Sunday, August 24, 2008

Impossibility in memory forgetting: Atonement (Part I)

According to Freud in the Uncanny, the notion of screen memory was defined as one that "owes its value as a memory not to its intrinsic content, but to the relation obtaining between this content and some other, which has been suppressed." (19) When impression of a particular experience is retained in our memory, the content of such an experience may have no meaning to us, yet the content related to it which has been absent so far may be important to us. There are basically two psychical forces involved in producing these memories–one as wanting that experience to be remembered while the other resisting this choice. In this film we shall see how a novelist has been struggling with her memory of the past because of guilt and trying to resist her own forgetfulness of these memories due to physical abnormity conquering her dying body.

The whole story was basically structured into four main parts:
I) England 1935 – The Tallis House
II) North Western France. Four years later – The Retreat of Dunkirk
III) London. Three weeks earlier – The Hospital of London
IV) An interview of truth

Due to the disclosure of part IV, I am tempted to interpret the first three parts of the story as the mind–memory and creation–of the novelist, Briony Tallis and throughout the film sufficient hints were suggested for audiences to associate to such allegory. As Ian McEwan reminded us in the Making-of Atonement, "what you must never lose touch of, is that this is all being reinvented for us by Briony." The opening frames kicked off with "a kind of dynamism in the camera" which showed us the creative energy and confidence of a 13-year-old bourgeois Briony who had been the subject dragging the camera around the big Tallis House. It should be noted that from then on, a particular background music composed of typewriter clacking sound appeared throughout the story, which not only on one hand expressed the unanimous creativity of little Briony, but on the other hand also suggesting consciously to us that we were indeed going through the creation process of 77-year-old Briony's novel, which had in a sense rendered it impossible to differentiate the truthful part of the memory–things that did happen–and the fantasy part–things that did not happen at all. Was the memory working as part of the plot she created for her new novel? The clacking typewriting sound served as an obvious medium to connect this narrative time of the past with the present reality of the novelist who had been doing her best to record what she did and amend what she did not. The truth was unveiled at the last part of the film in form of an interview that largely enhanced the authenticity of the film by suggesting a sense of present established through first person interaction with the character. As Wright mentioned in the Making-of, "the cinematic equivalent of first person is interview. This is as close as one gets to talking directly to an audience, to remove the veil of fiction."

The intertwining or inseparability of memory and fantasy has been discussed further by Freud in his another essay called The Creative Writer and Daydreaming, from which he tried to associate a writer's creativity with his or her childhood memory. When children enter adolescent, they will cease playing to give up the link with real objects and turn their mind to fantasies, or daydreams. How these fantasies are formed relates so much to the one's memory of the past. (28, Uncanny) If this were the case, the first part of the movie, which focused on the childhood of Briony, has been the crucial source for drafting her fantasies over the other parts of the film. The most obvious content was the one in hospital where nurse Tallis were ordered to comfort a dying French soldier. Based on the story from this hallucinated soldier, Briony responded with her own memory of the past–something about the story between Cecilia and Robbie–intertwining with her current fantasies with this soldier that pointed towards their future marriage. This present experience–encounter with the soldier–has evoked Briony's recollection of childhood memory from which she always desired the love of Robbie but unsuccessful, and so she tried to fantasize a future marriage as an implicated way to fulfill such desire.

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