The Reader [based on the book by] by dir. by

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based on book, Der Vorleser.
In Germany, 1958, Michael Berg is feeling unwell. He wanders through the streets for a while before almost collapsing in the entrance to an apartment block. He vomits. A passing woman helps him out. She cleans up after him and helps get him home. It turns out that he has scarlet fever and remains bed-ridden for a number of months. Once he feels better he returns to thank the woman, and ends up having an affair with her.

The film is told in flashbacks. And in 1966 we meet up with Michael Berg again. He is attending law school and as part of his course he attends the trial of a group of Nazi guards who are accused of letting 300 women die in a fire. One of those on trial is Hanna Schmitz, the woman he had the affair with.

To be honest I’m not totally sure what to make of this film. I’m not sure what it is trying to say. We have the horrors of the holocaust. We have the generation gap between the Germans who were alive during Nazi Germany and their children who must live with the fact that their parents, their relatives, the entire elder generation must shoulder at least some of the blame. And we have illiteracy. And then there is the unhealthy relationship between Michael and Hanna. If the ages and genders were reversed and an older man having such a relationship with a much younger girl I’m sure the reaction would be much different.

It is a film that is well worth watching. But you will come away with just this almost overwhelming sense of sadness. There is little enough sense of a resolution or conclusion. Just, well, I suppose helplessness. Michael can do nothing to help Hanna. The fact is that she was an SS guard! Should he even try to help her? He doesn’t know. Is the truth that important or is the perception of justice being delivered more important?

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Post Author: Fence

4 thoughts on “The Reader [based on the book by]

    Carl V.

    (12 January 2009 - 6:27 am)

    It is probably pretty narrow minded of me, but in an era where so many of the remaining few WWII vets are dying off, as are the Jews who survived the camps, any film that even hints at painting the Germans of those times in a sympathetic light makes me take a step back. I feel bad about that as I know there were certainly German people who were innocent and others who didn't have a clue, but I am always afraid that sympathy and understanding takes society one step closer to minimizing what happened. Especially since there are many nations, third world nations, that would love to see the Jews obliterated from the face of the earth still today.

    jean pierre

    (12 January 2009 - 11:04 am)

    hmmm… this sounds like a difficult film. apart from all the political issues, i think i'd find it difficult for what you've mentioned – the sadness and the helplessness of it all.

    charlotte went to see it on saturday night and loved it. she loves romantic stories that are tragic, though.

    Fence

    (12 January 2009 - 12:56 pm)

    Carl I totally get where you are coming from. I don't think this film does lessen the hugeness of the Holocaust. One of the characters goes so far as to say that no matter what was said after the fact, everybody in Germany knew what was happening, and everybody should face up to that responsibility.

    But if you want to understand how something like that could happen, then I think films like this serve a purpose, in that they show that anyone is capable of acting like a monster. Winslet's character isn't an overly sympathetic one. We may emphasize with Michael, but it is more that we can understand his confusion and sense of disbelief.

    I don't think that understanding in any way equals a lack of guilt. After all you can understand why someone did something and not condone it. I think to portray anything as such a monstrous deed that it can not be explained is a lot more dangerous than trying to figure out how it happened, and what the people who were involved in it were thinking.

    JP it certainly is tragic.

    Carl V.

    (13 January 2009 - 4:55 am)

    What you are saying makes good sense. I think any films about this period that are not strictly about things from the Jewish perspective run that risk of multiple interpretations and I am honestly understanding enough to know that I shouldn't be so worried about the holocaust being watered down. For some reason that is very important to me. Perhaps because WWII feels like the last war that was fought for reasons that one can be proud of while at the same time being horrified by the act of war.

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