Atonement Movie Analysis

Atonement's Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightly) and Robbie Turner (James McAvoy) by the beach.

Atonement combines aspects that could be seen as being typical of a drama/romance movies with other devices which open up a variety of questions including questions about the function of any given narrative. According to Freud, the essential function of a dream is to fulfill a wish of which the first and innate wish of a dream is for the dreamer to remain asleep. It can be argued that narratives or any form of fiction essentially serve the same purpose. What makes Atonement in particular an interesting movie is that at its core it does this, yet it uses a meta-fictional narrative presented by Briony Tallis at the end to explore the way in which this fulfilled wish does not reflect reality. The end result of this combination of having the wish fulfilled then unfulfilled means that the romance aspect of the movie catches us and we enjoy its eventually conclusion, and then are abruptly taken out of the fantasy and left with this feeling of despair.

In other words, the movie takes advantage of our willingness to believe this illusion presented to us if we gain from it, which we do so by associating ourselves with the lead characters Cecilia Tallis and Robbie Turner. We want to believe their story will end happily, that is our wish, and when that is firstly fulfilled as part of the inner narrative than unfulfilled it has a strong emotional affect on us.


Atonement’s Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightly) is Robbie Turner’s (James McAvoy) love interest and one of the primary characters of the movie.

Cecilia Tallis (Keira Knightly) Atonement

Cecilia Tallis Overview

Cecilia Tallis is the eldest sister of Briony Tallis, who is the author of the book/movie we are observing. As a result, we never truly get to see Cecilia so much as Briony’s interpretation of her. However, this interpretation is probably quite correct given that she is her sister. Cecilia’s personality is pleasant, but a little snobby. She falls in love with Robbie Turner, with their relationship forming after he accidentally sends her a letter stating his sexual urges towards her. Her love for Robbie remains the entire movie.

Cecilia and Water

Atonement Cecilia Tallis by the beach.

There is a running theme in Atonement of Cecilia being associated with water. This is first displayed where she dives into the fountain in order to get the piece of the vase that Robbie broke. It is displayed next where she dives into the lake and as she does Robbie rises from the water in his bath. Another major example is the scene of her death, in which Cecilia drowns from a bomb bursting a water main, resulting in the flooding the Balham Tube Station.

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