We all tell small lies every day without even thinking about it, despite what Mohandas Gandhi might have said. You go to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks and the cheerful barista smiles at you and asks you how you are doing. Even though you had a difficult meeting with your mean boss the previous evening and you couldn’t sleep because of all the stress related to a major project and the round of layoffs that are coming, what do you tell her. “Hey, doing well, thank you.” These are harmless lies and it is good if life runs that way — do people really care?
Unfortunately, not all lies are harmless. Some lies have serious consequences and can literally change the course of history. That is what the movie “Atonement” is all about in which a little girl (Briony Tallis played by Saoirse Ronan) tells a lie because she is selfish and naive, but does not realize that it meant jail for an innocent man and separation from the woman he loved.
Briefly, Briony misjudges Robbie Turner (played James McAvoy) as some kind of an aggressive maniac and misinterprets his relationship with her sister Cecilia (played by Keira Knightley) as if it were based on abuse. In reality the two liked each other and were simply not sure of their feelings. When a family member is raped, Briony insists that the rapist was Robbie because he was the only person who could do such a heinous thing. Robbie is convicted and sent to jail instead of joining medical school. He is able to come out of jail with the stipulation that he enlist to fight in the Second World War. During the course of the war, Robbie and Cecilia are able to reunite briefly but they both eventually die tragic deaths. Brioni grows up to be a writer and writes the book Atonement to tell the story and as a way to atone for her horrible action that robbed her sister from being with the man she loved.
As always, Keira Knightley does a remarkable job and so does James McAvoy. It is a film with a slow-pace, but emotionally very engaging.
So next time you lie, think if it is a harmless one or if it can change the course of history.