The Typewriter in Atonement by Ian McEwan

Categories: Atonement Ian McEwan

A typewriter would be ear rattling if sat next to a Mac Book during lecture. The authoritative presence of mechanical devices ring out a different time in history. A time where things were built solely on the thought of functionality, not about convenience. Through analyzation of aspects in film Atonement, one will explore the functionality of the typewriter as it provides use of symbolism and emotion, both on screen and off. One of the more crucial typewriters in the film is the Royal No.

10, used by Robbie Turner. It is said by many critics to be the reason why the films’ score was so highly revered. The Royal No. 10, “wrote Robbie Turner a one-way ticket to hell”, as Briony Tallis would intercept the letter and decide to read it for herself. The plot creates tension because the letter was not meant for her, or anyone else. It was a mistake. The typewriter sets the stage for drama and an intense soundtrack to soon follow.

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Briony seeing the letter enables a highlighted moment for the typewriters in the film, demonstrated by means of the film’s soundtrack, Atonement: Music from the Motion Picture. After Briony has received the note from Robbie, she begins to run down the hill in a hastily manner. While this is happening, the sound of loose piano notes can be heard in a rhythmic order, matching the pace of Briony’s speed. The music stops as Robbie realizes the mistake he has made. On cue, the low octave orchestral part comes in accompanied by percussive typewriter “key clicks”.

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As Briony begins to open the letter, the orchestral parts are filled with irregular crescendos while the “key clicks” become more rushed and prominent. What follows next, could be the biggest element of the typewriter in this scene. Briony reads the words on the letter. A camera pans across the letter, magnified by the sound of loud “key clicks,” similar to the sound of a cell door closing. A thorough analyzation into film depicts a Briony that acts “mechanical” at times. When a narrative from Briony is shown, the typewriter acts as if it is controlling her emotions. In the way of a calm typing sound rather than a more frantic one and vice versa.

One piece of historical foreshadowing in the film is of Briony’s first typewriter, the Smith - Corona 4 portable, and the connection it has to Robbie Turner. In wartime efforts, Smith - Corona began to co-manufacture the M1903A3 Springfield rifle. The evidence of foreshadowing is found when Robbie Turner is depicted at Dunkirk, where he would have been surrounded by those exact rifles. Through this historical analyzation, the change Smith - Corona made from typewriters to rifles, symbolizes the change of Robbie Turner’s life pre-war to his days at Dunkirk.

The typewriter was not only important on screen, as it also had importance to the workers off screen. Seamus McGarvey, a cinematographer who contributed his work on Atonement, explains in detail of the behind the scenes work that went into the film. Written in the production notes for Atonement, Focus Features quotes McGarvey as saying, “Throughout post- production as well, departments worked in harmony, with special regard to the sound and editing processes.” He goes on to say, “From the enhanced sound effect of rushing water when Cecilia emerges from the Tallis estate’s fountain, to the clipped upper-class accents of the Tallis family, to the interweaving of the sound of typewriter keys into Dario Marianelli’s score, every detail was worked out and unified.” The analyzation from McGarvey’s statement shows how not only does the typewriter bring together elements in the film, but also that it brings together the different departments of film and unites them as a team.

A Smith – Corona 4 portable conveys the characteristics of Briony’s behavior. Smith – Corona symbolizes a foreshadowing in historical notion to Robbie Turner at Dunkirk. A Royal No. 10 seals the fate and progresses the story of Robbie Turner, symbolizing the progression of his character. Finally, the Typewriter. Acting as a symbolic and emotional element as it brings both the cast and crews of different departments, to collaborate together as one team. Mentioned above are the highlights from my analysis. By connecting ones own take away from the film Atonement, and using then supporting evidence from historical documentation, as well as witness statements, look to have explained reasoning of the functionality the typewriter has in providing symbolism and emotion, both on screen and off screen.

Updated: Jan 24, 2022
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The Typewriter in Atonement by Ian McEwan. (2022, Jan 24). Retrieved from

The Typewriter in Atonement by Ian McEwan essay
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