Sunday, 20 June 2010

Scene On A Sunday (Double Time): Atonement

Though I’m not exactly consistently blogging this weekend (other than meme) this Scene analysis has been imminent for some weeks now. My love for Atonement should be no secret by now (HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE) and it’s only natural that I’d eventually focus on a scene from it. This is probably my favourite scene from the entire film and I’m teaming up with the clever Yojimbo from Let’s Not Talk About Movies. Yojimbo actually does a weekly “Don’t Make A Scene” feature (though his much more educational, mine is just selfish ranting) so this week we’re teaming up to look at the fountain scene in Atonement…but of course, with stipulations. I’ll be focusing on everything visual in the scene – expressions, editing, cinematography, costumes, art direction and such (I’m materialistic like that) and Yojimbo will be assessing the sound and sound effects, the music, the readings of dialogue and such (incidentally, he’s a sound editor so this is right up his alley). So voila, here are my thoughts on the Fountain Scene – the visuals… (All the pictures of courtesy of Yojimbo, he went crazy with them – which I think is just great).
Of course, before we get to that beautiful moment at the fountain we must cut back to the images of Cecilia running in the woods. It just looks gorgeous… It’s strange, though, that Cecilia who seems like the orthodox bourgeoisie English girl of the time (very comfortable in her parents’ wealth) would be so at home in the flora. As the script says, she runs through enjoying the sheer exhilaration of movement – it almost sounds like poetry.

All this of course, played almost simultaneously with those images of Briony at the window. I still marvel at Ronan, perhaps not as skillful as the best child actor but still able to be so morose which is obviously unlike her natural disposition. Vocally, perhaps another actor could have excelled but her expressions are perfect…what is she thinking in that shot? It’s almost as if she’s planning their fates right there.

Then we revert to the past for the duration of the scene.Cecilia is still revelling in the woods.
She walks into the house, I love this particular shot, and it’s the only time that Cecilia has any significant contact with Mrs. Turner. I often wonder what their relationship (if any) was like before the episode, is Cecilia only interested in poor persons like Robbie or is she generally affable? I love too how Brenda Blethyn is always ready to immerse herself into her roles (there’s no hint of her previous part alongside Keira and Wright).
Notice the all green colour scheme? I think it's rather ugly.

This is another shot I love; not subtle at all but the framing of Cecelia by the boys in blue (which just happens to be the same colour shirt as Robbie) is a nice touch. And that house really is majestic.
And then into her bedroom. This is a real house, and yet there’s no sense of harmony. The kitchen’s greenness then to the dark brown of the living room and then the pale beige here. There’s obviously disharmony within the people live there too, but I’m projecting – as always.
And there, the first shot of that fateful vase. Even before we go there, though, Cecilia’s room is just too luxurious for words (and I love how she blends in perfectly with it). Keira always gets flack and really I’m always there to defend her.
 I do say that her Elizabeth Bennett is my favourite performance of hers, but each time I see Atonement I see her doing so much more. Of course, Atonement is a completely different beast to Hampton’s script (like McEwan’s novel) which promises subtext after subtext. The expressions on her face are so excellent and event though she reads her lines like nobody’s business, I just love her expressive face.
She’s obviously thinking more about something else than the flowers…
And I like how she throws her head, just slightly, to the side here…
It’s as if she has the world of troubles on her (very small and pointy) shoulders.
And while we’re on the topic of her thinness, Keira almost has a boy’s figure – and she carries herself without pretension but Cecilia is still completely feminine.
She finally does take notice of Robbie outside, and we still can’t tell what she’s thinking…that first expression is vague…
And this one looks particularly annoyed.
But as we'll learn later Robbie does have the ability to make her very agitated.
And she begins thinking...

She glances back out of the window. We get a picture of her in reflected in the mirror, which will happen again soon.
That’s a nice moment where she fixes her hair almost reflexively. The script says she simply checks her reflection in the mirror, but even though she’s not ready to admit it – the attraction to Robbie is there.
…and then she looks almost embarrassed.
We head out to the terrace where we meet another lost soul with the world on his shoulder.
Beautiful shot…Keia’s legs and Robbie looking up at her. Lovely..
She’s really bossy as she asks for that cigarette, but we still like her nonetheless. This next shot – wide shot – is my favourite of the entire scene. The old (but still regal) stone surrounded by the greenness, and our prospective lovers coming down the steps.
Even though he’s lighting her cigarette, they’re really quite far apart.

This is just a moment after her line of preferring the more passionate Fielding. She’s not too comfortable discussing passion with him – not yet, anyway.
James lends just the right amount of cheek to Robbie, I appreciate how he’ll laugh at the strangest of moments remember the letter (and of course, no laughing after that night in the library)... There he goes running behind her…
CECILIA Leon’s coming down today, did you know?

ROBBIE I’d heard a rumour.
CECILIA He’s bringing a friend with him.
CECILIA This Paul Marshall. The chocolate millionaire.
ROBBIE Are the flowers for him?
CECILIA Why shouldn’t they be? Leon says he’s very charming.
It’s so significant, they’re talking all the while, and not only is Cecilia a “safe distant” away from him she’s not even looking in his direction. Robbie, of course, is not the least bit affronted.
This shot doesn’t add much – but I like it nonetheless, for some reason…
CECILIA The Old Man telephoned last night. He says you’re planning to be a doctor.
ROBBIE I’m thinking about it, yes.
CECILIA Another six years of student life?
ROBBIE How else do you become a doctor?
CECILIA You could get a Fellowship now, couldn’t you?
ROBBIE But I don’t want to teach...
CECILIA With your First.
He breaks off, looks away for a moment; then turns back to her.
ROBBIE I said I’d pay your father back.
Before I go into Cee’s reaction – am I the only one recalling Kristin Scott Thomas’ cold but still warm women in Keira;s characterisation. She takes Robbie’s word just a little personally (of course her intention was to get a rise from him). And while we watch her stalk off, I must say that I love this particular costume. The detail on it (you can’t really see it with that shot (go HERE) but it’s so very intricate and just screams Cecilia.
Great expression, there – almost as if she’s offended but you know, rich people don't speak about money.
CECILIA That’s not what I meant at all.
And another gorgeous wide shot is there above (my second favourite). So much we’re seeing – the greenness of the estate, the loveliness of the house and that beautiful fountain. Cecilia and Robbie are just speckles now. Is that foreshadowing or me overanalysing?
Once again he run off behind her...what is with him and running (remember the train?)
He's a bit annoying with the vase bit, though...she obviously doesn't want his help.

CECILIA I’m all right, thanks.
 But Robbie persists, reaching for the vase.

ROBBIE You take the flowers.
CECILIA I’m all right!
That expression on McAvoy's face is particularly vague, I like it - he's probably thinking what to do, what to do?
I like how he looks across at her, as if to guauge her feeling. 
And she looks up with a look of complete annoyance, which I love (see my banner).
Cecilia looks at him, horrified.
CECILIA You idiot!
And he responds with a laugh leaving Cecilia nonplussed…they just have an unbelievably striking chemistry (where were there NOMINATIONS). I’d love to see them meet again, for a romantic comedy perhaps…
CECILIA You realise this is probably the most valuable thing we own.
ROBBIE Not any more, it isn’t.
Love that line reading.
ROBBIE Careful!
Then she begins to strip.
This is a difficult moment to pull off; Keira most make it seem like her decision is natural and not a seduction, and McAvoy must be embarrassed without being too silly. His first expression is one of genuine surprise…
He turns away in politeness still not believing her nerve.
And still that look of teasing is on his face.
What is he thinking there...

Then she steps over the lip of the fountain and lowers herself into it.

This is obvious foreshadowing (not just me overanalysing). Cecilia in the water is a beautiful image and it’s shot very delicately.
...and she comes out.
James look of transfixion is the first look on Robbie’s face, thus far, where he’s not in complete control of his expressions. He’s not as unmoved by Cecilia as he pretends to be…
They’re so odd; they both look away from each other simultaneously…
Even though Robbie pays her a look momentarily…that shot of him above is a perfect example of James doing so much. It’s Robbie completely casting off his outward show of irreverence, we can see him almost wanting to apologise.
Both of them now understand the gravity of this experience…Robbie looks a schoolboy just reprimanded at lessons and in the shot below Cecilia looks as if she doubts her decision…
Though she obviously thinks she’s in the right…if looks could kill. (On that note, why hasn’t Keira played a fiery vixen yet? Cecilia and Eliza are too tame, I hope she gets a little bitch in Never Let Me Go.)
I don’t think I ever caught this, look at that almost perceptible shot of Robbie glancing at Cecilia…well played on James part.
He grips the vase, his hands so very tense.
He looks admonished.
It’s weird that he’s still standing there really…but apparently Cecilia does strange things to him as we’ll find out later.
The look of a vixen? Perhaps.
She gather her things to leave...
Robbie makes a motion to apologise, but he’s so flustered and she’s so uninterested it doesn’t work out.
…and I do love to watch her walk away….
…such a beautiful shot of his hand on the water with that singular lily, there.
…but the scene cannot be ended on such a beautifully peaceful note. We must return to the person who started it all – Briony….
The look of a devil? Not quite...but something wicked.
(Go HERE to see Yojimbo’s thoughts on Atonement - all things sound related)


Dan (Top10Films) said...

A wonderful recollection and analysis of a excellent film. This obviously took a lot of time and effort to compile. Your love of the movie is second to none, Sir. Makes me want to watch it again.

Dan (Top10Films) said...

...can I have permission to guest post this on Top10Films in our Classic Scenes section? I'll just post a brief introduction and then link here?

The Mad Hatter said...

Count me in as someone who loves this feature and would dearly love to do a guest spot.

This is a movie I really need to buy as it really resonated with me on that first viewing. What I love most about this scene is how when we get to this point, it's being RASHOMON'd into a whole other perspective than what we thought we saw once already.

GREAT post!

Anonymous said...

I don't care for the film, but I quite enjoyed this breakdown. Ronan is indeed wicked in those shots.

Castor said...

Awesome awesome look into the scene. I also liked that you increased the frequency of screenshots captured to show all those subtle looks and facial expressions. Great scene ;)

Darren said...

Wow... That's pretty comprehensive. Neat.

Nicholas Prigge said...

Nothing to say really but....bravo. Marvelous stuff, man.

Dan (Top10Films) said...


Great piece! Thanks for letting me share it on Top10Films.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Andrew and I are thinking of doing a "buddy movie" together.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic analysis.

As a child, a scene that stayed with me (purely because of the acting) was that Dancing Queen scene from Muriel's Wedding, when she is singing it on her own in her room. It was really heartbreaking.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic deconstruction of this scene. I think you've captured so much of what makes this scene, and so many others in this film, work so well.

Also, I feel stupid for not seeing some of the foreshadowing even after watching this film multiple times.

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

everyone thanks for all the commenting. YAY for atonement

dan glad it makes you interested in revisiting it, which is usually the point of this feature.

mad hatter i could not have put it any better, it's all about seeing things and then seeing it again.

james thanks. i'm glad persons who don't praise it like me still enjoy the breakdown.

castor that's all yojimbo...he's a bit overzealous, me: just lazy.

darren, nicholas thanks.

yojimbo well of course we're doing it again:)

rosie hello, new face. i do need to see muriel's wedding. collette is such a wonderful actress when she gets the right role..

cinemainsights i go in looking for subtext so i'm bound to find it anyway.

Anonymous said...

Great job. It is a stunning scene that the entire movie pivots on, get this part wrong and the whole movie fails. I went into this movie with a certain amount of trepidation having read the book and not being sure how it would translate to film. The result was stunning. Let’s hope Sam Mendes can do as well with On Chesil Beach.

CMrok93 said...

Wonderful scene, but even better film that shows how true love can be, no matter how long or short.