Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Repairing the Past: Case Studies of Amir & Briony

A central plot theme of the recent books/films The Kite Runner and Atonement deal with the concepts of the past, and whether we can make right what we have done in the past.

The story of The Kite Runner opens up with Rahim Khan telling Amir "There is a way to be good again." Is this true? Can we repair the past?

If you have experienced both of these stories (either in their novel of film forms) you will know that both works offer unique looks, as well as different conclusions.

Khaled Hosseini's novel, The Kite Runner, tells a well crafted story about a young boys past and errors in Kabul before it fell into the hands of the communist and the Taliban. As the early lines would allude, this story seems to suggest, that yes, there is a way to be a good again.

In Atonement, author Ian McEwan offers a more challenging, and probably, less popular perspective. It would seem to be that the message in Atonement, is a little more complicated. McEwan seems to suggest, that life is just a string a moments, and the moments of the past can not be undone, while their influence over the future is unstoppable. In reality, Atonement, does not encourage us to seek out ways to atone for our past, rather encourages caution in how we allow our present to play out, because our efforts to Atone for the past (as Briony attempts to do by becoming a nurse, searching for her sister, revisiting her childhood testimony, and finally through writing a mostly true story about Cecilia and Robbie) can not fully erase the past.

The complexity of Atonement's message, does not trivialize the counter-thesis of The Kite Runner's message.

But first some similarities is story construction...where The Kite Runner has excuses for Amir's childhood actions, so does Atonement. Also, both stories paint a picture that larger things are happening around their central characters, namely war (Post WWII conflict in Afghanistan, and World War II respectively). There is a sense in both films that we cannot ever understand exactly how our present decisions will effect the future because the future is filled with unimaginable futures.

In The Kite Runner, Amir's weakness as a child might be justifiable in the confines of his culture, but he has the opportunity to simply accept his former cowardice as a child to be brave and principled as an adult. Does that undo his former sin, that is debatable, but it also doesn't counteract the importance of his beneficent decision. I think there is value in this message that we can learn from the past, we can understand our past failings and learn. Perhaps we can not repair the past, but we can give of ourselves in a challenging ways.

I believe that Amir has learned that his selfish decision actually lowered his self-value, where his selfless decisions increased his self-value.

I think it is fair to suggest that Briony Tallis learns this same lesson, but is never offered an opportunity to put into practice in the same way it is laid before Amir.

I believe that as shown in Atonement, the past is fixed and will forever effect the future. Our actions cannot be undone, whether to benefit or to harm. But I also believe there is hope as seen in The Kite Runner. Our past decisions do not have to be indicative of our future decisions, rather we have the capacity to learn how to make better decisions, decisions to give of ourselves, and do what is right.


nate said...

I haven't read the book or seen the movie, but it reminds me of one of my favorite movies, "Magnolia." Elements of reparation for the past and far reaching hope for the future, particularly as it applies to children, is what draws me back to Magnolia.

Heather said...

I have struggled with this question, myself, for a long time, but it just seems that we are who we are because of our past. The past is necessary to create the present.