Becky and I watched “The Reader” last night. I enjoyed watching it, and some of the concepts raised by it are interesting, but I didn’t think it was a very good film. It was one of those tepid-but-beautiful designed-for-an-Academy-Award films with very little real heart or soul or mind. There were touches of excellence in there, there were moments that seemed the kernels of much better stories, but the authors weren’t bold enough to seize those moments and tell a truly powerful story. The book, of course, may be quite a lot better than the film, though I wouldn’t read it on the basis of the film alone.
For me “The Reader” shied away from really getting to grips with the issues it raised. And it failed to do what any great story must do — what so many of the stories mentioned in the film do so well — the story itself embodies its ideas. The narrative of “The Reader” was like a clotheshorse for ideas to be draped upon, rather than a living, breathing being of ideas. On another level, the film was stilted and not true to life — and not in a good way. The characters’ speech and behaviour was not believable or natural, nor were they stylised enough to create a universe in which to exist.
“The Reader” was especially disappointing considering how many good films I’ve seen recently, like “Gran Torino” and “Vicky Christina Barcelona” from which I expected little. Even “Dogville”, which had major flaws, was worth ten of “The Reader”.
Still, I liked that the story portrayed the holocaust and especially the post-war retribution that occurred (and is still occurring) in Germany inconclusively. There was an openness in the film’s portrayal of the SS guard, the Jewish victims, German society and the idea of social morality which could have been something special had the filmmakers or authors or whoever only carried the story further and done more with it.
The court scenes in particular were wonderful in the way they portrayed social justice as a sham and argued that the retribution sought by victims and bystanders after the war was not justice, but revenge. And that the sword of revenge, eager to fall, falls where it may, just or no.
The concept of retribution itself must die if we are to progress beyond our violent present, which is, in large part, also our past, and, if I am not too cynical, our future, too.