Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Friday, 29 December 2017

Ian McEwan/ Nutshell (2016)

Nutshell is a narration made from the point of view of a... foetus. Yes, a still unborn baby, a child in waiting. At the moment the tale starts off, this shakespearian foetus ("I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space") is just a few weeks away from leaving his mother's womb, a few weeks away from finally making it into the (outside) world. Ian McEwan's new novel is a foetus' monologue, but as we soon discover, it is also a crime narration: an adulterous woman and her lover plan to murder her husband. The woman is no other than the foetus-narrator's mother. And the lover is, well, his father's brother. This is a absolutely awesome mise en scène, even if it is not really the first time we encounter a foetus-narrator in literature. 

We realize, as the monologue progresses, that the unborn child's intelligence and verbal capacity is similar to, say, that of a young college guy, and an engagé one at that. He has a bit of a social conscience and philosophical leanings. With the addition of a layer of sophistication that our (very) young narrator has obtained from his mother's penchant for Radio 4 as well as cultural postcasts of all topics, which he somehow manages to listen to through the placenta. (He has even become some sort of wine connoisseur, thanks to the respectable variety of liquors his mother drinks and which get to him). Along with the action, the not-yet-born baby keeps on learning and so he changes and develops his psychology. Of course his extreme cleverness and sophistification is a literary fantasy license by McEwan, not unlike that of Gregor Samsa transforming himself into a monstrous insect: a sole giant supernatural element ingrained into a realistic story, or just a deliberately comic element.

Never mind. The narration flows wonderfully in any case, like nearly all of McEwans' works, no matter the register. It is ironic, and it is dead serious. It is hamletian: the foetus feels itself paralysed by the doubt of either beeing or not beeing. Not beeing means considering the possibility of erasing himself from existence (an existence that might be so disturbing) by comitting suicide hanging himself with the umbilical cord; the alternative, that is opting for beeing, is managing to finally be born and set out to act in the outside world: perhaps avenging his father's murder with an adult's hands: his future hands. The foetus' life is a full life within a very peculiar and strange world, the world we all live in inside our mother's placenta: only this one lasts nine months and not nine decades, as is the case with the existence coming right after birth. But fetal life is a life in full, one of its own all the same.

He anticipates his "death" to this uterine life, which means entering the utter world which is the physical world of born people, our world. He vindicates to be let in to have his chance. His chance to live the bunch of decades he's entitled to, to eventually manage to make it all the way to the 22nd century, perhaps beeing at that point, in that distant future, a fragile and thin (if quite in decent form) old man in his early 80s, by 2100. This is a awesome idea: the phoetus'birth is his death as a phoetus and so it is the end of this fetal nine-month life, it implies his entering into a sort of after life which is the birth into our world. (Of course, an inmediate idea springs out of this : Is there another after life after the adult's life?)

The (outside world) is a exhausting riddle to the soon-to-be-born narrator. His mother is a cold blooded killer who tries to escape the unbearable sense of guilt through self explanatory moral narratives, but she is also a riddle, as are his changing feelings towards her. She is beautiful and seductive and devastating, but also she is his sole shelter and protection. His uncle, on the contrary, is not that much of a riddle: rather a primary egotistic materialistic being whom he despises. Even without having been born yet, our protagonist has already had the chance to know about life's pains, about its maddening complexity, the lies, the secrecies, the betrayals. The moral mess which is the actual world. And yet he wants to fill his place in it, a world of things, and thoughts and actions, a most exciting place for a strong conscience, provided this is aided by the ordinary physical tools we all have and take for granted.

He yearns for the possesion of his due pair of hands and his pair of legs, the possibility to listen to his favourite music simply of his own will (not having to wait for his mother to, say, turn on a CD player), or drinking wine (if possible all kinds and varieties, as he loves it) by holding a cup with his own hand, or climbing mountains by himself; or whatever he wishes to do. So finally after a due cycle of existencial doubts (in him quite advanced in time), even more dramatic in his case as evil and murder have been involved, his decision is clear: he wishes to be helped into the sunlight, to show the head, to look directely at her mother's face. To unreservedly embrace beeing, with all its pleasures and pains, taking control of his existence. As it was his choice, his will be a true birth.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Train to Busan (2016)

South Korea, today. A workaholic and selfish father takes her little daughter to Busan, after she has begged him to, in order to reunite her with her mother. They intend to get there by train. Of course fully ignoring the (usual) Zombie Apocalypse that will take place, this time (and movie) inside that train.

What is a zombie, by the way? Well, the notion of it dates back to several centuries ago, and sure its symbolic potential is not a small one. Anthropologist, artists, even philosophers have used it in their works. But it has been mainly through movies that it has become hugely popular, in particular since Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead. The Zombie concept, as it has been constructed by movies, is one to think about. Suppose you lose a loved one to Death: that is painful, devastating enough. Suppose now that the loved one you lose is not only lost, but turned into a monstrous entity who wants to destroy you. Well, that is beyond painful. It might be unbearable. (I have always viewed that as a symbol for some lost friendships: "dead ones"who besides turn against you).

Sure, the South Korean Train to Busan (Yeon Sang-ho, 2016) is another movie for the succesful Zombie genre. But it is much more than that. It is probably one of the most clever and humane of all Zombie movies.  You will be frightened and carried away by the fast-paced action. But you may cry as well.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Amy McDonald /Dream On

Dream On, first single from Under Stars (2017), latest album by my favorite Scottish female singer

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Arrival (2016)

Here's a new version of the Contact topic. That is, Earth people's contact with an intelligent and technologically advanced Alien civilization. However Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016) is not of the Independence Day type, but rather of the clever Contact (R Zemeckis, 1997) type. In the 1997 movie starring Jodie Foster (and based on an absorbing 1985 Carl Sagan novel) it was Science and Technology that were at the center of the stage, even if sharing prominence with some metaphysical implications. Scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster), after receiving a signal from Vega, manages to travel there making use of alien technology, even if her story has later to face general disbelief. And it will be a life-changing deeply emotional event she will experience over there, in outer space, on the surface of a Vega Planet (in some sort of Paradise beach, near a deepest blue sea), an spiritual experience, not unlike that of Dave Bowman in 2001, A Space Odissey.

But it was physics, astronomy and engineering that Ellie Arroway used as ways to her transfiguring voyage. In Arrival, it is not Physics leading the way, but another science is, one often neglected in this kind of movies: linguistics/philology. So the protagonist here, that is, the scientist mainly in charge and (intelectually) kicking ass does not come from a "hard" science, but from a "soft" humanistic discipline: Dr Louise Banks (Amy Adams), an expert on everything related to human languages in all their variety and complexity.

Communicating with advanced aliens: a cultural challenge. 

Yes. Language. Because, suppose the aliens finally come. Suppose they have an amazing technology, and a (way deeper than ours) knowledge of natural laws, and how the universe works. Well, how do we learn from them? How do we manage to communicate? Linguistics/Philology reigns in Arrival as the main science or discipline.

So aliens arrive, then. It is Arrival Day. And they hang up there amidst the clouds, in strangely shaped spaceships. But unlike Independence Day, they do not just set out to destroy human cities straight away and for the sake of it, they just happen to hang up there, apparently waiting, as if not being sure what to do next once they have made it to Earth, and finally found out there is an intelligent species over here.

What's next? Well now they (and we) have to try to establish some sort of communication. But how do you communicate with beings that do not share anything with you, no psychological or emotional traits, only the knowledge of physical laws? Sure there should be a common ground, as after all we are all biological creatures from the same universe, with the same physical and biological laws underlying us. But the abyss between us must be huge all the same.

The humanities, also within the equation

I remember this book by Evry Schatzman, The Children of Urania which was about technologically Advanced Alien Civilizations, about their chance to exist, about the (scientific) conditions for their existence, all the theoretical frame for such existence, developed once again: the Kardashev types of civilizations, the Fermi question (how come they still have not visited us if there are probably so many of them?), the impossibility for faster than light travel, and so on and so forth.

So the book went through the usual exposition of the conditions that make an (alien) civilization likely: the right size of the star, the right size of the planet, the right distance, the necessity for liquid water on the surface, or for an oxygen atmosphere...the full list of astronomical, physical, chemical demands. But there was something in The Children of Urania which I had not found in other similar books, and which was for sure food for thought. Mutations of culture as doors into science and technological development. A cultural change as a key condition for the advent of science and technology, a change or a mutation that might not have happened on Earth, that might indeed be very rare, and that... might explain our astronomical solitude.

Take human civilization(s) some 1000 years ago. What kind of civilization was it back then? Let's take a look, for instance, at West/Latin Europe. Could we consider it an advanced Civilization? What would aliens have thought of it had they arrived on Earth around 1000 AD to pay a visit and check how things were going on here in terms of intelligence and technical progress? Well, for sure, back then European civilization was an "advanced" one, in some sense. After all, it was quite a rich, sophisticated one. Philosophy, theology, architecture, literature, poetry, politics, art...were all developing at a good level. But sure Medieval European Civilization (or those of the rest of the world for that matter) were not scientific-technological. Not in the sense today we understand as such. Sophisticated they were, highly conceptual, but with a very limited knowledge of the real (material) nature of the Universe. 

Well, what happened half millenia later? In the early 16th century, the so called scientific revolution took place. The modern scientific method was established and a growing body of positive knowledge of the natural world started to build-up. Around 1600, we abandoned finally the speculative laberynth that all past civilizations underwent, and managed to enter at last a solid terrain of positive knowledge. What was the explanation to this mutation? was it the emergence of capitalism? Protestant culture and ethics? The enormous building-up of classic knowledge due to the invention of printing? It was in any case a cultural mutation that might not have happened. How can we be so sure that that mutation always takes place in all alien civilizations? Perhaps we are alone, and there is no other technological civilization in the whole universe, the reason being not such things as, say, the peculiar size of our moon and the tidal force, but the astonishing and mysterious cultural change that took place in the 16 century and which led to the so called scientific revolution.

See? There is more to the Contact story than hard experimental science. Humanities and soft social sciences might be as important. The mutation of Civilization into a scientific technological one had a "humanistic cultural" basis. It might not have happened. Language, as the basis of the so-called humanities is a fundamental tool and one essential discipline in our process of contacting. Let's stop forgetting it or minimizing it.

Aliens from an advanced civilization must be "intelligent" which means not only rational, but in possession of a good set of neurons (or neuron-like cells) making them not only logical and mathematical but spiritual, thus capable of creating deep spiritual worlds of symbolism and meaning. Will we contact their spiritual world with our spiritual world?

A "feminine" aproach

Arrival highlights the importance of culture in the Contact topic. Not just physical science, but cultural approaches and transformations. Again it is a woman who leads the way (as in 1997 Contact), but this time with a "social science" as an instrument. Women are probably better at social and humanistic disciplines, so its fair enough that a woman leads the show here. Women are very good at language and communication (whereas men are probably, even if this is probably not too PC to say, better at physics). Arrival is a movie on the importance of language and communication between unbelivably distant beings, of emphasizing the necessity for building up bridges. Of solving the tricky riddle of how to connect minds and intelligences, linking psychological (spiritual) inner worlds.

Arrival is a feminine (not a "feminist") approach to the Contact topic, this being a frequent -sometimes even tiresome- topic within the SF frame. Language, and not physics is the star here. Arrival is a clever movie, with a good script, a good development, well-drawn psychologies and fine performances. But I would highlight, as its most interesting trait, its vindication of a humanistic discipline as a fundamental key to a possible future Contact. Something which reminds us the overall importance of the rest of the (so called) humanities in our (likely) future contacts with aliens, with advanced technological alien civilizations. Because they might well be a product of cultural mutations, of cultural intangible forces (not only biological ones), much as we ourselves are. Theirs being a spiritual vasteness as deep as ours, for which we will need approaches well beyond the strict reign of matter, once we have aknowledged, of course, that we both share the same rational scientific frame.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

WestWorld / Season 1 (2016)

"They say that great beasts once roamed this world. Big as mountains. Yet all that's left of them is bone and amber. Time undoes even the mightiest creatures. Just look what it's done to you. One day, you will perish. You will like with the rest of your kind in the dirt. Your dreams forgotten, your horrors faced, your muscles will turn to sand, and upon that sand a new God will walk, one that will never die, because this world doesn't belong to you or the people who came before. It belongs to someone who is yet to come."

This great line of the probably best TV series today made me think of an idea expressed by paleoanthropologist Yves Coppens in The Most Beautiful Story of The World. "It is unsure if we humans are to be the heroes of this story" The "story" being Earth's geological/biological evolution since its formation. We humans have been here on this planet for a mere million years. How long will we survive? Let's not forget that there are still like 4.000 million years of Earth history yet to unfold!

So will humans last? How long? And if not, who will their succesors be? And will these be the product of evolution/biology (as we were), or rather the product of (human-derived) technology?

Our descendants, the new masters of the world, will they be of the carbon type? Or rather of the silicon type, like these Westworld "artificial" but increasingly -through experience and change- humanlike creatures?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Onibaba (鬼婆, 1964)

As well as books, movies are countless. Over a century of movie-creating has resulted in an infinitude of them. In all languages, all topics and genres, all possible human approaches, and from all countries. Quite a few outstand as well-known masterpieces (Kane, Potemkim, Vertigo, 8 1/2, Tokio Story, 2001, Rashomon, Rules of the Game, and the like). But so many years of the so-called (7th)art have inevitably also led to the existence of a good amount of forgotten classics. That is: movies of obvious quality and aesthetic value but no longer (if ever) present in the charts, the critics' reviews or moviegoers' conversations. Perhaps forgotten is not the right word of course, as these movies are not actually "forgotten", but sure they're (a bit) neglected. At least outside the country where they originated.

Here's one of those hidden gems: Onibaba (鬼婆, 1964), from one of the most important cinematographies in the world: Japan. This dark hypnotic movie is not exactly a hidden gem. It is a gem, sure, but not "hidden", at least not in Japan. But is it known or heard of by most fans (even horror fans) in the West or the rest of the world? I doubt it.

The story of Onibaba is set in Japan in the mid 14th Century, during a period of civil war, of death, poverty and hunger, of loneliness and suffering. Two women, mother and daughter-in law, survive by killing soldiers after inadvertedly atacking them with spears, or tricking them into a deep hole. They later trade with their possessions, and that is how they make their living. A dangerous living in the nearly perpetual dusk (even under the sunlight) of this ominous world of Onibaba. 

Later on, at some point, the two women will be haunted by a sort of masked demon, whose origin was a previously killed (by them) masked samurai. Directed by Kaneto Shindo (who worked as an assistant of the legendary japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi), Onibaba is a true Japanese horror classic. Little known (or not at all) in the West. Some critics consider the movie to be a period drama, but most view it plainly as a horror movie. Well, it is both. And it contains solitude, hunger, maddening sexual desire, jealousy, fear, deceit, murder, claustrophobia, a menacing war background, and the presence of the supernatural, A great deal of symbolism underlies the story. (The mask hiding the desfigured samurai might be a symbol of that real Japan desfigured by the Hiroshima bombing, etc)

"Onibaba is a chilling movie, a waking nightmare shot in icy monochrome, and filmed in a colossal and eerily beautiful wilderness" Peter Bradshaw

Onibaba is a gem, hidden o not, not to be missed. 

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Enemy (2013)

Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered. José Saramago  

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013) is a Canadian-Spanish production loosely based on Jose Saramago's The Double, with screenplay by Javier Gullón. In a way, this is an intriguing encounter beetween the universes of the late portuguese writer (philosophical, intellectually on point, somewhat morose) and that of David Lynch (fantastic, dreamlike, highly symbolic). In Villeneuve's movie we are introduced to a College history teacher (Jake Gyllenhaal) by the name of Adam Bell, who leads a life apparently devoid of all excitement, a guy who seems totally focused on his academic discipline and who, as he himself claims "is not interested in movies" and probably, the viewer guesses, not into any other form of entertainment either. He just teaches history at College and makes love to his fiancée Mary (Mélanie Laurent), that's all.


But one day he comes across something really weird, something that will turn his monotone life upside down. On one ocasion a colleague suggests he take a look at one particular movie that he might find of interest which comes under the title of Where There's a Will There's a Way. Without much excitement, Adam rents a DVD of the movie and makes a pretty scary discovery: in the movie playing a very small role, there is an actor who is physically identical to him. Yes, a double, a doppelgänger, there in that obscure movie he had never heard of. After some quick googling, Adam finds out the identity of this second-to-third-rate basically unknown actor. He learns that he has just made a few movies and played in very small parts, as an extra, essencially. The actor's name is Anthony Claire and the little information he finds in the internet makes it clear that they are like two drops of water, or next to it.

Adam also finds out that his double (played also by Gyllenhaal, obviously) lives in Toronto as well, this dreamlike Toronto as depicted in Enemy, and he decides that he should meet him. Eventually the two men will meet in a creepy, slightly terrifying, face to face encounter, that Adam cannot completely cope with. 

Except for some minor details (Anthony wears a wedding ring), the two appear to be identical. Also both happen to be related to physically similar blond girl friends: Mary (Mélanie Laurent) and Helen (Sarah Gadon), Anthony's wife, who is 6 months pregnant. Adam and Anthony might look identical in physical terms but their psychologies drastically differ. Adam, the history teacher, is dubious and hesitating; Anthony, on his part, is more proactive, even agressive.

There is an unequivocal Lynchean atmosphere, oneiric, weird, in the development of the story. We find spiders here and there in the course of the movie, as if the spider (and a spider's web) was a key concept to the understanding of Enemy. What is going on here? What is the deeper meaning of this strange movie we are seeing?

Spiders here and there

I remember some time ago talking to a friend who had been engaged for a few years, though not yet married to his fiancée. I asked him how the thing was going, and I recall him saying something like At first I felt sort of trapped. But now I would say I am fine. Well, trapped. And this has been pointed out as one possible key to the underlying meaning of Enemy. This feeling of being trapped in a relationship, which is not clear. As if one was a kind of insect in a spider's web, and even ready to be devoured by the spider. And who is the spider? Well, uh, the woman. And the spider's web is nothing but the commitment: this commitment so often demanded, which some find suffocating, and so hard to stick to at times.

Also there is this final shot in Enemy. Again involving a spider. The most terrifying final shot in all movies, as some have said. Don't know if the most terrifying one, but scary as fuck, all the same. Spiders.

Spiders. Are they the clue? Being trapped by the spider's web of a commited relationship. Or is this, as someone else has suggested, an Invasion of the body snatchers thing? Could Anthony Claire, Adam's doppelgänger, be truly a spider in a human disguise? Well, anyway, Enemy is rich enough to allow different interpretations, as dreams do. One thing is certain: here is a story of the Mulholland Drive sort: incomprehensible, complex, lysergic, scary. Wonderfully image-turning. Filled with enigmatic clues and symbolisms to taste, if you are into it (Is this chaos decipherable?) If not, you can at least enjoy a good lynchean oneiric ride, without caring much about the meaning. 

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Nightcrawler (2014)

Of course, in Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy, 2014) we have another great performance by Jake Gyllenhaal, a most eclectic and arguably one of the finest actors today. But what I find most fascinating about his brilliant Louis Bloom creation is something that has already been noted by some viewers and critics: smartly psychopathic, Bloom is a close relative of two iconic Robert De Niro characters: Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver (1976) and Ruppert Pupkin from The King of Comedy (1982), both directed by Martin Scorsese. Louis Bloom is definitely a sort of mixture of Bickle and Pupkin, sharing psychological traits with these two other lovable sociopaths.

Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, he also scans away the night scene with a cold, dispassionate eye, safely behind the wheel of his car. Only that Bloom's eye is even colder and more dispassionate, because Bloom, unlike Bickle, doesn't exactely feel dismayed or angry by what he sees in the New York streets in the small hours, nor does he play with the idea of perhaps cleaning the streets up in some sort of fascist way. Louis Bloom just wants to document them, to "print on tape", or digitally register, the pain he comes across in the streets, or rather which he actively seeks for (accidents, murders, whatever), and then deliver it to others who are eager to consumate it. He delivers it to the media and wants to be paid for it accordingly. That is it. He doesn't give a shit about what causes the tragedies and their pains, or what could be done about it. We have this intuition that he could even be happy to create the painful situations himself, if necessary, if that could better serve his purposes, so as to have more of them to register, and earn more money.  His eye is not a moral one, it appears purely dehumanized.

And along with his other kindred spirit Ruppert Pupkin (King of Comedy), Bloom also has illusions of grandeur. Like Pupkin, he is obsessed with climbing up the ladder of success, no matter what. He definitely wants to be someone, a big someone. He is the ultimate entrepreneur, and an unscrupulous type of it. He knows what he wants. His moral approach might be reprehensible, but at least no one could say his goals are not crystal-clear. Aside from the psychological similarities between Bloom and Pupkin, Nightcrawl also delivers us (like The King of Comedy did) a critical comment on the media culture of the day. And in the case of Nightcrawl, on the harshest variety of it. If it bleeds it leads takes media culture to a most cynical dimension, in which images are coldy and impeccably manipulated to suit one particular narrative or editorial line.

Bickle, Pupkin and now Gyllenhall's Bloom are three sociopaths sharing the same essential icy loner psychology. Nightcrawl could well be considered the Taxi Driver of today. (It even has its own You Talking to Me? scene, guess which one). We could note that in 2014 Nightcrawl Jake Gyllenhall was the same age (33) as Robert De Niro in 1976 Taxi Driver. Maybe that is just a biographical anecdote, but it could as well be a sign of Gyllenhall's coming iconic status. What is not anecdote for sure, is that the anapologetic strenght of Nightcrawl seems to equal that of Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. Gilroy's movie is a great one, a realistic knockout in a moral sense. A cynical document in the form of fiction of today's world, and through the eyes of a most cynical character.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

George Michael (1963-2016)

Here's a cool acoustic version by George Michael of Wham!'s Everything She Wants (1984). With a live orquestra and a small crowd of some 300 people, he performed it along with tracks from his 1996 album Older and other works.

Recorded in London, in October 1996 (aired 1997), this was critically aclaimed as one of the best MTV Unplugged performances.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

James Taylor / Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now

Here is Christmas again. This is a time which is loved by many, but feared by quite a few as well. It is a time (supposedly) of happiness, of family gathering and heavy dinners, of partying. Also of bitter loneliness and near depression. Perhaps nothing of what we wanted has been achieved, another year is passing by, and to many that alone is depressing.

Written in 1944 by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blame for Minnelli's Meet me in Saint Louis, Have yourself a Merry little Christmas is one of the most popular and most performed Christmas songs of all time. It has also been covered quite a few times by different artists.  But I would say that James Taylor's version is possibly the one that's best captured the bittersweet taste of this period of the year: sparkling happiness mixed up with dark melancholy, the two sides of Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Ian McEwan: Atonement

It is the hot (for England) summer of 1935, in a nice big country house in Sussex. The Tallis, a high class family, inhabit it for the summer holidays. The father, a high government commissioner, is away in his London office, busy at work with preparations for a European war that back then, in mid 1930s, is becoming a real possibility. Among the people at the house we find the mother, tortured by never-ending migraines; the elder daughter (22 year-old Cecilia); the younger one (13 year-old Briony); the brother Leon; business man Paul Marshall; and finally three cousins from the North, on a visit. Along with a due bunch of servants, we find Robbie Turner as well, the son of the governess, who is also a protegé of the Tallis family.

Briony is the central character in this amazing story. At 13, she is theoretically on the brink of leaving childhood, but she is also well into that strong egotism so typical of childhood and early (sometimes full) adolescence. Nonetheless, in this case to her ordinary child's solipsism, you also add up a great imaginative creative power.

Briony, thrilled by story creation 

She's thrilled by the act of creating tales. Writing, translating into words the awesome, or just plain, events of existence is something she definitely loves to do: she is truly a writer, a narrator in the making, a young person whose life will, in years to come, likely be devoted to literature, to the re-shaping of reality in the form of fiction. It already is, actually, this very day, as she spends most of her hours putting little stories on paper with increasing skill. She imagines stories all along, which she later has her mother (and about everyone else) read and evaluate: she likes showing off her talent. Her emotional development, her new experiences and thoughts will find immediate reflection on those pages she is constantly filling up.

But on this particular summer day extraordinary things will happen. Things which will mark Briony's fate as well as those around and linked to her. The fate of the people at the house that very moment is going to be determined by Briony's imaginative powers. Today is the day, and tragedy will take place.

What is going on? Some cousins from the north are coming to the Sussex mansion, in order to spend a few weeks with the Tallis: 15 year old-Lola and her two younger twin-brothers. Also among the new guests today are Leon (Briony's brother) and a friend of his, Paul Marshall, already a successful young businessman. Just then, immediately before the arrival of the guests, Briony has finished a play that she has intitled Arabella, which she, full of excitement, of course intends to represent before her beloved brother and the rest of the guests. For that, she counts on the (reluctant) aid of the cousins: Lola and the twins. So she calls out for the due rehearsals to the annoyance of the northern cousins, which would rather do anything else. Go play by the swimming pool, for instance.

At the same time, Robbie, the housekeeper's son, spends the morning in dreamy introspection, thinking of quite a promising future unfolding before him: to his literature degree he has just achieved, he speculates with adding a new one: Medicine, no less. And of course he also thinks, and quite so, of Cecilia, the Tallis elder daughter, whom he has known since they were children. He fancies her. That morning, he is fantasizing about her, while inmersed in his bathtub. And at one point, he emerges from the bathtub and reaches the nearby desk, where he sits down to typewrite a letter to Cecilia Tallis.

He playfully tries different versions, some of them a bit too rude to really think of delivering, but which he writes as well, just for the fun of it (maybe thinking what if, anyway).... He finishes the definitive version, one he thinks is OK: a more or less polite version of course, of what he had to say. But, what happens then?...yes, we guessed it: he mistakenly ends up sending the wrong letter, one of the rude versions he had been playing with, one which he thought he had discarded. The rudest one, in fact, one which reproduces a explosive slung word. Explosive, that is, for the place and time and the vehicle, a letter.

Fancying, invoking tragedy 

Cecilia and Robbie have known each other since they were children. They are in love, only they still haven't become fully aware of it. They soon will, that same day actually, but the most awful misunderstanding is going to stand on their way, also that same night. And it is the deliverer of the letter (writer-in the-making Briony) who will be the responsible for it.

After Briony has given Robbie's letter to her sister, one definitive scene will take place. In the evening, the guests (including Robbie) gather up for dinner. Afterwards, having both got up discreetly from the table, Cecilia and Robbie head for the library, where they will end up making love with shelves full of books as a frame. Briony just enters the library while they are at it, and well, she sees the thing, and being just 13 (and also being high class England in the 1930s) she does not quite understand what is going on.

But her powerful imagination is quickly set into motion. A dark imagination at that moment, way darker than that of a similar creature: Ana, from The Spirit of the Beehive. Briony is more proactive than Ana, and she will unconciously generate what will turn out to be injustice and cruelty, born out of that abundant inner world of hers.

Earlier that day, Briony had also witnessed something by the lake, again involving Cecilia and Robbie, another weird (to her child's imagination) event, that she again will process in the wrong way.

Later at night, in the woods surrounding the house, something horrible will happen. Is it a rape? An attempt? The victim is Lola, the 15-year-old cousin from the north. Everyone is distressed, and the police are quickly called in. All people at the house are interrogated on the crime. Who might the assailant be? But Briony, her imagination out of control, has already decided who he is.

Atonement is a great exploratory work, a must for those readers who wish to be told a good story, also for those who like reflecting on the power of literature, who want perhaps to manufacture good valuable literature themselves, for the story which is told and the horizons the narration might reach. The great power of fiction, and its own reality.

History itself is a construction of our minds, even if its based on factual truth, it is after all a series of texts, which we create and shape. So will the lives be of those people in Briony's hands. Narrations. Imagination can be a source of aesthetical beauty. Also of lies, arbitrariness, ultimately disaster. But it too has the potential of eventually creating some form of posthumous symbolic justice.

The destiny of the flesh

As an author, as any author worth the name, Briony is some sort of a goddess, thus capable of instilling life on the creatures of her imagination, putting them on stage and set them out to think, live and experience. Also, as we will discover, she will even have the capacity to alter the lives of the physical beings around her, retelling their stories and destinies. Early in the movie, we had seen Briony alone in her room in the middle of the act of writing, so precious to her, and we have spoted some diminutive figures by her side, like ready to be manipulated by her, if she wishes. They might be a symbol of her power of creation and literary manipulation.

We are made of flesh and, true, that flesh will be vanishing in the course of just a few years or decades. After that, it is only remembrance that will remain of us. Our flesh will have become just a text, a narration, an oral one or, if we are lucky enough, written by someone. If anything, we will have turned into a story, such is the destiny of our (now) tangible matter. What is to be done with that bunch of texts which constitutes our identity, once we are gone? We are in the hands of those who will carry out our memory, those executors of our narrations, those who establish its basis and those who will add to it. If they exist, if we are fortunate enough to have them. Otherwise, nothing will be left of us, fair or not.

Briony will discover just that in due time. At one point, people are gone and all that is remaining is their tale. She will learn that this tale can be retold or reinterpreted, enriched with new meanings, clever variations. And in doing so, in some mysterious way some sort of peculiar justice, should we say rebalancing (in an aesthetical or moral sense), can even be made, without betraying the essential truth.

In Briony's case, it was a matter of atonement, of self-punishment. A moral challenge. But overall, if we are the chosen ones, if we have awaken a strong mind's creative power and put it at the service of our story...well, it is hard to imagine a bigger fortune.