Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"The Reader"

CharleyCarp and I have been batting The Reader back and forth over at Unfogged, which I'll steal for a "blog post."

CC: Having spoken with people who read the book in German, I see that my problems with the movie are inherent in the story. We just don't get enough to understand why the central characters make particular choices in the film. It's not that I can't stand ambiguity, it's just that the range of possible motivations is so broad as be make the actions meaningless.

A: I think it's actually kind of cool to leave this as inscrutable as it is in real life. I mean, there are no *good* reasons for [terrible thing that Hannah participated in], or [other terrible thing]. Having reasons is kinda gross actually.

Two points:

(1) When Hannah asks the presiding judge what *he* would've done, he doesn't answer.

(2) Michael has the chance to do the right thing (confront Hannah in jail & get the truth out), but wimps out. Obviously the moral scope is different, but the point is made.

CC: Anderson, we don't know whether she would've behaved differently if confronted: whether she wants to keep the secret out of shame, or whether she's willing to take the punishment for what she's done. We don't know why Michael wimps out. Is he ashamed of his own past? Does he realize that she knows what she's doing, and is making her own choice?

I'm not asking to be spoonfed, and there are times when ambiguity is better than fine. I don't find this movie one of them. I don't care in the least that he tells his daughter.

A: I think it's clearly shame in Hannah's case; she denies having written the report, until the pad and pencil are put in front of her.

As for Michale, it's some kind of shame or embarrassment on his part; I don't think he can say "she knows what she's doing" and get off the hook that easily, without talking to her. His timing strongly suggests that he waffles rather than acting out of principle.

Going out on a limb, I would say that he's a bit grossed out by his intimacy with someone who did monstrous things ... which has the ironic effect of his shunning her, i.e., treating her as less than human?... you see where that goes. Moral equivalency and all that. The author would've been hanged in effigy for spelling that out, but I think it's fair to suggest that the *potential* for terrible conduct is within all or most of us, even if luck means that most of us never realize that potential.

Cf. the righteous classmate who would happily shoot each of the defendants himself. Had he been born a bit earlier and in different circumstances, what do you suppose he would've ended up doing during the war?

I don't see how the movie gets much more explicit about motives without becoming preachy. Merely keeping things ambiguous in a Holocaust flick is achievement enough!

... Anyway, maybe Winslet's win gave Ron Rosenbaum heartburn.

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