Thursday, January 24, 2008


I hate winter.

To anyone who knows me this is not a revelation. My feelings about the winter season have been well-documented: it is the one part of the year that I believe has been ordained by the universe specifically for the purpose of torturing and tormenting me. If I could live in an environment that included twelve months of 80 degree weather, I would. (Friends say: you'd miss the change of the seasons. Balderdash! I've had fifty years of changes of seasons. And if I found that I desperately desired more, well, that's why God invented airplanes.)

Anyway, I don't live where it is warm. I live where it is icy frigid miserably cold. I live in Chicago. It's my little masochistic joke on myself: I hate the cold and I hate getting up in the morning. So of course I am a school teacher in Chicago. Naturally. But I digress. (Can one digress before one has ever even begun to reach one's point?)

Right now in Chicago we are pretending, for some regional lark that I do not even begin to understand, that we are the Arctic Circle. Bitter temperatures, frigid wind chills, and just plain crappy weather have dominated the area for about two weeks now. And we don't even get the benefit of Northern Lights. So into this punishing atmosphere we bundle and trundle, day after day, and it's fine. It's just life in Chicago after all. You deal with it. You live with it. But you do learn to make compromises.

Last night was a compromise. I had tickets to take my daughter Julie to the Bulls game. We try to go at least once a year, around her birthday. (I take Melanie in December, around hers, too.) But yesterday the weather gods were not kind to us: the ubiquitous arctic front added snow to its joys (again) and this time the traffic snarled up nightmarishly. It took me an hour and a half just to make the normally 20-minute trip home from school. So making what is often an hour and a half or more trip into the city...well...that didn't seem like a good plan. So Julie and I decided to blow off the Bulls game (which, by the way, they won--a rarity this strange season) and instead stay closer to home and see a movie.

It's a ten minute trip to Lincolnshire. It took almost three quarters of an hour. But we got there on time to see the movie Atonement. Now Juno is easily the most enjoyable movie that I saw in 2007; hands down it is my favorite. But--and I still have not seen a few of those that the critics call excellent--Atonement has to be the best. As a human being, I was fully absorbed by its haunting and passionate story, its intense characters, and the ultimate sadness of its powerful performances. As one who has taught film several times, I was blown away by Joe Wright's direction and by the art direction and cinematography of the piece (not to mention the soundtrack, which is so wonderful that Julie said in the car afterwards that she wanted to buy it).

I have always had an affinity for films in which the director shows us why movies are visual. Wright shows the 13-year-old budding author Briony wandering on her own along labyrinthine stairways in a huge mansion whose rooms, each time we see them, seem oddly dark, confining and closed in. Her world is her writing, her escape into her vivid imagination spawned by immersion into the far more pleasurable and expressive gardens that surround her home. The contrast from inside to outside couldn't be more clear, yet Wright does nothing at all overt, and that is his magic here. Briony is shaped by a world that seems utterly and frighteningly normal, and she does something completely terrible.

A juvenile misunderstanding begets imagination that begets a lie, and Briony's lie sends a young man to prison, breaking apart her sister and her true love and radically and permanently altering all three of their lives. Wright shows this all through the unusual technique of revisiting the same scene from a different point of view and, amazingly, it works and catches us off guard every time he does it. And his complex and chaotic and nightmarish evacuation to Dunkirk scene is one of the most intensely outrageous evocations of warfare I've ever seen outside of a satire like Full Metal Jacket. It felt like the D-Day invasion from Saving Private Ryan somehow got mixed in with the Colonel Kurtz scenes from Apocalypse Now without any shooting or cattle slaughtering. If ever a single scene depicted the sheer insanity of war, this is it.

So much in a single film! And then the ending--a twist that maybe we should have expected but did not--that again radically alters pace, perspective, and everything: this movie is amazing. And it starts you thinking about what it must mean to have done something so completely dark in your life that you can never, no matter what you do, atone for it. We all make mistakes. We all make wrong decisions. We all go too far. But most of us can make amends. Briony cannot undo what she has done, and it haunts her from the age of 13. How does one live a life like that?

Julie and I agreed that, Kirk Hinrich's 38 points be damned, we made the right decision. This was an extraordinary movie and one that I'll think about for a very long time. Maybe I'll buy a copy and watch it next time the city decides to do its North Pole impersonation.


1 comment:

sunspark said...

I just found out that Joe Wright was not nominated for the Best Director Oscar for Atonement. This amazes me. While I am certain that all five nominated directors did excellent work, including the one whose film was not nominated for Best Picture, it is a bit of a slap in the face to a Best Picture nominee director not to be named himself. And, as I noted in my blog, Wright richly deserved it: this is a director's movie.




it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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