Thursday, February 19, 2009

Der Vorleser

Continuing in a way the theme this year of movies dealing with whether life is about decisions or fate, The Reader tackles the issue of German guilt associated with the events of World War II. If one is at all interested in this as one of the most significant events in the past couple of centuries, or if one is interested in German culture, this movie might be of interest, with some caveats.

If you have a problem with movie nudity, or if you do not find being a peeping tom entertaining, you would do well to skip the first 45 minutes of this film. It is not a loss really either. All you need to know is that the story is set up with the completely implausible affair between a 15 year old boy and a 36 year old woman, conducted in a mechanical, unattractive, and (if it weren’t a hormonal teenage boy) non-connective fashion.

After the summer of “love” ends, the story reveals that Hanna is in fact an ex-guard from a concentration camp who is being tried for war crimes. Here is where the story almost becomes interesting, especially in a couple of scenes at the university where students and their teacher discuss the issues of German national guilt, especially as it affects the new generations. Nothing is ever resolved or even explained, but the issue is brought up in a way that really hits a side of the German psyche on the head.

Those guilt issues are the obvious points being addressed by the film. The more important ones (from this story’s perspective) are those faced by Michael, the reader. Here we see the story of a man who’s life has been ruined by decisions he made as a teen, the secrets he has been compelled out of guilt to keep, and the woman who abused him in much the same way she had done all the people in the concentration camp all those years before.

Sort of the way younger generations of Germans have dealt with the guilt of their culture ever since World War II.

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