Monday, August 25, 2008

Impossibility in memory forgetting: Atonement (Part II)

The thin borderline between fantasy and memory was heightened with Briony constantly revisiting her childhood memory, consciously in the form of a letter asking for forgiveness from her sister and a novel draft based on the event she saw by the fountain; unconsciously in the form of day-to-day conversation with other nurses, from which we grasped bit by bit Briony's real feeling towards Robbie, and hence disclosing the part of memory she had screened off and repressed over the years. Lots of mirror shots were used throughout the film to associate the kind of vanity in story telling by exposing the ego in each of the character, if we recall Lacan's mirror stage of "I". Briony has constantly been splitting among her outer self and inner ego. Is not it the same for memory? How could we tell the truthfulness of our memory? Are they only fantasies or more accurately dreams?

In the first part of the story, we might well be thinking that Briony experienced tremendous shock from what she saw happening between Robbie and her sister Cecilia by the fountain. She immediately expressed her shock through the narrative of her play, in which she rhetorically paralleled Robbie to the character of her story and described him as "the most dangerous man in the world", which led to her preconceived "mistake" in accusing Robbie for the molestation after the second shock in the library. Fantasy and memory again intertwined within little Briony's mind. It was through memory that Briony's fantasy got nourished, while from the other way round, it was through fantasy that Briony's memory got revived and relived. As Deleuze described, "writing is a question of becoming, always incomplete, always in the midst of being formed, and goes beyond the matter of any livable or lived experience." (1) Briony's writing (fantasy) was constantly refining and redefining her personal experience that lived through memory. It was never formed in a chronological and ontological way.

It was not until the flashback of Robbie saving Briony by the river bank were we able to know the true feeling of little Briony. She has been repressing her love towards Robbie whom she regarded as a "crush" when she was 18. By then, it would make full sense to interpret the accusation as repulsion out of jealousy. That "mistake" made in remembering the assault was to a certain extent quasi-deliberative. As Briony watched the incident, we were immediately flashbacked to the actual scene from the perspective of this "two figures by the fountain", learning the true story behind. With a smooth transition from the previous to the present scene, this part of flashback worked as a holistic structure of the story rather than a distinctive intervention. One might realize that it was a flashback very lately if he or she missed a second of attention to the details. It not only brought us back to the past just a moment ago, but at the same time challenged our conventional way of looking at past events. Was it really past or simply living along with our ongoing memory? When we perceived it as something that followed, it might turn out to have happened before. "Memory is of the past" as historians put it but here we could see the linear temporality of memory being broken down and challenged by cinematic approaches.

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