Monday, January 12, 2009
I found The Reader an intriguing film, at times ponderous, but ultimately very thought-provoking. Through layered metaphors hung on the story of a young German man and an older woman whose lives are fatalistically intertwined, the film raises questions of how people can commit unthinkable acts, of trying to uncover the truth of long-past crimes, of how the guilt of complicity can cast a pall over a lifetime, of how a generation can reconcile itself to the irreconcilable. Needless to say, this is not an uplifting feel-good movie. But neither is it like any other Holocaust-themed film, because this film doesn't deal with the Holocaust itself, but with the shadow of the Holocaust on later German generations. There are no neat answers offered. Scenes of a war crimes tribunal cast doubt on the complete justice of the proceedings. A Holocaust survivor seems to have profited excessively from her memoir. And a man's life seems ruined by guilt for turning away when he could have countered an injustice. But the path through this moral wreckage is lit by fascinatingly enigmatic human characters. Kate Winslet is brilliant as the brusque and moody Hannah, while David Kross is outstanding as the young innocent Michael, and Ralph Fiennes brings just the right air of insularity and regret to the older Michael. The script and direction shone in some parts and got a bit ponderous in others. The early segment of the story was a wonderfully realized coming-of-age story, perfectly capturing the excitement and confusion of a teen's first love (while showing a delicious dose of beautiful skin). In the middle segment, a couple of courtroom scenes had memorable visuals -- Michael's sudden realization about Hannah, and Hannah's co-defendants smelling weakness and turning on her like a pack of wolves. But other parts seemed a bit flawed. The timeline seemed more jumbled than it needed to be (the viewer really needs to pay attention to keep the datelines straight). And a minor character, a law professor, was a bit surreal, and almost Yoda-like in his apparently wise but mostly impenetrable lines. The film, like the professor, seems full of meaning but it's hard to make out what exactly it's trying to say. Then there are the moral issues that the film doesn't intend to raise but may occur to its viewers, like whether we should have much sympathy for a Nazi prison guard and child molestor. But some movies are disturbing and good, and I think this was one of them.