Reprinted courtesy of Sean C. At the Movies
Atonement is the story of a young girl, Briony, who reports incorrectly to the police and her parents about something she sees but does not understand. The central theme of this film reminds me of The Children's Hour, a 1961 film starring Shirley MacLaine (Ouiser from Steel Magnolias) Audrey Hepburn (Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany's), as two teachers at a prestigious girl's boarding school who may or may not be lesbian. Both children making the accusations are thinking they are doing the right thing, but neither understands the magnitude of their words at the time.
Briony spends the rest of her life attempting to make amends for what she now realizes is a false identification. She admits that in her final novel in which she tells the story that she created sequences. She claims it is out of kindness to those she has wronged, but isn't it more likely it is her way to ease her guilty conscience. No matter the true motivation for her manipulating the truth (again) the lives she destroyed were never repaired.
This film is a shocking reminder of times in the past (and present) where accusation becomes fact. A world in which credibility is never questioned when the answer matches the desire of the accusers. A scary world to to live in, indeed, at any time.