In a given year, Scott and I manage to watch about 25% of the Best Picture nominees before they release a new batch to get behind on.
We're ahead of the game this year because, in the past week, we've managed to see SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE and, as of last night, THE READER. While I usually dislike seeing book-adaptation films before I've read the book, I make exceptions for books I either a) never heard of, or b) didn't make it through. THE PAINTED VEIL fell in the former category, and THE READER in the latter. Both excellent movies, by the way.
I don't know why I didn't make it through THE READER (book version). I tried. I'm almost positive it wasn't because of the MaryKay-Vili-style affair between the two characters. But seeing the movie made me want to try the book again, if only to get inside Michael Berg's head. What are you thinking, you big clunk?
My first question is, who is the reader? Is it Michael? Is it Hanna? Is it me? All three of us? The story is so much about sitting in judgment on other people, and the complicated sympathies we have for each other. Books famously have a way of getting us inside heads alien to our own and making them sympathetic to us. Think of Milton's Satan.
And what is reading? For Hanna it's a metaphor for self-awareness. Michael asks her, on the eve of her prison release, if she has "learned anything" about her war crimes, and she replies, "I've learned to read." Critics have claimed the author excuses Hanna's behavior because of her illiteracy, but I would argue that her illiteracy represents her unthinking, unexamined actions. When she is read to, and when she learns to read, she learns to join the human experience, to reflect. For Michael (at least in the movie), reading becomes inseparable from intimacy. Reading, like sex, becomes a place for two emotionally and sometimes physically separated people to connect, and yet only one person gets to do the talking. Even when Hanna learns to write and tries to communicate through letters, he continues to send tapes. To see her, years later and beaten down (or at least, wearing lots of cosmetic prostheses) is too rude a shock for him, and you sense he'd rather limit reality to books on tape. Hanna, with her different approach to reading, recognizes the twain shall never meet. Sigh.
Anyhow, that's just the title! No time even to get into the whole war-guilt business...Anyone else see the movie? We can talk on-or-offline.