as Lucy Noakes explains in her article calledMaking Histories:Experiencing the Blitz in London’s Museums in the 1990s(90). Experience thus seems to be another extermely significant factor in putting British history and its implication with war on page.
Linda Hutcheon in A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory Fictionwritten in 1980 considers the concept of “historiographic metafiction” as being involved in the process of writing about history, stating that “both history and fiction are discourses” (41). The concept relates to the one concerning the reliability of the narrator or character, as Victoria Stewart also discusses. Hutcheon explains that the manner of narrating in this historiographic metafictional style is by including “narrators who are not confident of their abilty to know past with any certainty” and an atmosphere where a blurred line between fiction and history is installed and history itself can have the status of text, beside fiction (122).
Some novels that can be discussed on the basis of the theoretical background revealed above are, in chronollogical order based on their publishing dates: Graham Swift’s Waterlandfrom 1983, Nigel Williams’Star Turn from 1985 and Ian McEwan’s The Innocent from 1990 as well as his more recent Atonement from 2001 that will be discussed further on the basis of close textual readings and stylistics and glimpes of the Second World War.
Graham Swift questions the problematic portrayal and perpetuating of past events both in fiction and in historiography by constructing Tom Crick, the protagonist, as a history teacher who has the tendecy of deconstructing aspects of narration of both his life to himself and real history to his students. He is also concerned with the issue of wether people know things about the past because of the images we have of it in the present or the present in actually constucted from the past, a problem that Conelly also foregrounds in terms of war with the idea that we are familiar with the war because of the sketches from the past in war time. While Swift is more focused on the historiographic metaficiton style and other issues concerning the past and its chronology, Nigel Williams, by having Amos Barking, the protagonist, write a memoir of his childhood, creates a narrative where bits of past, traumatic events involving the friendship with a Jewish child and the bombing of Dresden and the present are interwined. Amos becomes a fabulist in trying to relate the horrific aftermath of the bombing in a more optimistic, apealling way to the readers: “Well, go on, Amos. Use your talents. Explain last night away to the GBP Great British Public. Tell them it’s all right to murder thousands of civilians” (Williams 311). Although such brutal events at some point exceed Amos’ creative powers, the trend in post modern British war fiction can be seen with Williams’ choice of constructing an unrealiable first person narrator, who helps to identify the status of history, as well as the one of fiction, as texts.
Ian McEwan also chooses a writer as one of the most often focalized character in his third person narrative from 2001 Atonement:Briony Tallis. In a narrower temporal scope, the novel is also concerned with pre-war years and flashbacks from a coda set in 1999 to one of the most impressive and meticulous description of the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk (Stewart 15). The scene on the beach seems to be exteremly realist and attemps to mythologise the event. Yet, what is the most interesting, is that at one point everyting is turned upside down by the revelation that it was all some a part of “pitiles drafts”. The reliability of the narrator is therefore put, as with Amos, to question, since the reader finds the truth out in the end from a much older Briony, who also suffers from a disease which causes her to lose her memory. The fact that fact that the description of some bits of war war part of Briony’s last novel is discussed by some critics as not being able to undermine the illusion of realism that the reader gets first time reading the Dunkirk scene without knowing the secret from the end. The metaficitonal moment included by McEwan in the fact that most of the story was written by the protagonist is her wish-fullfilment fantasy is clearly a trend of portraying history in postmodern war fiction. A resemblance with Williams’s protagonist can be discovered in Briony’s will to give a more enthusiastic and positive attitudie to the tragic story affected by the Second World War just as Amos did. In terms of secrecy, the 2001 novel contains a “secret” left intentionally neglected in order to help the “Great British Public”, and not only, assimilate a softer version of the war.
The discussion can be further expanded on hierarchies of secrecy based on another, older novel by Ian McEwan.The Innocent¸ set in Berlin, focuses on the aftermath of the Second World War and involved aspects of spy fiction, with its implications of information, knowledge, intelligence operations and, last but not least, secrecy. In order to protect other secrets such as the affair with a German woman or her husband’s murder, Leonard Marham invents a hierarchial structure of secrecy, managing to manipulate the American officer (Stewart 12).
2. Contemporary War Films
Although it has ended a long time ago, the Second World War is still a subject of great interest for scholars, students, professors and the public everywhere around the world. What happened between 1939 and 1945 has shaped the world and interests of the British public and also influenced the way media represented and perpetuated the images of war along the time. The theme of war and certain scenes or battles from the Second World War are tackled and reinterpreted nowadays in contemporary British fiction and films. In all kinds of media, such as television, in comedies or documentaries, the war is always with us.
Michael Paris discusses the reinterpretation of the war by the media, in the introduction of his book Repicturing the Second World War. Representations in Film and Television:
“increasing distance from the war, the opening of once-closed archives, and ` revisionist scholarship have, however, ensured that since the late 1980s the memory of the war has begun to be re-interpreted, re-shaped in a variety of subtle ways, and because we live in a highly visual age, the manner in which film and television have re-pictured the war is particularly influential. Indeed, it might well be argued that the popularmemory of the Second World War has always been shaped more by the moving image than by any other form of
Paris argues that the “moving image” has a greater impact in helping the public visualize certain aspects of the war and gives the controllers of media more opportunities for the transmission of feelings, moods or ideas to the viewers.
Anniversary celebrations of the Second World War makes it impossible for the movie makers to forget about it. The impressive British myths related to the war such as “The Blitz” or the exagerrated celebration of the Dunkirk retreat are interesting and creative themes to expand, with great potential in being appealing to the British patriotic public. Robert Murphy, in his work “British Cinema and the Second World War”discusses this exaggeration of Britain’s contribution to defeating the Nazis from a social point of view,claiming that this tendecy represented, during war time, a “spontaneously generated way of coping with a situation where victory, or even survival, appeared unlikely, rather than a propaganda line imposed from above on a gullible populace” (4).Paris notes that “the fiftieth anniversary celebrations that began in 1989 witnessed a renewed public interest in dramatic representations of the war in both film and television” (9).
Although criticised for using the camps as part of the mise-en-scene and creating a positive, “good” Nazi with his protagonist being concerned both with the victims and their torturers, Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winner Schindler’s List is a movie that speaks to a large public and transports bits of the Second World War, enganing many curious viewers in historical investigation, since modern movies combining cinematic and theatrical techniques convey the effect of realism to the viewers.Movies such as U 571 and Pearl Harbour only became known for their “clumsy inacurracies” (Paris 9).
James Chapman, in his book Past and Present: National Identity and the British Historical Filmpublished in 2005, discusses the importance of real happenings involving Britan in the Second World War for the construction of various war films.
Dunkirk, for instance, is seen as “symbolic of the national character”, the moment when “an estimated 338,000 British and French soldiers were saved by the combined effort of the small boats and the Royal Navy” (Scott). Chapman relies on other critics in this opinion:
“Nothing, I feel, could be more English than this Battle of Dunkirk, both in its beginning and its end, its folly and its grandeur. . . What began as a miserable blunder, a catalogue of misfortunes and miscalculations, ended as an epic of gallantry. We have a queer habit – and you can see it running through our history– of conjuring up such transformations. Out of a black gulf of humilation and despair, rises a sun of blazing glory”
(Priestley qtd. in Chapman,161-162)
Kelly Scott wonders “Why Dunkirk is a source of inspiration for Brits — and filmmakers” in his article bearing the title of his question and brings therefore into discussion the impact that Dunkirk still has nowadays in Great Britan, although it”marked a stinging defeat and set the stage for the Blitz of London over the next year” in those times. Since Britain refused to quit, to this day, the “Dunkirk Spirit” is still shining and is “evoked as shorthand for the English people standing firm and persevering under the worst conditions”.
There are several movies in modern days such as 2016Their Finest, based on Lissa Evans’ novel, that is set in 1940’s Britain during the Blitz and following the story of a screenwriter trying make a movie that will lift the country’s morals and expectations. Their Finest contains a very realistic description of the horrors from the Dunkirk Evacuation but what is the most interesting is that it brings an authentic female empowerment spirit. Joe Wright’s film Atonement, also based on a novel that is focused on a tragic love story affected by lies and the war itself,is also involved at one point with portraying the Dunkirk scene through an incredible 5 minute single take tracking shot that makes it hard to forget. Leslie Norman’s 1958 war film Dunkirk has also chronicled the events while there is also more recent movie of the same name,from 2017, directed by Christopher Nolan, which seems to have less dialogue and a non-linear structure.
Chapman discusses, in his book War and Film, the range of film styles that can be used when tackling the theme of war. He concludes that, besides the “claustrophobic” realism, there are more elements that should be taken intro consideration when studying war films:heroics, propaganda, austerity, spectacle, psychological intensity, theatrical stylization (Chapman 250).
The possibilities of modern day techonolgy offer an advantage in creating great war films nowadays:
“the conduct of modern technological warfare has become dependent upon cinematic techniques – from aerial balloon photography to infra-red satellite imaging – to the extent that it reached a stage ‘where the representation of events outstripped the presentation of facts”
(Paul Virilio qtd. in Chapman 10)
Chapman’s 2008 book War and Filmproposes an exploration of the types of war films as represented by their ideological and moral orientation instead of only their narrative contexts. Thus, he discusses propaganda war films, combat films and anti-war films who are not exactly the opposite of war films, they only present the war and its attrocities in a negative, pesimistic way. Chapman also encourages a discussion of war as a a more complex subject that contains particular conflicts and not one of “wars” as a specific historical event. The struggle of trying to capture the most realistic perspective of war while in the same time aestheticizing it through form and style and artifice is also an issue that Chapman discusses in what the term”virtual war” is concerned (11-13). There are three genres that describe three modes of representing war: spectacle, tragedy and adventure.
Stuart Bender, in his book analysing Second World War combat genre, argues that:
“academic film studies’ preference is to analyze the narratives and ideological position of these films at the expense of the genre’s stylistic system … contemporary approaches to performance and mise-en-scene suggest that the genre’s approach to realism has evolved to favor a significant increase in detail and increased audio-visual details enable the viewer’s imagination to more vividly render the scenario presented by the fiction”
(1,8 emphasis mine)
Bender discusses above some cinema techniques that have a great visual impact on the audience’s interpretation of the film. Editing out an actor’s blinking, certain camera movement that frames corpses in a particular way, shaky hand-held camera work and lighting which directs viewer’s attention to a certain person or action are some of the techniques that help to portray the experience of war. The “mise-en-scene” and the “soundtrack design of contemporary war films exhibit much more specific details than earlier ones” (Bender 226).”Reported realism”, the term coined by Bender reffers to the moment when correlation to the real world is done although the representations of war in the film are not at all accurate.
David Parkinson also discusess the theme of secrecy and realism and the propaganda issue in his online article concerned with 10 great films set in Britain during the Second World War, stating that in wartime film-makers avoided overtly conveying, even in non-documentray film, evacuations, guns, shooting, munitions or any other disturbing images. It seems as if after the war was over, filmmakers and writers directly or indirectly affected by war tried to make sense of it all, establishing narratives as realistic as they could so that the audience and other critics may agree on. A shared achievement can be seen in understanding such moments as Dunkirk or The Blitz that will remain forever imprinted in British history.
3. Representation of WWII in Ian McEwan’s Atonement
McEwan’s fascination with war in some of his works might be the effect of the fact that, although he has not witnessed the horrific experiences in war time, as a soldier’s son, he spent a lot of time of his childhood in military outposts and he was indirectly affected by its circumstances. His mother was a war widow and his father was to become a major when he joined the army. In an interview with Kate Kellaway, he refers to how he ‘grew up with the ”detritus of war” around him’. For instance, “his father told him of his involvement in it and with the fact that his babysitters were corporals” and this fact is extremely important to be analysed in Atonement given that “his father used to tell him about what happened to him in the Dunkirk retreat” (Ellam 2). McEwan states, in an online article for The Guardian, that when he began writing Atonement¸ “his father’s stories, with automatic ease, dictated the structure”. He also discusses the “weighty obligation to strict accuracy” conveyed by the fact that in the process of writing such metaficitional novels, the border between the real, historical records and created, imaginative fantasy is crossed. In what writing about the wartime is concerned, it seems as if McEwan feels the obligation not only to write about the historical events as realistic as possible, but also to create the illustration of war as a nightmare, as a form of respect for the lost generation and of grief for the needless waste of lives. The post-war view on the Second World War, for instance, must be contoured as unbearable. McEwan also discusses about the sources that a novelist need to have in order to report historical events into fiction, claiming that memoirs or eyewitness accounts should be the pillars of their wartimes scenes. Just as McEwan is inspired from the Dunkirk’s histories on the shooting of the horses, so is, intradiegetically, Briony. She also relys on other people’s accounts and on sources from the Imperial War Museum.
In terms of stylistics, the technique used by McEwan, i.e. metafiction, allows for a consideration of how and what should be written about the war. Cyril Connolly’s long, detailed letter to Briony concerning her works reveals some attitudes on writing in and afer the Second World War:
You apologize, in passing, for not writing about the war. We will be sending you a copy of our most recent issue, with a relevant editorial. As you will see, we do not believe that artists have an obligation to strike up attitudes to the war. Indeed, they are wise and right to ignore it and devote themselves to other subjects. Since artists are politically impotent, they must use this time to develop at deeper emotional levels. Your work, your war work, is to cultivate your talent, and go in the direction it demands. Warfare, as we remarked, is the enemy of creative activity.
Cyril Connolly, editor of Horizon Literary Journal in London at the time, fictionalized in the novel, sends the rejection letter to Briony and explains that war does not have any positive impact on a writer’s creation process and describing it in a novel seems to be useless and even damaging. Yet, ironically, Briony Tallis, the writer, creates a masterpiece by actually documenting herself about the experiences of war for a better and more realistic portrayal of it when focalizing Robbie in the narrative. Although war is indeed fictionalized in the “fake” ending in order to be more bearable for the readers, the ending reveals the truth and so, there is focus on the warfare and its consequences.
3.1. Foreshadowing the war
The first part contains, at the symbolic level, several elements revealing the upcoming event. The heat wave that hits the surrounding environment around Tallis home in the first part is not chosen only for aesthetic purposes. It can also be discussed as describing the tense situation before the implication of Great Britan in the Second World War, as Leon also claims “I love England in a heat wave. It’s a different country. All the rules change” (McEwan 128). Another glimpse of the forthcoming war in the 1935 scenes can be seen when the reason why Lola and her two twin brothers were staying at the Tallis’ home: “Lola, who was fifteen, and the nine-year-old twins, Jackson and Pierrot, were refugees from a bitter domestic civil war” (McEwan 8). Cracks are present in some parts of the book and they reveal fractured, endangered situations.Although the “floorboard cracks” from Briony’s room might be mistaken as a way of describing old furniture, there is actually deeper meaning, since they may refer to the unstable ground on which Briony, as well as the other characters, are staying. The vase can be seen as “a symbol of the fragility of peace in Europe after WWI” and the “‘three invisible meandering lines’ are a metaphor of the conflicts silently breeding in Europe (and particularly in Germany) during the thirties that will finally lead to war and destruction” (Cavalie 132).
Hints on the forthcoming Second World War are also added in a discussion on how the media, especially newspapers work:
“that the business of newspapers was momentous: earthquakes and train crashes, what the government and nations did from day to day, and whether more money should be spent on guns in case Hitler attacked England. They were awed, but not completely surprised, that their own disaster should rank with these godly affairs. This had the ring of confirming truth.”
The “earthquakes” are the sign of the expected ground-breaking events caused by the emergence of the war. The problem of money being spent on guns is discussed in the newspapers too.
Christian Gutleben, in his essay A Cracked Construction: Postmodernist Fragmentation and Fusion in McEwan’s Atonementdiscusses the importance of the “cracks” in the novel and how the fragmentation that leads to the separation of the novel in parts and sub-parts is paradoxically creating a unifying link between the various themes and narrative threads of the plot. Therefore, by “paradigmatic use of metafiction and inserted specular fragments”, “McEwan’s novel forms a strongly unified architectural whole, an aesthetic unity made up of plurality” (Gutleben 1). Besides the floorboard cracks, the destruction of the vase is another symbolic reference to the dislocation of culture, history and well-being of the people caused by the Second World War. Representing Cecilia’s “dead uncle, her father’s dear brother, the wasteful war, the treacherous crossing of the river, the preciousness beyond money, the heroism and goodness, all the years backed up behind the history … reaching back to the genius of Höroldt” (McEwan 29), the vase, its destruction and the conflict between Cecilia and Robbie in the scene involving it, mirror the ongoing conflict on the global scene.
In terms of characters, Paul Marshall is one of the characters that is connected to war, seeing soldiers as consumers while pursuing his business goals of selling his chocolate bars in the war time:
“there loomed the greater challenge yet of Army Amo, the khaki bar with the
Pass the Amo! slogan; the concept rested on an assumption that spending on the Armed Forces must go on increasing if Mr. Hitler did not pipe down; there was even a chance that the bar could become part of the standard-issue ration pack; in that case, if there were to be a general conscription, a further five factories would be needed; there were some on the board who were convinced there should and would be an accommodation with Germany and that Army Amo was a dead duck; one member was even accusing Marshall of being a warmonger.”
A “warmonger” is generally a combative person who encourages aggression towards other groups of people or other countries. By being called so, Paul Marshall is portrayed as one of the characters who insert the realities of the war from outside the house into the Tallises’ universe. The name of the chocolate bar, “good for any conditions”, is also suggestive of war (McEwan 61). “Amo” sounds just like “Ammo”, the bullets, while it is also part of the Latin words “Amo Amas Amat”, as Lola notices, fact that sends to the love, the feelings and emotions that the soldiers on the battlefield can only remember and imagine in connection with home (McEwan 61-62).
The Army Amo chocolate bar is found in the second part too, directly inside the war in a scene involving Robbie and Nettle: “as they were walking back across the field, Nettle joined them. He had a bottle of wine and an Amo bar which they passed around” (239). Jack Tallis is also working for the government in preparation for war.
The weather is also an important factor and the way in which the characters react to it is relevant of some messages that the author may have wanted to send. For example, The heat wave that hits the surrounding environment around Tallis home in the first part is not chosen only for aethetic purposes. It is chosen to create “a pre-war landscape” (Ellam 25). The climate outside is somehow symmetrical to the political climate of the current and following period of time. The extremly hot, somehow opressive weather foreshadows the tensionate and boiling period caused by the beginning of the Second World War in the scenes from the Tallis house that happen a few years before 1940s. Emily’s migraine is the effect of the weather and also a signal of the lives that are about to be lost:
“She thought of the vast heat that rose above the house and park, and lay across the Home Counties like smoke, suffocating the farms and towns, and she thought of the baking railway tracks that were bringing Leon and his friend, and the roasting black roofed carriage in which they would sit by an open window”
3.2. The rhetoric of difference : linguistic vulnerability
The rhetoric is concerned with capturing reader’s attention by use of language and various literary techniques and is thus of great importance in the discussion on the portrayal of war in McEwan’s Atonement.The way the characters describe or give certain names to the pawns involved in the World War reveals a certain tone that the author wishes to convey to the readers. Mona Baker, in her essayInterpreters and Translators in the War Zone claims that “the issue of difference becomes central to each society’s vision of the world and its relationship with others and specifically, the ‘other’, the enemy, has to be narrated as radically different from ourselves if the violence of war is to be justified” (198). The rhetoric of difference is, thus, critical in times of the war. PascaleSardin, in his essay “Heterolingualism and interpretation in Atonement: Traduttore, traditore?” discusses how “in Atonement, textual insertions of foreign and vernacular languages, but also of sociolects and idiolects function as signs of the novel’s preoccupation with the denaturalizing of language and with social critique notes that the rhetoric of difference is significant in illustrating certain aspects of the war and global conflicts” (11).
This manifestation of beliefs through the use of language can be seen, for instance, in the following fragments from McEwan’s Atonement:
“The major’s hand was on Turner’s shoulder. … “We’ve got Jerry trapped in the woods over there. He must be an advance party. But he’s well dug in with a couple of machine guns. We’re going to get in there and flush him out.”
“We’d get going on the job, then Jerry comes over and dumps his load. We drops back, starts all over in another field, then it’s Jerry again and we’re falling back again. Till we fell into the sea.”
The first fragment is from the second part of the book where the horrors of war are described through Robbie’s eyes. The character who reffers to the Germans as Jerrys is the major. The second fragment is from the third part of the book which is focalized on Briony’s experinces in the hospital when the injured soldiers and adjacent victims of the war needed to be taken care of. The Germans are being reffered to as “Jerry(s)” firstly by the major during war time and secondly by “an airman with shrapnel in his leg”, of whom Briony is taking care. The choice of the term “Jerry” may possibly come “from the shape of the German helmet, which was thought to resemble a jerry, a British slang word for ‘chamber pot'” (Sardin 4).
The French are also reffered to in different ways by the participants in the war:
“The wine was taking hold of Corporal Nettle. He began a rambling eulogy of what he called “Frog crumpet”—how plentiful, how available, how delicious. It was all fantasy. The brothers looked at Turner.”He says French women are the most beautiful in the world.”
“An exhausted voice murmured close to his ear, “Fuck. Where’s the RAF?”
Another said knowingly, “They’ll go for the Frogs.”
The combination of words “frog crumpet” with which Robbie illustrates the attractive French women appear as an idiom directly related to Ian McEwan’s fragment in Atonementon the Urban Dictionary website.
“Among the British troops the view was that the French had let them down. No will to fight for their own country. Irritated at being pushed aside, the tommies swore, and taunted their allies with shouts of ‘Maginot!’ For their part the poilus must have heard rumours of an evacuation. And here they were, being sent to cover the rear. ‘Cowards! To the boats! Go shit in your pants!’ Then they were gone, and the crowd closed in again under a cloud of diesel smoke and walked on.” (McEwan 234)
As it can be seen, the word “poilus” is written in italics in the novel to point out the fact that it is a French word. Adding to that, the French are characterised as “cowards”, construcing a negative, critical image of them as soldiers who lost the “will to fight for their own country”. As Sardin notes, the “racial slurring and sociolectal labelling” represents a way of exclusion and, in the end, constructs a critical illustration of the war itself (5).
Another element that emphasizes the attention on linguistics can also be noticed in McEwan’s novel when Briony finds out that “at the double” (235) had been used by British soldiers in WorldWar II instead of “on the double”, an order that only an American could give (359). This scene is symbolically related to historical veracity in terms of the place the story is set in.
Linguistic vulnerability can be discussed on the basis of misunderstanding in the multicultural and multilinguistic socialization between people directly or indrirectly involved in the war. The scene where Robbie tries to help a Belgian woman and her child is relevant:
“The woman answered but he did not understand her. … He realised then that she wasn’t speaking French. … She was speaking Flemish to him, soothing him, surely telling him that everything was going to be all right. … Turner didn’t know a single word of the language. It would have made no difference. She paid no attention to him. The boy was staring at him blankly over his mother’s shoulder.”
In the scene where the English soldiers, including Robbie, were seeking hospitality and food at one angry French woman’s house, one of her sons tries to explain her agressive reaction: “French, English, Belgian, German. She makes no difference. You’re all the same to her”(McEwan 200). Yet, the fact that Robbie could speak French served the war. Their interaction with the Bonnet brothers not only gave them the opportunity to eat something and have a safe place to sleep, but also offered them a friendly conversation “with final smiles of farewell” (McEwan 201).
Robbie is not the only character whose linguistic skills help to serve the war. Briony, as a nurse, also has the opportunity to help and keep company to a French soldier, severly wounded. This scene also allows her to daydream the “unavailabe future” with “Luc Cornet loving her in his eager way” (McEwan 311).
3.3. Arhitectural and psychological ruins
Part two contains depicitions of war time through Robbie’s eyes. He is witness to various visual horrific causalitites. Following Gutleberg’s analysis of the techniques and symbols that McEwan uses, the “mutilated bodies” are revealing the theme of fragmentation and not only in relation to the victims of the war, but also regarding the social relationships between the characters (2). The lovers, Robbie and Cecilia are torn apart while Briony is being disowned as a sister in Cecilia’s eyes. Briony is also keeping herself far from her family in her attempt at atonement. Yet, the first words of part two “there were horrors enough” (McEwan 191) and the inclusion of the “leg in the tree” (McEwan 192), reveal the cruel reality of the disfigured victims of war around Robbie and his two fellow soldiers on the battleflield. Anihilation is another element covered by Robbie’s impression on the “mother and child who had been vaporised” and his obsession to the “crater” where “a woman and her son had been” (McEwan 239). The anonymous victims, the fissures of war and the wholes they create in history are all horrorific motifs in Robbie Turner’s depiciton of war. The flashbacks to the drowning scene involving Briony, Robbie’s conversations with Cecilia, almost hearing her voice telling “Come back”, reveal his ways of coping with his hard situation and give a very realistic view on how a real soldier in his situation would act and think.
The choice of the beach as one of the most detailed scenes during the war in the novel can be discussed from sociological perspectives. It is seen in Mark Paterson’s “Consumption and Everyday Life”as a “liminal space” where “the carnivalesque” meets the limited, social orders of the society or, in this case, of fighting in a war. Thus, on the beach, the free spirit of the soldiers that just found out they were going home, their happiness, the liberation, their singing and dancing represent the the latter term in the moment when it meets the former, the things having to do with the war, their gruesome restraint: the tanks, the boats, the guns, the agonizing or dead horses being shot and the destroyed objects surrounding them (Paterson 105). As Robbie Tuner states while describing the atmosphere on the beach at Bray Dunes, “the social element was removed”, where “the reality was all too social” (McEwan 219). The sea or even death seems to be, in the end, the only form of liberation for him, his tramping rhythm in which he “walked/across/the land/until/he came/to the sea” coming to an end (McEwan 219).
4. Representation of WWII in Joe Wright’s Atonement
As Chrisopher Hampton notes in the introduction to the Atonement’s script, in the process of adapting McEwan’s novel, “the intention was always to remain as faithful to the spirit of the novel as possible” (4). Yet, after writing three-four drafts, his meeting with the director, Joe Wright, clarified the fact that, on screen, they had “to kick away the crutches: the explanatory voice-overs, the framing device, the linearity of narrative” , allowing the “actors’ thoughts … to be readable on their faces rather than audible on the sound track” (Hampton 4).
4.1. Foreshadowing the war
The way prewar time is adapted on screen contains a lot of signs concerning the war that is about to begin. The caption “ENGLAND, 1935” sets the time and place. The first signifier of war the viewers might notice is the way Briony’s animals are arranged: “her room is meticulously tidy, with model animals arranged with military precision” (Hampton 1). The heat wave is illustrated through “the beads of sweat BRIONY brushes from her forehead” and by the use of very warm colours and a blurred effect. The twins can be seen at one point “charging towards the door, pretending to fire guns at one another” and in the fountain scene “ROBBIE stretches out a hand and says something, as if issuing a command” (Hampton 8).
The preceeding sequence before the fountain scene portrayed in Atonement from Briony’s perspective contains “a wasp … buzzing irritatingly, trapped between two panes of the open sashwindow” (See Fig.1). Just before letting the wasp free, the interaction between Robbie and Cecilia on the terrace catches Briony’s attention. After Briony’s shoked expression and clear perception of what she had seen, misunderstandings that will contribute to Briony’s tragic decisions leading to other character’s death and unfulfilled love stories, “the wasp buzzes frantically” (Hampton 8). The wasp can be, therefore, a way of visually conveying the tensionate mood and a symbol for the other tense scenes.
The dialogue between Cecilia and Leon reveal the reason for Jack Tallis’s absence, connected to the upcoming war:
Is the Old Man staying in town?
Looks like it. There’s some sort of rush on at the Ministry.
The “sort of rush” represents the preparation for the Second World War. Paul Marshall is also concerned with this rush, according to his chances of profit, his current “main challenge being whether or not to launch the new Amobar, the Army Amo”, making reference to typical military orders: “You see, Pass the Amo!” (Hampton 16).
Another reference to the preparation for the war is included in Hampton’s script in the scene at the pool, when Paul mentions the information from his “realiable” source at the Minsitry of Defence concerning the chocolate bar being included in the “standard-issue ration pack … if Herr Hitler doesn’t pipe down” (16). The fact that he says he has to build “three more factories” if the German commander doesn’t back down, allows the audience to understand that the conflicts and the battles will be held at global level, millions of soldiers being involved. Although Cecilia does not seem to be interested in the discussion, she is portrayed as being conscious that “this isn’t very good”, foreshadowing the tragic events that she and her family will go through, all connected directly to the upcoming Second World War (Hampton 16).
One of the most relevant symbol that annouces the implication of war in Robbie’s life comes, ironically, exactly after Leon, Paul and Cecilia discuss about his plans for his future as a medical student:
INT. BATHROOM IN THE LODGE. DAY.
ROBBIE surfaces in his bath: he settles back, brooding, looking up at a skylight, a small pane of glass directly above him, a square of bright blue sky, through which flies an RAF plane.
The RAF plane flying right above Robbie (see Fig.2) and the fact that Robbie looks at it illustrated the future unfortunate implication of Robbie as a soldier in the Second World War. The bathroom scene as conveyed by means of these cinematic devices in the film has very dark and grey toned colours (00:17:30-00:17:55).
Another reference to the war can be noticed in a dialogue between Paul and one of the twins, Jackson, whose “Daddy says there isn’t going to be a war”. Paul reply is short and clear: “your Daddy is wrong” (Hampton 21).
The flashing lights of the police cars in front of the Tallises’ house that came to take the “white-faced”, “handcuffed” Robbie, convey meaning in terms of semiotics of film. The colour red dispersed from the lights is significant for the danger of war and the blood spread by the soldiers and Robbie himself (See Fig.3). The distrubing intervention of his mother, Grace, her shouting “Liars! Liars! Liars!” hitting with the umbrella secretly mark the actual point where Briony’s fiction begins (Hampton 44). That is why, from this point on, some changes occur in the light, colours, rythm, souns and many other meaning-making techniques of the film in order to mark the same feelings created by schema-refreshment on page by McEwan.
4.2. Linguistic elements
The setting is refreshed after Robbie’s imprisonment and some changes occur for some of the subjects. The caption “NORTHERN FRANCE, 1940” clearly sets the place and time, allowing the viewers to make sense of the fact that 5 years have passed and that the war has begun. Robbie is dressed in “a private’s uniform” and is portrayed as “a good deal thinner … pale and unshaven” (Hampton 44). Tommy Nettle and Frank Mace are two subjects introduced beside Robbie, the first one being skinny and malnourished and the second one, a “giant of a man, black, with a once-white bandage round his large head, holding a patch over one eye” (Hampton 44). All these props are there to signify the hard conditions and suffering of fighting in the war, under the constant pressure of avoiding “getting your head blown off” (Hampton 45). The absence of music or any other sound associates the silence the three soldiers try to make. The barn is dark and little can be seen around them (See Fig 4). Darkness makes the three Englishmen suspicious of the Frenchmen that could have had weapons and causes them to “release their safety catches”, releaved to the audience through its sound.
Tout au commencement de la retraite,
il y avait un attaque de Panzers et
j’ai été séparé de ma section.
(When the retreat started, Panzers
attacked and I was separated from my
Some events lost in the abrupt cut between 1935 and 1940 are presented by Robbie while speaking French to the two French men offering them food and wine. It is interesting that the film makers decided to use French in these scenes. It might be because of the tendency to make the war look and feel as real as possible. English is spoken between the corporals, with British slangs and idioms, too:
Come on, then. How come a toff like
you, talks French and everything, ends
up a private?
ROBBIE hesitates, then decides to be forthcoming.
Not eligible for officer training if
you join direct from prison.
You’re pulling my tit.
No, I’m not: they gave me a choice,
stay in prison or join the army.
Robbie gives the reason for embarking in the army to his two mates in an attempt to explain why he can speak a foreign language so good and have such good military skill and is yet not an officer, this way also letting the audience discover what has been lost in the time-gap.
The colorization is important in the scenes illustrating war time and the devastations caused by the war. The shots with Robbie on the battlefileds have a brown, green tendency, just the nostalgic, sad sepia effect seen in old photographs (See Fig. 5). Such a sign might arise the feelings one gets when looking at a military uniform for the First or the Second World War: violence, suffering, displacement, missing home, unfulfilled dreams, destroyed destinies and ruined places. The pace is also slower. Cutting back into time, the cafeteria scene where Robbie is in a private’s uniform before going to France and having to deal with the devastations and horrors of wartime on battlefield, it can be noticed that the colours are a little bit more bright and intense.
Robbie’s flashbacks also convey a portrayal of Britan during the Second World War. Joe Lyons Corner House in the Strand is very crowded, people are noisy and “two OLD LADIES are gossiping at a nearby table” (Hampton 49). The bus stop scene in fron of the Whitehall is also crowded, with many men wearing uniform and with props such as “sandbags piled high in shop entrances” (Hampton 50).
The photograph of the cottage is a symbol of liberation and fulfilling their love story. The sequence of the scene when Cecilia gives the photograph to Robbie followed by the scene in the barn at dawn with the damaged, “battered” photograph creates a great contrast of how the war slowly affects their shared dreams and plans.
The constant use of voiceover stands as a way of achieving the remarkable shift of point-of-view as well as the interaction between the two lovers by means of letters:
Come back. Come back to me.
Robbie’s voice conveys, at times, the content of his letters to Cecilia or just composing letters before writing them and sometimes even his reading of Cecilia’s words: “Come back”. What is the most important is that Robbie hears Cecilia’s voice and reproduces her words not only during the scene where Cecilia drops a letter in a postbox in England, but also while moving “cautiously through a mist-shrouded orchard” followed by his fellow privates. This signifies that during the war he is still keeping alive the hope that one day he wil come back to her.
4.3. Arhitectural and psychological ruins
One of the most horrific pictures portraying the devastations and the victims of the war comes after Neetle takes off the painful pair of boots, scene which conveys the hard conditions of the soldiers. Standing right in front of the bodies, without seeing them yet, Robbie’s face suddenly gets hit by a ray of sunshine as he raises his head to look at the sky.The silence is interrupted by a fading sound of twittering birds (See Fig.6). According to IMDB sources, it was a fortunate coincidence that the sun shined brighter right in that particular moment.Therefore, the moment when Robbie looks up and takes off his helmet, conveyed by warmer colours and lights, in comparison to the cold, blueish shades used in the following images with the girls create a great contrast. The organised arrangement of the thirty young girls’ corpses, as noted in the Shooting Script, is an image one can not simply forget (See Fig. 7a). The girls, “all around 13”, are “dressed in the neat black and white uniform of a convent school” (Hampton 52). This sequence is conveyed by a fading out camera movement followed by the close-up of Robbie’s face, with tears coming out of his eyes (See Fig. 7b) . The scene is then cut to convey a flashback of Robbie’s memories involving Briony. The feeling of nature and the gaze at the 13 year old girls might be factors that made Robbie think of the scene at the river-bank neat the Tallis house and, respectively, of old Briony trying to be rescued by him in order to share him her love. The way this scene fades out to reveal the real river-bank in France during the war is a way of generating contrastive approach to the elements and images part of his imagination or memory andwhat is happening in reality.
Moving planes accompanied by the realist sound of planes floating above the three shadows of the soldiers can be seen reflected in the river’s water beside which the soldiers are walking (See fig.8 ). The reflection of the plane is somehow suggestive of the plane flying above Robbie while taking a bath in the scene before his arrest and the emergence of war.
Robbie’s constant reveries talking to Cecilia in his mind are transmitted by means of voice-over. Yet, wake-up calls come from his fellow soldiers:
NETTLE’s insistent voice breaks into his reverie.
Let’s see Jerry come and have a go at
us in fucking Southend. Or, better
still, Trafalgar Square. No one speaks
the fucking lingo out here. You can’t
say “Pass the biscuit” or “Where’s me
hand grenade?” They just shrug.
Because they hate us too. I mean,
that’s the point. We fight in France
and the French fucking hate us. Make
me Home Secretary, I’ll sort this out
in a fucking minute. We got India and
Africa, right? Jerry can have France
and Belgium and whatever else they
want. Who’s fucking ever been to
Poland? It’s all about room, empire.
They want more empire. Give’em this
shithole, we keep ours, and it’s Bob’s
your uncle and Fanny’s your fucking
aunt. Think about it.
In terms of linguistic elements, the Germans are reffed to as Jerry(s) and the fact that the French are not speaking the “lingo” i.e. English, seems to intervene and affect their relation on socio-political background.
The screenwriter claims that one of the most troublesome section was “the Dunkirk section”, one which Joe Wright “brilliantly organized … into a single, spectacularly executed Steadicam shot” (Hampton 7). The impact of the war was not be illustrated trough “columns of refugees strafed by German Stukas” or “Panzers rolling northwards”. Turner, Neetle and Mace walking through “the phantasmagorical landscape of literal death and dreams and memories of many other kinds of death” was enough to create the horrific images described in the book from Robbie’s perspective (Hampton 7).
The Dunkirk scene is abundant of contrasting signs. The reveal of the wretched landscape comes after a short scene of Cecilia “sitting and looking out to sea toward France” (Hampton 55). A wide angle is used to illustrate the devstations caused by the war: “steelworks ringed with deep bomb craters, with destroyed vehicles” (Hampton 55). Then, after walking the last dune, the angle shot depicts the broken sails of a ship and then a man shouting loudly “Laddies, I’m coming home”, contrasting Robbie’s hopeless and tragic ending right at the point when he could have been getting home too. On the visual ground, there are a lot of things happening but by means of the remarkable, uninterrupted camera work filming the three soldiers while walking backwards in front of them gradually reveals all that was meant to signify something to the audience and lets them see enough of everything. The sound of the guns introducing the unforegttable scene also has its role in conveying the theme and the primordial signs on which the focus will be set. Robbie, before seeing the horrific images of hundred of soldiers walking in columns, claims that he “can smell the sea”, an olfactive imagery meant to strike a chord for most of the audiences and has some kind of ironic effect, since the smell of the sea is a sign associated with relaxation, escapism, something positive. Thus, the visual impact for the beach revealed afterwards is strenghtened by Robbie’s expectations before it through this remark on the smell.
Another contrast that needs to be taken intro consideration in this scene might be on the basis of Biblical references:
Fuck me, it’s like something out the Bible.
Mace’s and Nettle’s remarks on the way the beach looks contrast with the actions of “a chaplain and his clerk … throwing prayer books and bibles into a bonfire” before “the thin pages catch and float into the air like black snowflakes” (Hampton 56). Other Biblical reference can be seen later in the film, in the hallucation Robbie has with his mother washing his feet (See Fig.15).
Another contrast can be noticed in the presence of the Ferris wheel, surrounded by the devastated lanscape, in a blurry image, just as if one would have a halluciation.The meaning conveyed is of a “dead carnival”, two words that contrast each other. While the wheel in the background sends to carnival, fun, liberation, the smoke around it and the few soldiers inside it lead to the idea of war liberation, where happiness only stands in the fact that some of the soldiers will be back home.
While some men can be seen undressing to go swimming, others fight or wander around drunk and others even sing a hymn. “Elegy for Dunkirk”, the song composed by Dario Marianelli for the movie is the music silently played throughout the scene, while it combines with the song the group of soldiers sitting in the bandstand sing a part of the hymn called Dear Lord and Father of Mankind:
Drop Thy still dews of quietness,Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace, The beauty of Thy peace
Breathe through the heats of our desire, Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire,
O still, small voice of calm! O still, small voice of calm!
(John Greenleaf Whittier)
The lyrics of the hymn are part of the poem called The Brewing of Soma, written by John Greenleaf Whittier around 1872. The lines were adapted into hymn by Garret Horder in his 1884 Congregational Hymns, where he also changed some of the words(Bradley 105). The hymn, while once a mentonym for Christian’s beliefs, has been transformed, in the film, into one connected with the devastation of war and the hope that, with the will of God, some have the chance to go home alive after completing their duty as soldiers.
There is a type of diegetic play in the way the sound is included in this particular remarkable scene. The fact that only when the camera approaches the bandstand where the soldiers are looking towards the sea can the audience realize that the music, initially an extradiegetic element is part of the song the soldiers are actually singing, suggests a blending of the mise-en-scene with the real, viewers’ world and appeal to their direct or indirect experiences and memories of the war, since the scene depicts a historical one, part of the Second World War. The metafictional motifs can be seen applied in the diegetic play of including the soundtrack into the storyworld.
A contrastive effect is acquired by choosing these words since the “quietness”, the “calm” and the “peace” invoked in the hymn are not descriptive at all for the chaos and the destructions around the wounded and dirty soldiers singing. Yet, the calm music is meant to imply some kind of perspective for the viewers, making them feel compassion for the horses being shot and distracting them from the fact that the act of killing them was one of military strategy, since the animals were of no use to the army anymore and the Englishmen would not have wanted the healthy horses to be of use for the German soldiers later arriving on the beach. The shooting of the horses can also represent a way of stopping some of the extremly bad wounded animals’ agony.
Edgar, Marland and Rawle state that a flag, in a movie, is a metonym for an entire country (23). In the Dunkirk scenes, the French flag can be seen in the background (See Fig. 9). The colours, red white and blue create cromatic and visual contrast for the viewrs, since everything around it is smokey and has a shade of brown or dark green. It can also be a metonym for the purpose of their situation, a reminder that all the agonizing soldiers are in France, have fought for France and are now letting them self go free on the liminal space created by the beach hoping to come home safe to their families.
In an article for The Telegraph, David Gritten interviews Atonement’s director Joe Wright and receives more information of how the Dunkirk scene was created. Joe Wright claims that “The budget … $30 million were not enough money to do the scene as written in the book, which included air attacks from Stukas”. After asking for more money from the producer and being refused for the reason that Atonement is an art film, apparently not eligible for a bigger sum of money, Wright describes the rejection as “liberating”. He somehow managed, from necessity, to invent and in the end depict the entire, collective disaster of the Second World War in one single location. Although the scene was first thought as one with 40 set-ups, the director decided to have it filmed in a single, continuous shot with no pauses that would have taken too much time. The route was thought of and arranged in an entire day and shooting began at around 5.30 pm, for the light to be “ideal”. After several rehearsals, the director claims to have walked on the beach more than one hundred times. The situation must have been the toughest for Robertson, the Steadicam operator, who had to walk backwards on uneven terrain of sand, carrying tens of kilos of equipment, whose legs beagn to hurt on the fourth take, reason why the third take was chosen as the best one and was added to the final project. Wright reached out at the community of Redcar, the seaside resort in England where the Dunkirk retreat was filmed, whose people, he claims, felt very proud to be part of the scene. All the small details and props contribute to the perception of the entire scene as suggestive of the needless waste of lives, a typical comprehension of the post-war generations. The only special effects applied in this scene are the ones on the buildings near the beach, who must have looked bombed and destroyed.
The nightmarish perspective on wartime and even after-war time is conveyed not only in the sequences involving Robbie’s expericenes as a soldier, but also in Briony’s experience as a nurse. The hard work she does, the extremly rude chief nurse who does not allow her to have her own identity as “Briony” and the physical as well as psychological care for the wounded and terrbily distressed soldiers are part of Briony’s universe in the third part of the movie. The tensionate mood of the moment when the soldiers come from the retreat to the hospital is achived by use of a loud, awakening ring alarm, part of the film discourse as well as of the story. One of the most distrubing scene in the film is the constant washing of the beds (See Fig. 13) and even the harsh washing of her hands with something very hard to symbolically convey her need of “washing sins off” (See Fig. 14).
4.3. The media in wartime
There is no wonder that Wright is also interested in foregrounding some synthetic cinematic elements in the film. From the way in which he attracts attention to the camera work with the long, complicated non-stop filming, to the inclusion of cinema screens with covert or overt audiences, all these techniques gather to illustrate the fact that the story and the discourse is being manipulated and that there is a blending of the extradigetic and intradiegetic creators of the story and the mise-en-scene.
The long shot sequence on the beach cuts to the inside of a bar and then, after going down into the basement, the audience is presented with a cinema screen. Geraghty, in her analysis on Atonement, identifies this particular scene and the cinema screen in the bar’s basement as surreal and remarks Wright’s interest for “foregrounging of media signifiers” (95). Geraghty also identifies the black and white film projected on the screen: Le Quai des Brumes (Port of Shadows), a 1938 film directed by Marcel Carné. Symbolically, the film is suggestive of Robbie’s love story with Cecilia for which he cannot wait to come home. Yet the contrast is conveyed in the point where Robbie breaks down, with his face in his hands, emphasizing the fatality of his and Cecilia’s dream life spent together after the two characters in the film kiss. Matthew Bolton applies a synthetical approach to the cinematic techniques of adding film-into-film in his paper The Rhetoric of Intermediality: Adapting Means, Ends, and Ethics in Atonement and claims that the juxtaposition of the screen and the distressed Robbie mirrors the war devastations on the Bray Dunes beach and the heavenly depiction of Robbie and Cecilia’s shared dream: the Dover cottage.
Another example where Wright focuses on the cinematic aspects is at the hopsital where Briony works. After the scene where Briony comforts Luc, she walks to a hall where another black-and-white movie is projected. The film looks like a Second World War propaganda film or a news episode on the Dunkirk successful evacuation, with smiling soldiers embarking on trains, sharing sandwiches and happily smoking cigarettes (See Fig. 10). There is also a short shot of the audience: wounded soldiers and tired nurses including Briony (See Fig. 11). All of them look dissapointed and disgusted: “in total contrast to everything we’ve seen in the hospital and at Dunkirk, what’s shown tells of a heroic rescueand a triumphant return” (Hampton 78).
The voice over technique conveys the realist transmission of news during wartime:
NEWS REPORTER (V.O.)
The navy has earned our undying
gratitude. The army is undefeated.
Courage has brought them through
unconquered, their spirit unbowed.
This is the epic of Dunkirk, a name
that will live forever in the annals
BRIONY stands at the back, watching this propaganda. The next item
in the newsreel is introduced by a title: ON THE HOME FRONT.
On the screen the title of the next news reel is announced: “On the Home Front” (See Fig. 12). Queen Elizabeth is filmed here, as well as Paul Marshall and Lola Quincey, his now fiance, while the film narrator announces his success for the Army Amo chocolate industry.
The use of documentary footage shows the director’s interest towards a realist perspective of the war and is also a foregrounding element of the diegetic creator, suggesting the metafictional motif and the point that Lola and Paul, fictional characters, were clearly added through CGI or, maintaining the storyline, by the “manipulating authorial agent in the film” (Bolton 44).
Having discussed the cinematic implications, another element of the media appears to be a marker for the representation of wartime. After a juxtaposition of Briony’s face and the landscape of the London tower and the building around it, a technique which helps to remind the viewers of the setting and which somehow echoes the earlier juxtaposition with Saint Matilda, the corridor of the hospital is revealed and the voice of a radio newsreader can be heard announcing some information about the war:
This is the B.B.C Home Service. Here
is the news. The B.E.F., with their French allies,
are fighting a desperate battle in the Northern Zone
of the Western Front. The Allied Forces have not lost cohesion and
their morale is high. The R.A.F. continues to give all the support in
its power to the Allied armies in Northern France…
The news are annouced to be from the “B.B.C Home Service”, fact which one more time reveals Wright’s preocupation to construct a realist image of the experience of war.Information about the ongoing war is also conveyed in a discussion between Briony and her work colleague:
It says in the paper the army are making strategic withdrawals.
I saw that. It’s a euphemism for retreat.
(Hampton 70emphasis mine)
The Dunkirk retreat in reality is as ambiguous as the entire narrative of Atonement. The strategies behind the retreat seem to be of no importance in the screenplay, the emphasis being on the lives of the people implied in the war, especially the one whose love story every viewers wants to see resuming. Yet, the fact that Briony realises the propaganda to which they are exposed in England, identifing the “strategic withdrawal” as an “euphemism for retreat”, shows that the ambiguous events were prone to be differently understood. Briony seems to have realised that the evacutation transmitted as a simple strategy of war was actually a hopeless attempt at hiding their loss. The English media proudly wrote about a defeat, emphasizing the fact that it was not a take-over, while the Germans claimed the events as their victory and were sure to have already won the war after the taking over of Belgium and the Netherlands.
A Contrastive Approach to the intertextual relationship between McEwan’s novel and Wright’s film
In this chapter I will analyse the porcess of adaptation and certain scenes from the book as well as from the film by means of a contrastive approach. I will apply the concepts discussed in the first chapter including Snyder’s types of adaptations and Desmond and Hawkes’ fundamental factors of novel adaptation. In closely reading symbolic and stylistic elements and the techniques through which certain scenes are conveyed, concepts from the second chapter and the third chapter will be of great use in the contrastive, macrocosmic analysis of the book and, respectively, of the film. The way war is represented in the text and on screen will be the most important concern.
1. Adaptability analysis
The core question concerning the adaptability of a book must be addressed to its complexities. Hutcheon, in her study from 2006, claims that the complex, non-linear nature of experimental novels make them harder to be adapted on screen compared to the realist novels (15). The way the adapter pays attention to the constraints, as well as to the advantages of experimental novels’ structures and techniques, can be discovered by means of a general, microcosmic approach of some pillar scenes.
McEwan’ fragmentation of the novel illustrated through the three, separated parts with different focalized narrators and totally different themes and moods is portrayed on screen by means of abruptly cut sequences, with different colour schemes and music. Although this fragmentation from the source text might have looked as a limitation, Wright manages to get all the best out of it and while his portrayal was blamed by some film critics, some found his techniques exteremly suggestive of the book’s themes.
For instance, the constant shifting of the narrator’s perspective is conveyed on screen by means of retaking the same scene from another point of view. After the fountain scene is seen through the window, with Briony in the foreground, the scene is retaken,seen from outside, the cameraman standing somewhere closer to Cecilia and Robbie.
Following the same character from 13 to 76 years old can also be seen as a limitation of the source text. Yet, attaching some hard to ignore physical characteristics to the character is one technique that the adapter uses. Therefore, Briony has short, blonde hair and intese blue eyes as an adolescent as well as an adult and as an elderly woman.
Since the novel is set over a long span of time: from 1935 to 1999 and in two different countries: England and France, the adaptatabiliy of it must have also been put intro discussion. Thus, in order to adapt the whole story on screen in around two hours, the adapter must “cut” some of the long paragraphs containing long descriptions and, for the sake of “visualising”, the adapter must also find means of effectively using the medium of film. One example can be Wright’s truncation of the long descriptions of war by using the gruesome and remarkable Dunkirk scene, managing to portray the after-war ruins in only five mintes with a continuous 5 minute tracking shot abundant of relevant details. Another way in which some techniques convey economical use of the source text can be identified in the deletion of explanatory voice-overs or framed, linear or causal theatrical structure of the plot. In their place, the actors’ faces and behaviours illustrate their thoughts, suggesting the stream of consciousness technique generally used on page.
Therefore, although seen as a non-linear, complex and fragmented post-modernist novel, McEwan’s Atonement along with its complexities and liminations do not seem to have compromised its remarkable adaptation on the big screen, some of its elements becoming opportunities for unforgettable scenes due to the director’s inspired decisions on which technique, when and where it was better to use in order to be relevant of the symbolism implied in the source text.
2. Adaptation process analysis
In the analytical approach involving the lit-to-film adaptation as process, interviews and extra information on the DVD helps in the investigation of why a certain scene was deleted and which elements were actually extradiegetic. For instance, in the DVD commentary, the director reveals a very interesting detail: the sudden ray of sunshine appreaing when Robbie takes off his helmet and hopefully looks up to the sky before he encounters the young girls’ corpses was a happy coincidence. The moment was indeed thought as a pause from the hard conditions of the war in order to create an even more intense contrast to the following gruesome scene of the massacre. The sound of the birds twittering was then added inspired by the accidental ray of light.
While the weather is not part of the novelist’s, the screenwriter’s or the director’s contribution to the product, the process is yet influenced by ideas and advices from all of them. Some information on this aspect and explanations on why some scenes got deleted can be found in the introduction of the shooting script which Chrisopher Hampton wrote several times before it was finally accepted. There one can discover that it was the director’s idea to cut the long descriptive passages which would have been adapted on screen into explanatory voice-overs. Wright imposed some strict changes to the script. He suggested that it was better to focus more on the fact that in the book, most of the plot is transmitted by means of almost each character’s flow of thoughts. Thus, voice-overs of letters, direct actions and dialogue was preffered opposed to time-wasting descriptive pauses of narrators, although this process meant also omitting some dramaturgical elements of causality and linearity. The third-part fragmented structure did not exist in the first attempt of the shooting script, which was firstly designed for Richard Eyre. The questions arises: had it been for Eyre to direct the movie until the end, would have Atonement be adapted in the same way? The answer is obvious: no. For example, it was Wright’s personal understanding of how McEwan described Robbie’s eyes as “eyes of optimism” that made him choose James McAvoy as the actor playing Robbie Turner in the movie. The fact that Wright was also finishing directing a Pride and Prejudice adaptation made him concerned with happy endings.
From several interviews one can also find out about the contributions brought by the novelist too. In Atonement’s case, although McEwan is also an executive producer of the film, he said he didn’t want to involve too much in the writing of the play, seems it would have bored him to have to write the novel one more time.Yet, indirect contribution from McEwan’s biography help in deciding the themes and the most important symbols that should necessarily be retained in the film. For instance, McEwan’s childhood experinces during the Second World War according to his father’s stories clearly shaped, as the novelist states, the way he wanted to portray the war in his book. The Dunkirk scene was also chose for its actual ambiguity and for the effect of a liminal space created by the beach. Ian McEwan stated in articles for different newspapers that he feels obligated to report the Second World War as a nightmare, as an open wound in the souls of all the men and women having to do with it, as a waste of life and time. The novelist’s will to show respect to the people directly and indirectly affected by the well known global conflict can be seen as a contribution to the way Wright directed the film.
The techniques were now in the director’s and cinematographer’s hands, who together came with ideas and expreimented until the perfect illustration of what Wright thought the certain scene from the script should look like on screen was possible of conveying. For instance, the heat wave from the 1935 prewar England was best portrayed by putting a stocking over the camera lens, creating the blurry, unfocused images. Wright stated that the mise-en-scene in the hospital was inspired by Renaissance paintings. ` Information on the places were certain pillar scenes were filmed is also important.The Dunkirk scene taking place at Bray Dunes in the source text was filmed in Redcar, a sea side town in England, community of which also got involved in the filming, the only special effects being applied on the building on the coast, which in reality were kept intact.
3. Fidelity andspecificity analysis: techniques and scenes
Certain tones, themes or symbolic elements from the source text are conveyed by means of stylistics used by the author. The film achieves these effects by means of camera movement, mise-en-scene, props, character’s physical traits, colours and other elements from the discourse of film. For instance, the best example is the choice of voice-over for the letters between Cecilia and Robbie instead of the letters being included as simple texts for the viewers to read. The effect is a more intense comprehension of the couple’s love story during the harsh wartime for the audience.
The scene on the beach at the Dunkirk retreat, at Bray Dunes is adapted in one of the most remakable and unforgettable ways. McEwan introduces the encountering of the beach as “tasting the holidays” while Wright as “smelling the sea” , both making way for the intense contrast of the guresome landscape. The columns of soldier, the lorries, the men all having different activities, the cloud of smoke, the wounded bodies, the bombed resort of Bray, the shooting of the horses, the burning of Bibles are all illustrated by means of the 5 minutes’ unpaused moving shot revealing the beach and the implications of war and after-war waste of life and time, just as McEwan does with words covering around four pages.
There are also a lot of examples of retained scenes. Although Robbie’s wartime experiences are more detailed in the book than in the film because of the cutting of long, descriptive paragraphs as seen in the beginning of the second part of the book. Robbie is portrayed directly wounded and distressed accompanied by the two other corporals excluding the introduction McEwan attaches to the beginning of the part involving Turner’s former experience enrolling in the army which somehow contrours the theme of wartime adventure. The short conflict with the French woman also seems to have been defined as not relevant, being excluded from the movie. Yet, the barn scene where the French brothers come with food is retained and their dialogue is represented partly as in the source text. The mise-en-scene and the subject’s appearal is suggestive of the gruesome and abject descriptions of war. The film focuses more on speaking French and the explanation for Robbie’s enrollment in the army and his knowledge is given by means of direct speech as opposed to the novel where Robbie states he does not owe them explanations. The relationship between Robbie and his two fellow soldiers is a little bit more tense and conflictual in the book in contrast to the film where they seem to have a more friendlier relationship.
The moment when Corporal Nettle takes off his boots stating that he hates them more than the Germans themeselves is added in the book to express the hard conditions of the soldiers and the hate towards the enemies. Wright also thinks of this scene as one relevant for the war and retains it exactly as it is transmitted in the book, by means of dialogue between Robbie and Nettle, encouraging each other to go on with boots on.
The scenes that the film creators decide to delete as well as the ones they decide to add are also very important to the analysis of the process and fidelity of adaptation. The foreshadowing of the war is a bit differently conveyed in the book compared to the film. While the elements that hint at the upcoming war in the first part of the book are the vase and its description as a symbol of the First World War in which their father and uncle were involved, as well as the intense heat, Emily Tallis’ migraines, the earthquakes and the cracks, the director focuses only on some of them and includes others that seems to have more impact from the point of view of the viewers.
Wright’s Atonement does not imply any description of the vase as a symbol of the war and thus, its cracking does not signify the following emergance of another war for the viewers who have not read the book. Yet, the heat wave is illustrated by means of blurry images and very sunny, warm and bright colours. Emily’s migraine is also conveyed by means of images with her in the bed with a wet towel on the forehead and a fan placed on the lampstand. Yet, the most suggestive elements of tension and upcoming conflicts at familial and broader scene are the wasp and its annoying buzzing creating tension in the fountain scene from Briony’s perspective and the plane going over Robbie’s head in the bathroom scene. The same image of a plane flying over is conveyed reflected in a river beside which Robbie walks a pair of years later during wartime. Paul Marshall is portrayed as one of the characters having the most to do with the Second World War both in the book and in the film. He brings the news in the film that there is rush going on at the Ministry in preparation of war. In the book he is simply called a “warmonger” for his direct implication in the war by means of selling his chocolate bars. The red light also appears in the film as a hint towards the danger and the blood that will be shed.
The discussions on Marshall’s Army Amos are the same in the book and in the film. The information that they might be included as part of the standard pack of the soldiers fighting in the Second World War is kept by the adapter. The reason why he chooses to keep these conversation might be to convey a contouring of the masses and their social situation in that time. The relaxed way in which Paul, Leon and Cecilia discuss the possible emergeance of the war in the pool scene in the film corresponds to the same pool scene from McEwan’s novel. What is different stands in the techniques used in the discourse of fiction compared to the medium of film. While McEwan illustrates this scene by means of third person description, focalizing Cecilia’s thoughts , Joe Wright’s relies on more dialogue between the three characters.
An example of an added scene concerning the portrayal of war is the illustration of the school girls very well arranged on a field. The scene comes after the taking off of the boots and it somehow comes to strenghten the terrible perspective of the soldiers’ life on the battlefileds in France during the Second World War. The question is, since McEwan already included several elements to describe the collateral victims of war such as the leg in the tree, the bombed landscapes where killed mothers and sons would stand, why had Wright chosen to add this particular scene? There is clearly no coincidence in the fact that after the zooming out shot revealing the thirty young girls’ corpses, Robbie breaks into a reverie and there is a flashback contouring his memory of a day at the river bank with young Briony before the war. It seems as if the wounds and the horrific images of shattered and bloody soldiers were rescheduled by Wright to the third part of the film, illustrating Briony and the other nurses taking care of them in the hospital.
The film does not focus so much on the linguistic barriers created by the people of different nationalities involved in the war. While the opportunities of speaking French can be seen both in the book and in the film, for instance when Briony speaks with Luc Cornet and receives her short moment of true happiness and feeling of being loved or when Robbie socializes with the French men in the barn and gets free food, wine and a place to sleep, some scenes McEwan added in the book have been left out in the creation of the film: in the novel, Robbie does not have the opportunity to help a Belgian woman and her son because she does not speak French. The way Robbie and Cecilia use literature in order to secretly show their phyisical, sexual needs during the war is not explored in the film.
One particular element that is not to be found in McEwan’s Atonementbut is hard to ignore in the adaptation has to be the foregrounding of the media. While the book only relies on newspapers transmitting information, the film is abundant of how media influences the people and their lives during and after the war. The newspapers are seen as conveying a picture of the Second World War at the global scale for the Britsh. Concerning the media discussing the Dunkirk events, the British soldiers on the battlefield were “bitter about the newspaper celebrations of the miracle evacuation and the heroism of the little boats”, as conveyed by McEwan in the source text. Opposing reactions to this manipulatory charactersitics of the media can also be seen in Briony’s claim that the “strategic withdrawal” is just an “euphemism for retreat”, transmitted in the source text by means of indirect narration and in the film by means of direct dialogue between Briony and another nurse. The sound of the radio news intensifies the realism of the wartime.
The cinema screens appearing two times in the film are also techniques of focusing on a realistic view of the wartime, where people were presented romance movies or propaganda news reels in order to cope with hard situations. Contrasts are implied in both cases. In the first cinema, in the basement from the Bray Dunes beach, a romantic movie is playing, emphasising Robbie’s suffering and missing of Cecilia and their shattered dream of living on the beach in the cottage from the photograph. The second instance of a film projected is in the hospital. The soldiers and the nurses are watching a black and white film with happy, smiling soldiers celebrating and sharing sandwiched and cigarretes, embarking on trains. The irony conveyed by short shots of the audience with wounded men and their distressed and disgusted faces to what they are showing is truly remarkable.
The footage of “On the Home Front” reveals the metafictional element conveyed in the source text since Lola and Paul Marshall, fictional characters, are added to the film beneath Queen Elizabeth. The shot after the reveal of the couple and Paul’s business with the chocolate factory as successful does not focus on all of the people watching, but only on Briony, she being the one concerned with their situation.
This black and white propaganda footage from the adaptation replaces Ciryll Conolly’s letter in the narrative progession from the source text. It reveals the focus of the film on the unjust happiness and marriage of Lola and her rapist, Paul. The letter, which is deleted from the film and replaced by this cinema scene, focuses on the editor’s rejection of the idea of writing about war. While Briony does not agree with the bleak realism of novels, the bleak realism of the footage is somehow suggestive of the novelist’s implication of the theme of metafictional writing.
Fidelity analysis of the lit-to-film adaptation is somehow echoed by the novel’s theme. The metafictional writing and the portrayal of Briony as a writer of all the events followed by readers and, respectively by viewers, is giving the chance of a fidelity analysis of the charater’s last novel itself.
While aspects of how faithful Briony was in the book in rewriting Cecilia and Robbie’s love story can be discussed by means of how she and, indeed, McEwan himself, oriented to the real events from that time. Unrealibility of Briony’s story as well as of British history conveyed by her in the book and in the film are of great concern. Fidelity to history is conveyed by McEwan’s knowledge of the war and, more exactly, of the Dunkirk retreat, from his father’s stories. Fidelity to reality in Briony’s case is achieved in the story and discourse of fiction by means of admitting in the end, that she relied on documents from the Imperial War Museum and reliable people’s accounts. Correcting her use of the expression “at the double” while it should have been “on the double” reveals her interest in being as realist as possible, just as she also opposes Connolly’s suggestion that writing about war and real life implication might ruin a writer’s creation process.
Joe Wright, although deleting the Conolly’s letter from the narrative thread which followed the book, found another to way to use the moving image in order to convey the idea of faithfully realyng on reality. Besides the extreme fragmentation unsual on screen and the depiction of social rules where no one comes and explains what has happened during ten years of cutting, the use of the black and white documentary on the big cinema screen in the London hospital is a way of achieved a very realist perspective of the propagandist and manipulatory media from the wartime.
Outside of the story and its discourse, there must certainly be some reasons outside the timing and the economical factors that made the director adapt the text in a certain way and retain, delete or add certain scenes.
The scenes discussed in the fourth subchapter and the techniques through which they are added in the discourse of film show how the film might focus on motifs which are not primordial in the book. For instance, the fact that the Dunkirk scene is kept “as is” by means of elements and events on the mise-en-scene while being illustrated by means of a 5 minutes tracking shot reveals the fact that the director wanted a more fast-paced description of the entire arhitectural and psychological ruins of the war. Rescheduling the river bank scene with Robbie saving Briony after revealing the schoolgirls’ massacre is another element of actually faithfully transpose the fact that all the events are illustrated through stream-of-consciousness style in the book. Flashbacks have their function as explanatory hints to the past. Deleting the linguistic elements suggests the smaller interest in exploring the theme of linguistic barriers. The film seems to focus more on Robbie and Cecilia’s love story and their destinies being thorn away by Briony. The only moment when the viewer’s attention is directer somewhere else than on their love is when the wounded soldiers arrive to the hospital in London. Yet, considering the constant search of Briony for Robbie and the very fast, short shot of seeing him in a crowd of soldiers, the issue is still directed towards the main conflict of the film. Even the Dunkirk scene is followed by the projection of the romance movie reminding, one more time, of Robbie’s longing for Cecilia.
The ending scene in the movie also leaves the audience thinking of Robbie and Cecilia. Having them happily smiling and dancing on the beach near the cottage from their photograph is suggestive of theme of writing as a way of repairing things. The last thing the viewers sees is the reunion of the lovers and their dream come true. The reason why the director chose this scene as the ending is to convey the nature of his film as a period war romance.
The postmodernist themes conveyed by McEwan including fragmentation and metafiction are transposed on screen not only by means of maintaining the structure classified in three distinct parts, but also by means of including the 15 television screens with Briony’s face as a postmodern perspective of her shattered experiences, as well as the metafiction theme respectively through various scenes: writing letters (both Briony and Robbie are filmed standing at the desk writing filmed from behind), voice-overs of letters written in one character’s mind (Robbie, Cecilia, Briony), short shots of the typewriter, the sound of the typewriter sometimes in crescendo when Briony appears (for instance when revealing Briony in the middle of the nurses in the hospital hallway).
The use of the red light when Robbie is arrested as well as when the alarm starts to ring loudly and the wounded soldiers come to Briony’s hospital in London is a way of conveying the tense atmosphere and the experience related to the devastations caused by the war.
The influence of the postmodern shift in historical metafictional writing can be seen in McEwan’s novel in Briony’s nature as a writer involving in changing the history and giving it a more optimistic view, just an Nigel Williams’ Star Turn main charactert Amos does. The concept of secrecy in terms of fidelity is to be discussed by means of how overt Briony’s accounts of the war through Robbie’s perspective are. The black smoke everywhere around, the corpses and parts of the bodies as well as the hatred way in which soldiers talk about their enemies reveal a realist perspective of the war, which lasts right until the end where her positive retelling of the story stops in order for the tragic deaths caused by the war to be brought to light. Amos, just like her, cannot portray bombings as positive events.
The war films, evolving from propaganda films during 1939-1945 to combat films or even anti-war films which create a very overt, negative perspective of the attorcitites of war, are also of great use on analysis in which type Atonement settles. While Chapman sees the realistic lenses as “claustrophobic”, the audio-visual details which can be added on screen have a great effect on viewer’s imaginative response of the war. While Robbie is seen as a hero, good at everything in the war, the postmodern perspectives of war film as unsparing of their audience’s feelings seem to have their mark in the illustration of Robbie and Cecilia’s deaths. The psychological intensity is extreme since the viewers have thought for the whole time that they were living together, alive, in Cecilia’s rented apartment. Yet, the typical propaganda film during the war is realistically created for the certain period by means of theatrical stylization. In this way, Joe Wright stays faithful firstly to the 1940s propaganda war films and secondly to the after war commonly accepted illustration of the war as a needless waste of human lives and buildings.
4.Audience reception anxiety analysis
In the process of adapting a well-known novel, some expectations from its readers must be taken into consideration by the film-makers. This thoughts concerning how the film will be received by the audience influence some of the director and screenwriter’s decisions. For instance, Wright claims in an interview that from the first time he read the novel, he knew that he will have to be faithful to its structure, plot and themes.
With the great popularity of the book, came the success of the film. Yet, a lot of critics have critised the abrupt shift between the three parts, suggesting that being so faithful to the fragmented strucutre of the novel compomised the theatrical structure of the film, making it seem disjointed and achieveing an exggerated, melodramatic turn. Other critics blame the traditional heroic illustration of Robbie during the war and the shattered hopes of the viewers at the Bray Dunes scene, leaving them no comfort. Other viewers oppose these crtitics, stating that the final scenes with Robbie and Cecilia on the beach offer some comfort.
Previous knowledge of certain viewers plays a great role in how the film, as well as the book’s complex themes are understood. Audience with ideas of how the theme deconstruction and fragmentation might be conveyed on page as well as on screen will surely be less critic of the disjointed look of the film. Indeed the first part has a faster pace and a great 1930s feeling, only relying on the theme of Briony as a writer and hinting at unreliabilty of the following scenes, while the other two parts are slower paced and rely on harsh themes such as wartime expriences, shattered dreams, longing for lovers’ meetings, physical wounds, depression, hallucations and death.
Wright’s reason for being faithful to the novel was not necessarily influenced by the viewers’ expectations. It was the way he felt after he read the book that the wanted to make the viewers of the moving image feel too, only by changing what was impossible to portray “as is” on the screen otherwise it would have illustrated, on the general overview, other symbolic intricacies that the ones planned. Chrisopher Hampton, the screenwriter created, on the other hand, a more linear, traditional story to be directed on the screen, maybe fearing the rejection of the viewers due to the fact that one gets hardly used to have to explain what happened in the years when Briony grew up. Although the answer is simple and easy to find if one thinks of the plot as very similar to real life, it is hard to cross the barrier between the world created on screen and reality for the viewers expecting explanatory voice-overs or separate narrators.
The novel, as well as the book, contains sex scenes, the one in the library and the rape scene in the forest, which are not deleted or altered in the adaptation process. The war is also impressively described and might appeal both to the ones having to do with war and the ones not having experienced or read so many things about it. Briony’s hard work cleaning beds, her hands and caring the gruesome looking wounds of the soldiers are indeed hard to look at and yet alluring in their realistic way of describing what one of
The fact that the film-makers must appeal not only to the public, but also to the ones in power deciding what should be recommended to the masses and should be projected on the big screens of the theater all over the world, the screenplay and the techniques used are sometimes used in this respect. For instance, forgrounding the media and the subtle play of Robbie’s silouhette being projected on the cinema screen in the basement on the Bray Dunes beach creates the effect in cinemas as if Robbie is also standing right there in the cinema hall.