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Ian McEwan


The Children Act (2018)
On Chesil Beach (2018)
Atonement (2007)
Enduring Love (2004)
The Innocent (1995)

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Ebert Club

#117 May 30, 2012

Marie writes: Recently, a fellow artist and friend sent me the following photos featuring amazing glass mosaics. She didn't know who the artists were however - and which set me off on a journey to find out!  I confess, the stairs currently continue to thwart me and thus remain a mystery, but I did uncover who created the "glass bottle doorway" and was surprised to learn both its location and the inspiration behind it. (click image.)

Movie Answer Man

Movie Answer Man (12/20/2007)

Q. I am a devoted fan of Ian McEwan’s novel "Atonement," one of those books that raises your heartbeat and ignites conflicting emotions and thoughts like fireworks exploding in the sky. So many nights I returned to that book to amuse myself for several hours by just repeating the poetry of McEwan’s prose, its words melting over my tongue like butter.


TIFF 2007: Stuck in time

Celia (Keira Knightley). I have a question about these kinds of dresses: Are they meant to be worn more than once? Don't they get dirty and wear out pretty fast, dragging around on the ground like that?

My dog ate the book. Well, not really, but when I was about 200+ pages into Ian McEwan's 350-page "Atonement," my copy somehow disappeared. I found it weeks later, in a dark corner under the bed, and by then was already on to something else. I put it aside, intending to pick it up again soon, but the next thing I knew months had gone by and I was on my way to the Toronto Film Festival where a movie called "Atonement" was being screened.

While watching Joe Wright's intensely cinematic interpretation of McEwan's book (co-executive-produced by McEwan and written by Christopher Hampton, best known for adapting "Dangerous Liaisons," "The Honorary Consul"/"Beyond the Limit," "The Quiet American," "The Good Father), I kept wondering how far into the story I had actually read. Every once in a while something would happen and my memories of the book would snap into place. But by the end (actually, by the point Robbie reaches the beach and goes for a drink), I had lost any literary moorings and was completely immersed in the movie.

Actually, I was immersed in the movie from the beginning: a shot that follows a parade of toys on a little girl's bedroom floor to the desk where she sits before a typewriter, composing her first play, "The Trials of Arabella." Using a typewriter as a musical instrument in the score may sound a bit precious, but it works cleverly and hauntingly in "Atonement," the story of a 13-year-old girl -- an aspiring writer -- who enlists her extended family in her imaginative productions... with, as they say, disastrous results. Her "ruthless innocence" (in a phrase used, I believe, by Kathleen Murphy) spurs her to miscast the roles in a melodramatic fantasy-scenario that's beyond her understanding. And yet, once she imagines it, she sticks to her story, and crushes lives with her godlike (author-like) will.

Robbie (James McAvoy): An idealized vision.

This is the story of the uncomprehending gaze of pretty blonde Briony Tallis, how fixes her subjects like insects pinned to a board -- as in a repeated shot of her cold blue stare through a windowpane. She frames a scene in her imagination and fits it into a false outline of events. The moment is stunning in the true sense of the word -- but among the many things Briony doesn't realize at the time is that she is freezing her 13-year-old self in the same instant. She determines the consequences of what she has witnessed, and what she has imagined, and in those moments has locked herself into her own existential coffin. For the rest of her life, no matter what she does (or writes), she will never be anything but that 13-year-old girl, stuck in the past.

"Atonement" is an intelligently, evocatively directed movie in every aspect, from the adoring ways in which the romantic leads are photographed (who would have thought James McAvoy could be filmed as gorgeously and lovingly as Keira Knightly?), to a long take along the shore at Dunkirk that is one of the most complex and emotionally shattering single shots in movies.

I don't want to say much more now, until we can have a more detailed discussion about the last ten minutes or so. But as I wrote in a comment earlier, I wasn't sure the 2,000 or so people at the public screening in Toronto's grand old Elgin Theater were reading the ending the way I did. When I got home, I delved into the epilogue of the book (it gives nothing away to say it's set in "London, 1999") and discovered that Hampton and Wright had conceived an impressively cinematic way to transform what is, almost by definition, a thoroughly literary conceit. I think the ending of the book is even more devastating than the film's. But let me say this much: It's based on a moral tale by Ian McEwan, the man who wrote "Enduring Love," a book (and a fine movie) with a similarly ambiguous title. "Atonement" may describe its subject as acutely as "Do the Right Thing" describes what Spike Lee's movie is about....


TIFF 2007: What did I know and when did I know it?

View image There are movies being shown in six or eight theaters in the building on the left. That's all I know. (photo by Jim Emerson)

Film festivals allow you the opportunity to see movies without knowing much of anything about them in advance. If you don't want to, that is. The problem with this is that, unless you have a festival catolog (the hefty TIFF 2007 one is 480 pages and sells for $37), you also have no idea of what you don't know about. Today, I arrived more than a half-hour early for a screening of Todd Haynes' "I'm Not There," only to discover that the previous film (something about "Cassandra") was running about 45 minutes late. The Toronto festival is quite punctual, so this was a most unusual occurrence. The staff person allowed some of us into the theater to sit through the end of the previous movie, in which case we would be able to retain our seats for the one we'd actually come to see.

Now, normally I'm like Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" and I don't go into movies late. I rarely leave early, either, even if I think the movie's terrible. In this case, I thought I'd just go in and rest my eyes, since I knew nothing about the film I was about walk into the middle of. It soon became apparent that it had Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell in it, as two brothers who were involved in some kind of murder scheme. It was thoroughly mediocre, and I wondered how some first-time commercial filmmaker had lured such a cast, especially with this lackluster script. (Tom Wilkinson showed up, too.) But, I was also seeing it from the middle, sometimes with eyes wide shut, because I was only there to have a seat for the next movie.

When it ended (badly), the credits appeared and I immediately recognized the typeface. It was Woody Allen's latest movie. Surprise.

I write this not to report on a movie I only saw the last half of, but because as I was sitting there I was thinking about how little I have known -- quite deliberately -- about the films I have seen before I have gone to see them. (Of course, I hadn't intended to see even part of this one. That was just an accident.) For the most part I'm trying to maintain blissful ignorance, going into these films with no preconceptions except that I may know who the director is, or who one or two of the cast members are. Or somebody I trust has recommended it. That's as much as I want to know.

Some people at the press and industry screenings seem to know everything about them before the lights go down, but I don't listen to them. So here, in the interest of full disclosure, is how much I knew about some of this year's TIFF movies going in (including a few I haven't yet seen):

"Eastern Promises": David Cronenberg movie with Viggo Mortensen. Not a clue as to what it was about, who else was in it, what it was based on (if anything), or what the title meant.

"Michael Clayton": George Clooney wearing a suit and tie. Nothing else.

"4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days": Romanian film about an abortion that won at Cannes.

"Chop Shop": Second film by Ramin Bahrani ("Man Push Cart"). Unaware of where it was set or what it was about, except I thought there was a kid in it.

"Redacted": Brian De Palma. Something about Iraq.

"Secret Sunshine": Asian film (I don't even know what country) that won an award for something somewhere (I think it was Cannes). A friend said I should see it.

"The Orphanage": Mexican. Produced by Guillermo Del Toro. Appeared to be kinda creepy, and somebody had compared it to "Pan's Labyrinth."

"Margot at the Wedding": Written and directed by Noah Baumbach ("The Squid and the Whale"). Nicole Kidman, Jack Black, and Jennifer Jason-Leigh. That's all.

"Persepolis": Black and white. Animated. No idea of language or subject.

"Atonement": Based on Ian McEwan novel I haven't finished (but have at home). Don't know who directed it or who's in the cast.

"The Man From London": Directed by Bela Tarr.

"I'm Not There": Todd Haynes' movie in which several people play Bob Dylan. I knew Cate Blanchett was one of them.

"No Country for Old Men": A Coen brothers movie, based on Cormac McCarthy's book (which I'd read). Tommy Lee Jones and Javier Bardem were in it. Roger really liked it.

"Into the Wild": Sean Penn-directed adaptation of Jon Krakauer's biography of Christopher McCandless, which I read about ten years ago and really liked. I knew Emile Hirsch was the main character, but I couldn't recall any movies I'd seen Emile Hirsch in before.

(Once again, my brain is so full of movies I want to write about that I can't concentrate on any one long enough to finish writing about it. I've got about four posts partly written. Hope I'll get a chance to within the next 24 hours. In the meantime, there are more movies to see...)