We have been talking about the Revolutionary Roads, Benjamin Buttons, Sam Mendes, Slumdog Millionaire (we talked so much that we killed it), Danny Boyle, Amitabh Bachchan, waghaira waghaira. I was disappointed when I didn’t find even half of the few of us discussing The Reader (its up with all the buttons and millionaires on your Academy of Motion Pictures).
The Readeris a movie by Stephen Daldry based on a novel by Bernhard Shlink, a German writer. It is about the inability of successive German generations to comprehend with the holocaust. How could their fathers sit through what can be called “the worst condition in which a human being can be kept”? Shlink was basically a detective novelist which can be seen at the pace at which the movie progresses. It is the perfect pace at which a movie should reveal itself, moving inch by inch. It can be divided into three segments.
The first segment is about Michael’s discovery of intimacy with the opposite sex on a larger scale as a fifteen year old. It’s about his affair with a mysterious woman called Hannah, who is twice her age, and as an adolescent, for him Hannah’s complexities take a backseat when compared to the new experiences and pleasures that he derive from being with her.
In the second part, Michael is a student of the law at a university and witnesses court cases as part of his vocational training. On one such case Hannah is one of the defendants in a war-crime trial being committed by the Nazis. Michael is both, the guilty lover, since he loved a criminal and a confused young man since he cannot understand as to why she is accepting full responsibility of a crime that couldn’t have been committed by her alone (the other defendants accuse Hannah of writing the report since she was in charge but she couldn’t have because she was illiterate).
The third segment is the part in which Michael tries to understand Hannah (because he was her lover) as well as condemns her (because he was a war-hating German) for her acts and finds out that it is impossible to do both. It’s a tussle and he goes to which side is unclear in the movie.
The first segment belongs to David Kross. He essays the role of young Michael with so much subtlety that any seasoned actor should take a bow. Not in a single frame does he feels intimidated by Kate and has answers for all her nuances.
The second segment is all Kate Winslet, even though she doesn’t has much screen time but she sends you through a tailspin in those court room scenes and you reel for a long time. A special mention for the scene in which Michael visits one of the concentration camps to incline more towards Hannah but comes out as one who finds it even hard to justify. It’s a heart wrenching scene and I was moved to tears would be an understatement.
The third segment is Ralf Fiennes playing the divorced father of a daughter, a grown up Michael whose every relationship has been affected because of his alliance with Hannah.
He never meets her out of acrimony but sends her recorded tapes of books so that she has something to hang on to in her imprisonment for life.
The movie talks about how a war not only affects the physical but the metaphysical aspect of a complete society impairing it genetically. A catastrophe of this magnitude shatters a person so much that it is impossible to grow out of it.
The only aspect the movie is unable to touch is Hannah’s PoV. I’m still trying to figure her out. Whether it was her inability to read and write that did her or the indifference towards the crime that she committed, if there was any indifference.
The narrative is very engaging and Stephen Daldry has been able to explain an idea with the help of some extraordinary performances. When Michael hears Hannah’s voice in the courtroom and the camera slides slowly from his face towards her posture, I started having goose bumps. Daldry has done an insurmountable task of depicting on film the whole resonance in people’s lives in Germany after the holocaust and I can overlook the flaws in the movie due to the treatment of his vision.
I haven’t seen Frost/Nixon and Milk but this movie is definitely better than both, Benjamin Button and Slumdog.
originally published for passionforcinema.com at http://passionforcinema.com/a-less-talked-about-the-reader/