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arlan veras payad
arlan veras payad WE ARE often bemused—and quite rightly so—of the way the benefits of literary appreciation seem to be all but lost to this generation. It would appear that the culprit is technology and its "unliterary" amusements that ensnare the mind. And who can blame us? Instead of reading fiction, why would we not just play computer games? Like as not, others—including our bosses and, perhaps, parents—are playing them too. Well, a little diversion using techie gadgets every now and then should not be a problem. But how about using the advancements of technology to have the humanizing effects of literature? The e-book, for one, is a scrumptious innovation. However, for many of us who still regard novels with the cold shoulder, if not with utter disdain, literary movies might be a workable concession.

There could be life-changing insights gleaned through literary movies. And with the advent of quick downloading of films from the internet, movies that are rich in valuable lessons are well within our reach at a fraction of the cost in time and money—even long after their feature in cinemas. One delightful case in point is "Atonement."

As it happens, Confucian precepts could be brought to the fore by scenes in this movie that is based on the novel of the same emotion-laden title by Ian McEwan. In it, the main characters were tragically launched into a lifetime of immense suffering just because of a childish mistake (bringing to mind, sort of, "The Necklace" by Guy de Maupassant).

The mistake was the delivery of a letter that was not supposed to happen. Moreso, the epistolary contents implicated the character Robbie in a crime he did not commit, causing his incarceration and a whole gamut of heartaches brought on by his separation from his muse and love.

Robbie, though, remained steadfast regarding his battle cry, a mantra of sorts to his beloved—"Find you, love you, marry you. And live without shame." Despite his immeasurable pain and innumerable vicissitudes, he belied people's bigoted expectations of him. His moral constitution never broke despite his lowly station, indeed fitting the essence of this analect quite seamlessly: "The commander-in-chief of an army can be carried captive, but the convictions of even the meanest man cannot be taken from him."

Having been wrongly accused of child molestation, Robbie's abasement in the murky eyes of high society (those among the unenlightened lot) was made as plain as day. On account of his social stature, the people whom he came to know and love as family laid supine to the biases of the society at large: that the poor, the lowly of birth, the scantily robed of connections can hardly rise from the dismal ashes of the crater they created in their meteoric fall from grace. Through the lenses of those who subscribe to this bigotry, education is hardly of sufficient efficacy to prop up a monkey, to keep it from bending low and being true to its innate decrepitude.

Even the derailment of the economy during the war would not give Robbie a let-up from the fangs of grief over society's discrimination. After a series of unfortunate events led him to prison, and as fate was egged on to present more unpleasant surprises to Robbie, he found himself fighting in a war which, with its unspeakable horrors, paled in comparison to the battle for sanity raging on in his psyche. It was an uphill struggle at that point; though, indeed, his earlier years could hardly be akin to having a ball.

Nevertheless, he stuck it out with his life's quiet but immutable truths of friendship, love, and family. He was floored by the burden of loss, yet he accepted the challenges with equanimity. He kept his tongue in check when lies were shouted all around him. As in the "Desiderata", he spoke his truth quietly. Again, Robbie's character is a fleshing out of the master Confucius's precept—"A plausible tongue and a fascinating expression are seldom associated with true virtue."

Robbie soldiered on. He kept close to his heart the spirit of the people he loved. He also refused to have the rigors of war and the disillusionment with society lead him to the disintegration of his morals. Though hardly the brazen criminal he was accused to be, he notwithstandingly snapped up all opportunities for correcting what ills could be begrudged against him. There indeed was no indication of hesitation in him to heed the invitation from the analects—"Let loyalty and truth be paramount with you. Have no friends not equal to yourself. If you have faults, shrink not from correcting them."

The other main character in the movie whose actions were most seminal and pivotal in the narrative's unfolding was Kitty. In her case, there is no contest to the idea that atonement, the very spirit of the movie, centered on her. She, of all persons in the tale, was most steeped in a stifled frenzy of remorse for the most unfortunate folly she committed out of the innocent indelicacy of youth. She was the tempestuous herald of the epistle written by Robbie meant as a private pun. Having got to the wrong hands, the contained message embittered all their lives. Robbie's, his lover's, and Kitty's—lives of effervescent promise laid waste by Kitty's faulty turn. She was a young girl eager to receive affection, to flex the muscles of her talent, and to prove her worthiness by telling on those whom she thought had too little worthiness to speak of.

The early downturn in Kitty's morals corollary to the featured film's blossoming would not be without a positive spin, though, towards the movie's "fin tragique." Confucius said—"Benevolence is the characteristic element of humanity." And it was no less than benevolence of the highest order that Kitty ultimately embodied. Her love and kindness so engulfed her very being that self-actualization allowed her to come full circle. Her malevolent missteps of old flipped into virtuous acts of love in her maturity: from a desultory hunger for affection to a constant other-centered cathexis; from a craving for self-aggrandizement through talent to a commitment to others' growth; and from a rabid, insensitive whistle blowing to a positively proactive stewardship of fellows.

Ultimately, the characterization and plot of the tale enjoin one to keep in mind that although atonement and justice are prerequisite steps to our evolutionary journey to the fullness of our humanity, the destination and the very reason for the whole stretch of the circuitous trek, over and above all else, is love.

*"Atonement" is a 2007 British romantic drama war film directed by Joe Wright and based on the 2001 novel of the same name by Ian McEwan. (Wikipedia)

[About the author. Arlan Veras Payad is a teacher of English and educational management whose recent researches center on cross-cultural and psycho-social aspects of learning among such respondents as university students in Seoul, South Korea, and high school Aeta students in the mountains of Pampanga. In his rendezvous with the quill, Arlan intends to trace the movements of the Tao in people’s route to success and well-being. In doing so, he is wont to occasionally exhibit the black humor folks use to cope with the Fates’ seemingly indifferent machinations.]

-Posted: 1:00 PM 11/25/13 | More of this author on eK!