The use of production techniques in a film helps the audience understand the ideas. To what extent do you agree with this view? Respond to the question with close reference to one or more films you have studied. In Atonement, directed by Joe Wright, it is very true that production techniques play a key role in helping the audience understand the ideas. Wright focuses on various scenes, such as the fountain, preparation for dinner to make these techniques most effective. The efficiency of these scenes is influenced by camera shots, point of view, crosscutting and sound effects.
Wright intended to engage the audience by allowing them to feel a sense of suspense, understand one’s perception and feel connected to the audience. Crucial scenes, like the fountain scene, lay building blocks for future situations that occur. This scene, in part one of the film portrays Robbie Turner and Cecilia Tallis, who grew up together in the idyllic surrounding of the Tallis house in Surrey, arguing over a valuable Tallis vase that had accidentally been broken by Robbie.
The dialogue, “move in different circles” implies that although they went up to Cambridge together (there being no mixed colleges at Cambridge until forty years later), they were separated by a much more fundamental divide. Cecilia was of upper class and Robbie was a Tallis household maid. The use of mid shots, wide and close up shots emphasise the mixture of irritation, showing off and contempt underlie Cecilia her undressing to her undergarments and retrieving the piece of Meissen vase that had fallen into the fountain.
It is important to note Robbie’s misunderstanding; he wants to help her but does not realise what she is doing mirrors Briony’s behaviour later on in the film, in that the young thirteen year old had subconscious prejudice that Robbie was not a suitable partner for Cecilia and that prison would keep him out of the way. The broken vase is symbolic of the lives that would be destroyed later in the film: lover’s Robbie and Cecilia, and Briony (Cecilia’s younger sister) as a consequence of misunderstanding.
Social class however, is not responsible for all the misunderstanding that occurs. During the fountain scene in Atonement, you are given a fine example of how devastating one lie can turn out to be, by the use of a range of production techniques. The scene begins with a wide shot of Briony, upon where the audience hears the non-diagetic sounds of a buzzing bee. This bee is what leads Briony to the windows where she witnesses the scene from a high angle before her. The bee erhaps symbolises the eminent danger of what is to follow, for in nature the yellow and black stripes are a warning sign to any predator, if you venture too close, you will be stung. It also indicates that Briony has no auditory sense of anything beyond the glass and no clear reception of its meaning. This is shown by Briony also observing Robbie and Cecilia’s fury at the fountain. Needless to say, Briony believed Robbie had forced Cecilia to undress to her undergarments and retrieve the broken piece of vase. The use of a high angled shot allows Wright to portray Robbie as low to the ground and therefore vulnerable.
The high angled shot allows the audience to understand the situation from Briony’s perspective as this scene establishes the frame of mind in which her later interception of Robbie’s sexually explicit letter to Cecilia allowed her to view him as a “sex maniac”. Furthermore, in the library scene, Briony witnessed Cecilia being ‘pinned’ against the wall and instantly believed that Robbie had raped her. This allows the audience to understand Briony’s misinterpretation and ultimately understand that Briony’s perception was very removed from the truth of what actually happened.
Wright’s use of flashbacks, in the fountain and Library scene portray acts of love between the Robbie and Cecilia. He does this by providing Briony’s perspective and then the actual situation. Thus, the dialogue “I love you” said by both Robbie and Cecilia in the Library expose their passionate act of love, which Briony could not recognise. Wright focuses on the scene where Robbie and Cecilia are preparing for dinner at the Tallis manner by use of crosscutting. The intended effect of crosscutting allows the audience to gain a sense of suspense and to see the tension build between the two characters.
Crosscutting, or parallel montage, is a technique which shows things happening at the same time, thus Wright quickly switches from one scene to the next and back again several times; aided with a series of close up and wide shots. Wrights portrays this when Robbie is in his room and Cecilia in hers. The scene crosscuts to Cecilia dressing for dinner, Robbie-smoking, Cecilia-smoking, Robbie writing the sexually explicit letter, Cecilia pulling on the ‘famous’ green dress and looking in the mirror.
The simplicity of the fabric of the green dress contrasts with the patterns of her earlier clothes and the patterns of the house- she is already taking a step away from her family, thus this idea can relate to Cecilia’s behaviour in the fountain scene, and also in the library. Also, Wright has relied on the traditional understanding that mirrors are used to show uncertainty about one’s self and are symbolic in the film as they are frequently used to portray uncertainty (Cecilia), two-facedness (Briony) and keeping feet between two social groups (Robbie).
Wright’s use of Crosscutting portrays the link between Robbie and Cecilia which is emphasised by the same aural, both smoking, Robbie-talking, Cecilia-talking. Wright does this to capture a sense of the two almost metaphysically talking to one another, thus allowing the viewer to understand the connection of love between the lower class Robbie and upper class Cecilia. In addition, crosscutting is also used when Cecilia is waiting alone for Robbie- Briony approaches Cecilia’s room and searches for the letter- this is reflected in the mirror, which reinforces that mirrors portray Briony’s two-faced behaviour.
As the crosscutting occurs, from Briony searching for the letter to Cecilia making a statement to the police-“I wouldn’t necessarily believe everything Briony tells you”. Wright uses this to indicate to the viewers not to trust Briony’s version of events in the film. However, it is questionable, that Briony wrote this into her novel, Atonement, in an attempt to portray that someone of high class would oppose her prejudice accusation, as it is revealed that her mother, Leon and the police were willing to believe her uncorroborated story, because rape was known as ‘working class behaviour’.
In the scene where Robbie is preparing for dinner in the Tallis household, Robbie is typing on his typewriter and listening to the orchestral piece ‘La Boheme’. This shows that although he is of lower class, he has an acquired taste in music that wealthy men would have. The classical aural foreshadows the tragedy of Robbie’s charge of rape of Lola Quincey, imprisonment, being separated from his true love and death. This is backed up by the dialogue said by Briony, who was the catalyst to Robbie’s ‘crime’ – “I feel I prevented the time together that they had so longed for”.
The aural mirrors the fate of Robbie and Cecilia as the song is about an ill fated love affair between two lovers of different class stature. Furthermore, the frequent use of the non- diagetic sound of the typewriter is used by Wright to indicate to the viewer the return of Briony to the story and generally in time with the frequently heard piano music. The sound of the typewriter underlies that she is lying, or to question to the audience what is truth in her writing. This is shown y the scene where Briony is interviewed by the police about her accusation of Robbie. The dialogue “Yes I saw him. Just as you see me? I know it was him… I saw him, I saw him with my own eyes” is emphasised instantly by the clacking of the typewriter and as such is a warning for the viewer not to trust her version of events. In addition, the typewriter’s noise is a repeating sound, to indicate that the story must continue, and hints the author’s Ian McEwan’s input in the film.
This is implied by the phrase “Briony is a writer-she is always a writer. This is a story about a writer. It’s about storytelling; it’s about the story teller’s imagination. That’s something Ian McEwan kept impressing on us”. Therefore, it is correct to say that Wright’s use of non-diagetic sound of the typewriter is used to signify to the viewer that the film represents Briony’s point of view and can be expected that what is portrayed is an account of the mind of a naive and later atoning woman.
It is very true that production techniques play a key role in helping the audience understand the ideas. Wright focuses on various scenes, such as the fountain, preparation for dinner to make these techniques most effective. The efficiency of these scenes is influenced by camera shots, point of view, crosscutting and sound effects. Wright intended to engage the viewer by allowing them to feel a sense of suspense, understand one’s perception and feel connected to the viewer.
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