Saturday, December 18, 2010

Movie Review of The Reader (2008)

Review of the Movie The Reader

As sweet as honey, thinks a fool an evil deed, so long as it bears no fruit;
But when it bears fruit, then the fool comes to grief.
- Dhammapada 69

The Reader has been both praised and torn apart by reviewers. It is the story of a young man who had an affair with a much older woman, fell in love with her, and then lost track of her until he was in university. Then, he discovers, she was not the woman he thought. I would like to look at the issue of Hanna’s ethical framework and how it affects the young man who loved her.

Under the review of the television series Flashpoint, you will find a relevant quotation by Thich Nhat Han about how we are formed by our circumstances. Hanna’s circumstances seem to have formed her into a woman who feels deep shame over her own limitations but not of her horrific actions during the war. She also defends her action by saying, “What would you have done?” No one responds. They could be horrified by the question but also they may realize that not being in the circumstance, they could not say for sure how they would have behaved.

At another point in the movie, young legal students are discussing the camps and one shouts, “Everybody knew what was happening. Everyone knew about the camps. Everyone.” Did the people believe in victory so much they never thought they, as individuals and as a nation, would be held accountable for the atrocities?

We know from the beginning there is something not quite right with Hanna’s morality. She helps an ill boy, Michael Berg, age 15, but then immediately seduces him. She never says hello, simply barks orders. She vacillates between indifference and affection toward the boy. Is she a woman of her times? Her nature at conflict with her environment? In the end, her skewed morality does her in.

The reaction of Michael and the damage the relationship has done to him are paramount. Is it lust or is it compassion? This first deceptive relationship cuts deeply causing him to distance himself from everyone, his wife, and even his daughter. It is only by showing Hanna compassion is he able to grieve and heal.

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