Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Reader

The Reader

First: Do not read this if you have not yet seen this movie and plan to see it. I think it is important to go into the film without knowing much about the story.

Second: I don't have an answer to the obvious question whether I liked the movie. I might by the end of the post, but at the moment, I'm conflicted. I'll explain.

The story presents an interesting point of view on two completely different, troubling situations. There is a decided juxtaposition of the uncomfortable illicit affair between a 15 year old boy and a much older woman and the uncomfortable subject of the murder of millions of people in the Holocaust. Both topics are difficult to discuss and present in a story for different reasons.

I would think that many people are put off by the thought of an adolescent boy and an older woman having sex, somewhat graphically, only to have that uneasy feeling crushingly diminished by the confrontation head on of a recounting of an Auschwitz Death March during a Nazi SS war crime trial.

I did not like the movie for the first 45 minutes or so. I did not enjoy the affair; I felt there were to many unanswered questions and holes that were skipped over. It is obvious that the affair was a defining moment in both main characters' lives and yet it felt rushed and painful.

It is not until the trial that the movie becomes interesting. Of course, Michael is a law student and of course his former lover is at the center of the war crime trial. Of course, Michael will have information that could change the outcome of the trial. But how does he, a law student, still young, admit to an affair with a woman 20 years his age? He can't, not when it would bring so much attention to himself and bring the wrath and hatred of a nation, of a world, on him. How could he defend this Nazi? He can't and it haunts him until the day she dies in prison and beyond.

The end, when he goes to New York to give the young survivor of the Death March Hannah's money, draws attention to the reparations that Germany made to survivors of the Holocaust. The home of the survivor is full of expensive fine art and the wealth is evident. In the end, when she takes only the tea tin that the money was kept in, perhaps is when the intended storyline comes to light.

The film highlights the humanity in everyone, from the Nazi to the confused young boy to the Holocaust survivor. Everyone has the capacity to feel empathy and to show kindness, to make reparations and find the humility to ask forgiveness for the unforgivable, to admit being closed off and open up their heart to another.

My overall feeling is that I did not enjoy the movie, though it is difficult to say one can enjoy a movie with such uncomfortable and troubling subjects at the center of the story. Still, I disliked the first half and felt the second half carried the film to its Oscar nomination.

The Reader at Rotten Tomatoes.

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