The Reader (Stephen Daldry, 2008) January 27, 2009Posted by Richard Bolisay in Hollywood, Literature.
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Cast: Kate Winslet, David Kross, Ralph Fiennes
Based on Bernard Schlink’s novel
Who would have thought that several years after the fall of the Third Reich the pain that has turned into memories, fossilized by time and refreshed by retelling, is still as painful as it was back then? Or perhaps more painful, because it is a pain that never goes away. So how come our writers are immortalizing the pain? How come our filmmakers, almost every year, decide to tell a war story, a painful war story of the Jews who survived the Holocaust? Or Germans who put them to death mercilessly? Are they redeeming themselves? Has it always been a matter of inspiration, of hope, of giving us a view of hell that we do not experience now? To appreciate what we have? To extricate ourselves from guilt and comfort the past for its crime? Daldry’s Reader has not aspired for greatness; I am sure the book has already achieved that. But when a literary text is translated into images and sound, there is an unmistakable partiality on the part of the filmmaker, of the writer, of the actors, of every one involved in the production, to accomplish a certain ideological responsibility that suppresses the pain but in the end always comes off unsuccessful, almost futile. The first half is an excuse to look at passion as an irrepressible weapon of innocence and power. Winslet has always been bold and effectively sensual; anyone who has seen Titanic at least twice may have easily committed to memory how her breasts look like. When she is on her character that dominates, she is a bit shaky, almost unsure of her actions, disturbed and apologetic, you can see in her eyes the past she had tried to avoid. The second half, particularly the trial of Hanna and Michael’s communication with her after she was sentenced to jail, is now an excuse to look at history with emotional significance. Daldry handles it predictably well. The Holocaust is always a reminder of pain; therefore the register of pain is anticipated. I can see it coming, but it becomes a meta-catharsis, with Olin even pointing out that the camps were not therapy; nothing comes out of the camps. Fiennes’ coldness as he keeps his guilt gives a striking contrast to Kross’ passionate youth; it is understandable why Daldry resorts to skipping time frames. It fumbles for sympathy, but what logic does the great extermination can give? Absolution is not decided on earth. Absolution is illusion in itself. People will forget, people will remember. What would you have done? Nothing, because you weren’t there. But the German guilt is shared by everyone, even the unborn and the illiterate, even the almighty word.