Friday, February 20, 2009

Bit of a Reach?


If you're lost enough to be a Holocaust denier, you were there before The Reader reared its head.

(Spoilers Follow)

I don't believe the movie whips up tremendous sympathy for Winslet's character. She was Fiennes's boyhood love. He can barely touch her hand when he meets her in prison thirty years later. He pulls away. He never stops being disgusted with her contamination of his life. Yet, he knew her, and knew her before any other woman. He sends her books. She learns to read. Monsters are human, too.

The trial scenes are really scenes of an angry, subconsciously guilty mob. I fail to see how the movie explicitly or implicitly defends or excuses German citizens calling for her punishment. I don't for a second believe that David Hare and Stephen Daldry hold the viewpoint that German citizens were not responsible for what happened.

Vonnegut once said that if he had been a citizen in Nazi Germany, he'd have been a Nazi. What choice would he have had? It's a difficult subject, and I certainly don't expect Jews to be comfortable with films showing Germany dealing with the ramifications of the Holocaust, after the fact. I'm not, however, sure that ramming the Holocaust and its horrors down our throats is all that beneficial.

I agree that the Academy is probably being blind and vain and self-serving by nominating the movie, but Rosenbaum et al jumping on it in this way is itself an act of ignoring several key incidents:

The scenes where David Kross's law professor expresses concern about Kross coming forward with information he has and doing the right thing, or else "we have learned nothing".

The scene of Germans watching Winslet's trial, snarling and gasping in shock, as if they were not themselves culpable. "Hypocrite!" is an inescapable thought during these scenes.

The law student ranting against his fellow students about German Society's culpability

Winslet's character chooses to take full responsibility for her actions and those of all the other guards, ostensibly to protect the secret of her illiteracy. Is that the only reason?

I don't think it's a great film, but I also don't think it's worth Rosenbaum's level of vitriol. It's clear that Holocaust denial is a much worse problem in Europe than it is here, as recent Papal events indicate. Still, does Rosenbaum actually believe that Holocaust deniers are going to sit through five minutes of Shoah in the first place?

Ebert argues that the film is less about the Holocaust and more about speaking up when you know you should. Watch the film with that comment in mind, and see how the trial scenes play for you.

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