Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"The Reader" with Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes

With powerful and moving performances by both Ms. Winslet and Mr. Fiennes, this movie tackles some very tough, and sensitive questions.

After the Second World War, there were all sorts of trials in Germany, ranging from Nuremberg to the smaller "truth" type commissions. Germany, as a nation, was re-inventing herself, under the dubious guise that "nobody knew anything" about what was going on.

Caught in this post war web of political re-structure are Hanna Schmitz, a streetcar conductress, played incredibly by Kate Winslet, and a young boy of 16, Michael, who becomes Hanna's lover. He is in high school. But there is something about Hanna that he cannot penetrate, and as a result of this, and their disparity in ages, they drift apart. He becomes a law student.

When, 8 years later, in 1966, his class is involved in one of the "commission" trials, Michael learns that Hanna was a guard at Auschwitz, selecting, along with 6 other guards, who was to die each month, as more women arrived and there was no room.

This is an intense movie that calls to question where the line is drawn between individual responsibilty, and the madness of the society around that individual. The age old question of just who is responsible for not only giving the orders, but at what point we, as individuals, are willing to pay the price for standing upon our principles is explored.

When the grown Michael, Ralph Fiennes, becomes a Prosecutor, years later, in 1988, Hanna becomes eligible for release after 22 years in prison. Her only link to the outside world, and her freedom, is Michael. He, at first, refuses her letters, setting off an emotional crisis within himself, calling upon him to answer some very difficult questions, about his own motivations. By this time he is married and has a daughter of his own.

This is a difficult film to watch on certain levels, but an important one. In order to understand the future, we must all face our pasts. In the final analysis, we are all our own judges, and in many cases, our own juries as well, as we attempt to escape from our pasts. Sometimes, we are even our own executioners, unwilling, or unable to pardon the things that we have done. And although others can see us as human, there are times when we cannot see ourselves fully.

Excellent direction, staging and acting make this a film worth watching.

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