Any movie with a title like Atonement begs for critique by a Christian. I saw it earlier this week. Besides being a beautifully made movie - with excellent acting, music, cinematography, and plot - it has a lot to say about life, guilt, and...atonement.
The story follows two sisters and the man they both loved from childhood. All three lives are completely and forever affected by what some might call "fate" but what is actually a tragic combination of choices and decisions. I once heard someone say that one's destination, both in life and the hereafter, is nothing more than the result of daily choices, some of which are made with scarcely a thought of their impact upon the future. In other words, our lives move forward like a train. Every day we lay another piece of track. So we should not be surprised where the train ends up.
In Atonement, the younger sister Briony Tallis, driven by jealousy of her sister Cecilia's relationship with Robbie Turner, shows why Proverbs 16:28 is true: "A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." Briony spreads a slanderous lie that wreaks life-long havoc.
In addition, Robbie's decision to express his youthful lusts has destructive consequences as well.
What I found fascinating was the movie's treatment of guilt and satisfaction. Briony's guilty conscience seeks relief, but the only thing she can come up with is "works of the law": she becomes a nurse and cares for wounded soldiers. But it doesn't work. As Christians have discovered, it is only through repentance and faith that one can find true rest for the soul.
Nor can we rewrite our past and erase the consequences of what we've done wrong (as Briony tries to do at the end).
We instinctively know that wrongdoing must be punished. Some people punish themselves by trying to be good; others by self-destructing habits or suicide. The gospel says you don't have to go either of those routes. You can trust that justice was served on the cross, and believe on Christ as your substitute. "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 2:2). When you trust Christ, he doesn't rewrite your past but he does begin a new story in your life - one of hope, promise, and eternal life.
I'd like to see the movie again. My wife saw it twice, and the second time she noticed that water is a dominant metaphor in the movie. She also noticed the color red shows up a lot. If true, the director of this movie unwittingly (or wittingly?) communicated the truth that sins can be washed away in the blood of the Lamb.