Monday, March 02, 2009
For a Best Actress win, my first impression was that Kate Winslet is underwhelming in The Reader.
Then I remember that when I read the book in college, I was also underwhelmed by the story. Not to say that I didn't like it though. The best that you could get from reading, and now, watching, The Reader is the niggling bothersome feeling which is very hard to shake off. At the very core of the story lies the question: What is immoral? What is evil?
Kate Winslet plays Hannah Schmidt, who had an affair with 15-year-old Michael at the onset of the Hitler years. At the end of the affair, she went on to become a guard at Auschwitz and was later imprisoned for 300 counts of murder (the Jews they were guarding). Michael became a lawyer, and at one point, had critical information that could lessen Hannah's term. He knew Hannah was illiterate, which explains why she is so keen on having Michael read to her before they make love. But Hannah's shame about her illiteracy is so deep that she'd rather rot in jail than admit she couldn't read or write. They both kept quiet, and the secret niggered at them until their advanced years.
It is actually a quiet story. One without too much vulgarity or blood in it. I think it is meant to lull you so that you would have a silent space to reflect at what line do YOU draw morality.
Case in point, while watching Hannah approach the bathing Michael, both of them nude as babes, Ella (my sister)made a disappointed screech, "Ay, pedophile!" And from there on, she kept commenting she feels bothered by the film.
Whereas her sister (moi), only felt sadness. Hannah was lonely. Michael also seemed like a ray of light to me. Would I have done what she did? Clarifying that I was living during a depressing time, alone in a house as big as a cupboard, without the solace of books because I couldn't read, ashamed and afraid that people will find out, then someone comes to read words that makes me feel alive, another person I can touch, a boy eager to learn and worships me, body and soul... Yes.
I didn't tell my sister this. I don't think she'll understand.
I'm just happy I can murmur assent when she also commented she'd have killed herself or at the very least escaped my post if she was a guardian at Auschwitz, or in any of the godforsaken wars. Murder, we agree on.
I hope she never understands the kind of loneliness I am afraid I am also fated to live. Because once you are touched by it, you become privy to secrets such as that Hannah hid. And the world will always have tragedy in it, in your eyes.