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True Connection and Essence of Love

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Ray Lawrence’s film Lantana and Ian McEwan’s novel Atonement share several key ideas that can be conveyed to the audience in similar ways. The guilt of betrayal, differences in class and the idea of love are all explored in depth by both author and director. Through the use of contrasting actions of characters, the depiction of the key characters is deployed to explore these themes, as are powerful symbols – often paired to foreshadow a crime or guilt.

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Lawrence utilises contrast between the actions and interactions of characters to show past the facades and into the true connection of love – or lack of. Leon and Sonja Zat give the illusion of being a happily married couple along with their children as they attend dance classes together and continue to sleep together despite the underlying issues of disloyalty, miscommunication and lack of trust. Lawrence contrasts this to the relatively minor characters of Nik and Paula. While the couple are poor, shown by the setting they live in; a run down, outer suburban home. They have two young children and have only a single income coming from Paula. Despite everything going seemingly wrong in their lives, they remain loyal and trusting of each other, “‘How do you know [he didn’t commit murder]?’, ‘He told me’”. Because the audience witnesses the love and mutual respect between Nik and Paula, the lack of love in the Zat’s relationship becomes clear, highlighting the idea of love and the importance of it. McEwan also contrasts characters actions to show the difference and importance of love. SImilar to Leon and Sonja, Emily and Jack Tallis are unfaithfully married with children. Despite Jack’s attempts to cover his affair, Emily only sees his efforts as “a tribute to the importance of their marriage.” While this conception contrasts the view of Sonja, connections can be drawn since they both have some idea that their partners are unloyal. But, when the Tallis home is thrown into disarray, Jack is nowhere to be found – unwilling to help his wife and restore balance to the home. This setup contrasts with the blooming relationship of Cecilia and Robbie, arguably the main characters of Atonement. McEwan describes in great detail Cecilia’s pleads of Robbie’s innocence and continues to remain faithful and loyal during his conviction and imprisonment. As with Leon and Sonja, because of Jack’s poor example, the idea of the importance love in a relationship is defined and amplified as shown in the relationship of Cecilia and Robbie.

Through the characterisation of key characters differing from minor characters, Lawrence and McEwan demonstrate the critical differences in class – often resulting in a manifestation of injustices. Lawrence presents the Zat family as being a typical middle to upper class family of the early 2000’s in Sydney. They own the current Holden Commodore; both Sonja and Leon have secure, well paying jobs, as well their house being framed with a skip bin out the front, indicating the planned execution of renovations. Lawrence fabricated them to be representative of the stereotypical upper-middle class which was very uncommon in Sydney during that time period. As previously mentioned, Nik’s young family is shown to be in the lower class and struggling, with Paula having to be “picking up a few extra shifts”, living in a run down home in the outer suburbs and Nik pictured to be maintaining their long outdated cars on his own. This is intentionally designed to be representative of the lower end of common folk which results in Nik being quickly blamed for the death of Valerie, without questioning for a story – not helped by the “evidence”. Paul Marshall and Lola Quincey form an elite upper class when they marry due to the Marshall’s wealth, McEwan initially characterising him as a “chocolate magnate” whom will “become very rich should Mr Hitler not pipe quiet down”; a direct contrast to Nik. Because of this upper class, he is not blamed as he provides the members of the investigation with “cigarettes from a gold holder”, nor is he even questioned about Lola’s Rape; instead that blame being placed on the cleaner’s son – Robbie. Robbie lives with his mother after the Tallis’ pay for his tuition at Cambridge University. He is flat broke and certainly designed to be a part of the lower class – similar to Nik, whom also faces an injustice resulting in arrest. Lawrence and McEwan both therefore show the injustice of classes through the comparative characterisation of major and minor characters.

Lawrence and McEwan also utilize symbols to foreshadow the idea of guilt due to betrayal in their texts. The Tallis vase is commonly used to symbolise the relationship of the Tallis family members, but it can also be used to symbolise the dangers of Paul Marshall. Recalling Lola’s rape, when the vase is broken, the blame is placed on the housekeeper and not Cecilia and Robbie, who initially broke the vase. This recurring idea of injustice being served appears again as if the vase tarnishes those who touch it, with the tragic separation of Cecilia and Robbie, the hideous crime Marshall performs in the heat and the housekeeper who is blamed with the breaking of a family heirloom. Similarly, in Lantana, the lantana itself is symbolic of the relationships between characters, both minor and major. The lantana bush is known to be deeply tangled and dense, connecting with the relationships of Jane with Pete and Leon and how they affect the investigation of Valerie’s death. The truth revealing the death of Valerie is hidden deep inside the tangled relationships that develop off these characters which initially results in an injustice, being a key theme.

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Lawrence and McEwan both use contrast, characterisation and symbolism to convey key ideas, which are pushed to the audience’s attention through the use of minor characters. Ideas of injustice and the importance of love, among others, are explored by each author in depth. This common mission is executed effectively because of the emphasis placed on these ideas, accompanied by the contrast shown by the minor characters.

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