Monday 11 November 2019

'Atonement', lies, and 'our' Saoirse

Mind matters...

Saoirse Ronan was just 12 in her break out role in Atonement
Saoirse Ronan was just 12 in her break out role in Atonement

John Masterson

There is a lot of fuss, I suspect justified, about Saoirse Ronan. I have more interest than usual because she is a young woman who lived up the road in Carlow. I watched her on Graham Norton, where the couch is pretty much reserved for A-listers, and she gave yet another A-list performance.

I was doing my regular charity shop browse last week where I find CDs that I had missed out on, and DVDs that I never bought because at the time I had recently seen the film. For €2 Atonement was well worth the money. Saoirse was just about a teenager when it was shot and was not even named on the front cover. I settled into it with a roaring fire during the cold spell. I looked forward to the five-minute single shot of masterpiece filming that director Joe Wright orchestrated of the soldiers at Dunkirk. It is well worth watching again, and again. And I was left aghast at just how good Saoirse Ronan's performance was. Not surprisingly, she received a bucketful of supporting role nominations and a bright future was predicted.

The other thing that struck me was how many films and novels depend on a lie to drive the story. Without spoiling anything for those who go back to watch this film again, Saoirse's character tells a lie which has profound implications for the relationship between her elder sister, played by Keira Knightley, and her lover (co-star James McAvoy). Saoirse's lie was motivated by immature jealousy and childish ideas about sex.

At the same time I was reading a Sebastian Faulks book, Where My Heart Used to Beat, and once again a lie, this time perhaps better motivated, ruins a perfectly good love affair. I say no more because there are many people out there who are suckers for World War II books combined with a love story and plenty of food for thought about the after-effects of war. This is another good one if you haven't read it.

All lives have pivotal points. All of us make decisions that have long-term consequences. Decisions about relationships are an obvious example. We decide to stay with someone. A big decision. We decide to leave. A big decision. Some people have children. Some people decide to have, or not to have children. Big decisions. You can buy a car and sell it next week. But buying a house has much bigger long-term implications for your life. Then you have career choices. We make these decisions with information and emotions that may colour judgment. And the information may be faulty. Or even untrue. Not surprisingly we humans mess up a lot. The older I get the more I suspect arranged marriages would probably be more successful than romantically-based ones.

Like everyone, in love, life and work, I have been told lies and made bad decisions on that basis. In some cases, I have never found out the truth. In others I have. This produces a huge temptation to live in the past and look at how different life would have been if decisions made were based on different information.

No point in doing that. The past is over. You are what you are and make the best of it. And with that in mind I wish Lady Bird all the best. Must see it soon. A film about teenage years must contain a lot of pivotal moments.

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