Archive for February 21st, 2009

Craptastic take two

Saw The Reader yesterday. My first words (letters, really) when the ending credits rolled were, “WTF?”  Seriously, WTF?  I am so confused by the seriousness with which people are taking this movie.  I am floored that this movie has gotten positive reviews.  It is, in a word, craptastic!  It starts out ok — the relationship between Michael, the boy, and Hannah, the woman, is somewhat interesting and benefits from the young Michael’s charm.  During this portion, we are in late 1950s West Germany (at least mostly; sometimes we are in a more modern-day Germany with Ralph Fiennes being all cold and distant).  And that’s pretty much where any part of the movie that could be considered good ends.  After this point, the acting deteriorates rapidly and the inanity begins.  Michael goes off to law school in Heidelberg and takes what can only be described as the dumbest law school class I’ve ever seen.  The six or so students sit around and look morose and pained while discussing the then-current prosecution of former members of the S.S.  One of the students is prone to ridiculous outburts that are all over the map — he alternately thinks the judicial proceedings against six female guards is “justice!” and then, later, a “diversion!”  He screams and screams while his professor stupidly stands around looking impotent and saying things like, “A diversion? From what?”  and “Exciting?  How so?”  These kids really should demand their tuition back.  Anyway, as you know, Michael attends these proceedings to discover that Hannah is one of these former guards on trial for her life.  It is at this point that Kate Winslet really lost it, in my opinion.  Her constant forlorn, deer-in-the-headlights, confused look as to why she was on trial for sending her prisoners to Auschwitz was just plain ridiculous.  Is she stupid, naive or evil?  Are we somehow supposed to find nuance or humanity in her here?  It’s just dumb and unbelievable.    This stupidity and unbelievability are summed up in the image of another of the defendants knitting during the trial.  I don’t dare to suggest that it seems entirely implausible that any country’s justice system would allow a defendant to knit during her trial, but how annoying and over-the-top was it to force this image down our throat?  Oh, these women are just horrid!  They were guards in a concentration camp and in the mid-to-late 1960s they still don’t get it, they are callous, unapologetic, evil ladies.  Making characters purely evil like that is the place of comic book stories.  I just had to roll my eyes. 

After this point, Michael’s behavior becomes inexplicable to me.  Actually, everything after this was inexplicable to me.  The law student becoming such a hystrionic weirdo; the other law student storming out of the class; the vacant, Alzheimer-suffering professor; Hannah deciding it would be better to admit to horrendous war crimes than to admit she can’t read; Michael deciding he must confront her about this, only to back out; Michael growing up unable to be close to anyone made known to us by him telling us that (was this because Hannah was a Nazi or because of the fact he had a serious affair at 15 with a much older woman or because he had suffered from scarlet fever as a kid or just because?  Does anyone care?); Michael making cassette tapes of the books he had already read to Hannah and sending them to her in prison, but refusing to acknowledge her attempts at literacy; Michael visiting her in prison when she is set to be released and refusing to touch her (this seems way more to me because she is old now, and not because he now knows she was a Nazi); and Hannah’s you-could-see-it-coming-from-almost-the-first-frame-of-the-movie-suicide.

Maybe the weirdest of all, though, was the near-final scene of the movie.  Hannah is dead and she has left her money to a woman who had been a young girl in the camp at which Hannah worked and grew up to write a book about her experience (she had testified at Hannah’s trial).  This woman, played by Lena Olin, is so unbelievable I felt I had missed something.  Michael goes to see her in America and their conversation is beyond odd.  I want to recount it word-for-word just to emphasize the totally bizarre quality of it, but I will summarize it as this:

Michael:  I don’t know if you heard, but Hannah just died.

Lena Olin:  Am I supposed to feel bad?

Michael:  No, but she was a friend of mine.

Lena Olin:  I demand to know what kind of relationship you two had!

Michael:  We had an affair a long time ago.

Lena Olin:  People always ask me what I learned in the camps.  No one goes to the camps for an education.  Nothing comes out of the camps!!!!

Michael:  Anyway, she left you this money.

Lena Olin:  I cannot accept that money!!  If I gave it to a Jewish group having something to do with the Holocaust, it would be inappropriate!!!!

Michael:  I was thinking a literacy group.

Lena Olin:  Oh, yeah, that’d be ok.  But Jews can read.

Michael:  Thank you so much.

Lena Olin:  I’m keeping this tea tin.

Basically, the end.  Again, WTF?

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