28 October, 2008

"I'm so sorry, it was the wrong version"

So here's the thing.

Earlier this year, I saw the film Atonement. It wasn't a film I was at all interested in seeing - I figured it was just another love story set against the backdrop of WWII. But I was trying to see all the Best Picture nominees before the Oscars, and Atonement was one nominee, so I went to see it.

And I loved the film, which proved less a typical love story and more of a tragedy of misunderstanding and miscomprehension, and the lasting effects that one moment's decision can have on many people. It explored some fascinating areas, particularly the gap that exists between visible action and internal motivation, and I look forward to reading the book, which I believe gives greater voice to the different characters and their purposes in behaving the way they do. I thought it was a excellent film, and while I don't think it quite warranted the Best Picture nomination (I would have given that spot to Once), it was an wonderful time in the cinema.

So, when hunting for a birthday present to give to a friend in the past weekend, I decided that a DVD of Atonement would be a perfect present. I always feel that giving a DVD acts in effect as an endorsement of that film, a statement that I feel the recipient should watch that film. As a result, if I'm giving someone a DVD, I always try to look initially for films that I liked, and then find a film in that selection that I think would appeal to the recipient. In this case I thought that Atonement, with its tragic love story and the wonderful 1930s-40s setting, would appeal to my friend.

Now, Saturday wasn't just my friend's birthday, her son had turned one-year-old a few days earlier. So, there was a first birthday party about 11am, and then we had dinner in the evening for my friend's birthday.

As I'm sitting at her son's birthday, I hear my friend talking to someone else about a film she saw the previous night. That film apparently had a sad ending, "but it was a good sad ending, a satisfying ending, you know. Not like that film Atonement, do you remember seeing that, that was an awful ending, I really did not like that film."



Okay. ...



Fortunately, I was able to go into the shops in the afternoon, and find another film to give her (in the end, I decided on A Fish Called Wanda, which is a hilarious film and which, on opening the present, she said she had never seen). Meanwhile, I had fortunately not yet got around to buying a copy of Atonement for myself, so I don't need to worry about doing anything with the DVD.

But there are two things about this whole event that I find myself thinking about. Firstly, there's just the general unlikeliness of this whole story. After all, I would have given the film to my friend and been none-the-wiser were it not for the fact that (a) she happened to be having her son's party on the same day, (b) she waited for an hour before having a conversation with a good friend about what she did the previous night (I was an hour late to the son's party, so had they talked earlier, I would have missed it), and (c) she decided to throw in an entirely irrelevant comment about a film she saw months ago, on the sole basis that both films had sad endings. I mean, what exactly are the odds of all this happening? Was this divine intervention, God trying to prevent the embarrassment of an unwanted gift for some reason? If so, it's appreciated, but why?

But the other thing that I found interesting about the experience was the disparity of views about the film that I encountered. I can quite understand that Atonement would be a very divisive film, mostly because of the ending (to be honest, I think it's a miracle the ending works at all, let alone that it works as well as it does), and often when a film's ending doesn't work for you, then the entire film experience gets tainted. But when I sat in the lounge that evening, and told people what had happened, I was interested to learn that, of the five or six people in the room that had seen the film, I was the only person that actually liked the film. Yet when I came to work today and told the story to people, what I found was that, without exception, where people had seen the film they loved the film. And the very clear demarcation seems odd to me - what is it about people at my work that makes the film have such appeal to them, when it has such clear lack of appeal to my friend and her circle of friends? I don't know, but I wish I did.

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