November 14, 2009

#048: The Reader

This is another film that I am very late in seeing. The Reader centers around a relationship between mid 30's Hanna (Kate Winslet) and 15 year old Michael (David Cross & Ray Fiennes). Their affair only lasts a summer, but it will affect them both for the rest of their lives. The first half of the film shows us this affair; from when they first met to its abrupt end. The scenes are awkward, but charming at the same time. Michael is young and approaches life with excitement. He is innocent, but now has a secret that sets him apart from his friends and disconnects him from his family. Hanna is more mysterious, hard and unemotional, but also possesses an innocence of her own. Their relationship is obviously wrong, but we can't really hold either of them at fault for what is going on. Once it had started it could not easily be stopped. It was complicated, yet so simple.

     As The Reader goes into its second act we see Michael move on to his college years. Hanna once again comes into his life, this time in a very different setting. He is faced with a decision that will effect the rest of her life. This decision seems simple, but will result in an embarrassing admission for both parties involved. Michael will have to acknowledge that he had an affair with, and cared for, this woman. Any association with her at this time will not be good for him. At the same time he will have to expose a secret about her. A secret she has gone to great lengths to keep. He ultimately makes his decision, and both of them must live with it.

I knew very little about this film going in. For some reason I was expecting to be bored by it. I was very surprised by how much it drew me in over the first half. The scenes in Hanna's apartment are captured very vividly. It is awkward, and shows quite a bit of nudity, but it all serves to make it seem genuine. As a viewer I believed what I was seeing, and that part of the film really worked for me. The second part, which brings in all the Nazi stuff, really didn't work for me. The beginning made these people seem real. The middle made it very apparent they were just characters on a screen. There is a lot more to be dealt with in the second half, so it will undoubtedly become more messy. However I don't feel like it was approached with the same care as the beginning. There are about 45 minutes where Michael is chain smoking with a look of concentrated sadness on his face. This section felt really forced, and I couldn't wait for it to be over. There were parts of the ending that recaptured that feeling and emotion we saw early on. The final scenes may not satisfy our hearts, but I felt they worked with the story.

     I would definitely recommend seeing The Reader if you have not done so already. If you have seen it, let me know what you thought. What did you think about the role of water in the film? For the first hour there is water in almost every scene. Then there is a span where water is decidedly absent. Is it that the water cleans the physical and emotional filth from their bodies? Is it merely a symbol of renewed purity, and forgiveness? Is there more to it? I think the main take-away from The Reader is the consequences of inaction. As children we are told we will get in trouble if we do something. This film is about trouble caused when people chose to do nothing. In water, if you do nothing, you drown. You have to actively move your arms or kick your feet in order to stay afloat. Here we see them do nothing, and the price they must pay for it.


Filed Under: