Atonement in Adaptation Open Access

DeVine, Drew (2016)

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Theorists of film adaptation have tended towards premature foreclosure regarding questions of fidelity, authorship, and evaluation. Assuming that advances in theory have settled such questions, they invoke the authority of poststructuralism to rid adaptation studies of moralistic and modernist traces which place the importance of literary values above engaging the full context of a given adaptation. This thesis suggests that a reopening of such questions is necessitated, in the spirit of poststructuralism's lessons, to do thorough contextual justice to certain adaptations. Atonement (a novel [2001] by Ian McEwan and a film adaptation [2007] directed by Joe Wright) provides an especially ripe space for such a reopening, as both the novel and the film are read as interacting with the survival of the modernist goal to capture/adapt reality through the secular-mystical facility of the author. Taking novel and film together as what André Bazin called an "ideal construct" provides a context in which to analyze how a film's status as an adaptation both complicates and enhances its quality of prestige. This, in turn, reveals complex relations of authority and evaluation which provoke questions about the limits of institutional film writing (whether journalistic or academic). These questions are responded to with a demonstration of a kind of academic film writing which seeks to limit the excesses of interpretation not through rationalistic skepticism, but with a sensuous attentiveness to the specifics of the filmic surface. Further, the conventionalized advertising of prestigious film adaptations is shown, in the case of Atonement, to represent both the novel and the film in a way which threatens to erase, in the eyes of the public, some of the interesting "authorial" tensions elaborated here, while also potentially preserving and enhancing some of their strangest qualities. By following up on provocative notion of the "ideal construct," this thesis arrives at new understandings of an important novel and film while occasioning a space for a different kind of film writing. Together, these gestures participate in broader debates concerning "rationality" in film studies, and how to ground the discipline, instead, in the search for productive disagreement.

Table of Contents

Preface. i

Chapter 1. Adapting To Other Voices

a. Through Atonement and into Some Problems. 1

b. Fidelity: "The Worst Word You Can Possibly Imagine". 8

c. Discontents: Literature and Literacy. 15

d. Engaging the (In)dividual. 24

Chapter 2. Ideally Embracing Authorship (and a Practical Limit)

a. Ian McEwan, The Broken Estate, and the Author as Suffering God. 32

b. Joe Wright, Toward a Sensuous Film Criticism, and Authorship as Nightmare-Odyssey. 57

c. "Torn Apart By Betrayal!": Marketing and the Practical Limit of Meaning. 98

Conclusion: Film and the Scene of the Writing. 108

Works Cited. 115

Film & Television Cited. 120

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