Monday, March 16, 2009

The Reader

A couple of people recommended "The Reader", including my chicken shit friend in New Jersey. 

I read the book by Bernard Schlink and watched the movie this evening. 

The emotional power of the book was overwhelming and the emotional power of watching the movie the day after finishing the book was debilitating. 

The second quickest way to a man's heart is his stomach. But Bernard Schlink realized that the very quickest way to a man's heart is his penis. Thus he wrote a book centered around holocaust issues published in 1995  (which is now required reading in college level courses) implementing the ingenious device of youthful eroticism as a bridge to empathic understanding. 

The mixture of eroticism with a philosophical inquiry into the nature of guilt was like getting my metaphorical G-spot hammered by double penetration. Schlink uses the most powerful device imaginable to capture a sense of understanding for those caught in the middle of the holocaust and faced with overwhelming dilemmas. Dilemmas between - being a hero.... being killed for your heroics...... being killed for not being heroic... or worse maybe.... neither. 

 According to Schlink, criticism of his book comes mostly from the second and third generations after the holocaust who can't allow a moment's hesitation before condemning anyone remotely associated, often including their own parents. But from the generation who actually were there, very little criticism. 

If I had to choose a book to make a movie from it would be this. A book of 218 short pages, where the lead character "Hanna" receives extraordinarily few lines and leaves the director open to flesh out the story in ways unobtainable by the author. Unlike most movies from books, I found it to be perfectly complementary and edifying to the story. The director captured the spirit of the writing and Kate Winslet's best actress oscar was well deserved for capturing the spirit of a character with incredibly little to say. 

I feel embarrassed by the critics who gave the story bad reviews. Maybe this is a story where the book is really mandatory to capture the meaning of the movie. Maybe without the book it would not have been so good, I'll never know. But I do know that it is a testament to the movie that the book only makes it better, not worse. And also, maybe it is a story where heterosexual males who still remember what it is like to be young are most unevenly affected. 

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

This was an excellent post that makes me want to read The Reader and watch the film immediately! Its excellence stems not only in its subtle persuasion, but presentation. It's good to read your writing again--real writing. It's a talent. A gift.

Use it more often.

I'm Yours.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

You write: "The mixture of eroticism with a philosophical inquiry into the nature of guilt was like getting my metaphorical G-spot hammered by double penetration."

And Suzanne Hinn, Toufik Benedictus Hinn's wife, preached: "You need a Holy Ghost enema right up your rear end."

See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2jhw_5ye8Qo

You conclude: "And also, maybe it is a story where heterosexual males who still remember what it is like to be young are most unevenly affected."

Let me begin by saying that I watched The Reader last night. My verdict is that it is ELECTRIFYING! It is absolutley electrifying! Bombshell David Kross was brilliant!

See: http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi1176699673/

I found the film entirely riveting. The fucking was most refreshing and authentic. (David wasn't acting, from what I could tell.) Kate Winslet looked absolutely ghastly.

Your review prompted me to watch the movie forthwith, and now I intend to read the book. With any luck, I'll be reading it within half an hour.

You seem to have a talent for finding books that fully expose the absurdity of human existence and how intelligent humans battle heroically against historical and other forces wholly beyond their powers.

How do you suppose that atheist Ian McEwan will approach his death? I think that it will be utterly "chilling," as he is so very fond of saying: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/faith/interviews/mcewan.html

I was completely charmed by your concluding sentence. Virtually no one is intelligent, sensitive, expressive, or thoughtful enough to differentiate between heterosexual males and homosexual males. All in all, I can't tell what's best: the movie, the book, or your extraordinary review and return to form.

Keep Going!

Yours.

Aaron said...

I had 4 bottles of alaskan pale ale right before writing my review. Actually I was haunted and moved by the story more than I thought I would be. I relate to both characters. Anything to do with the holocaust will eventually make me cry (and very little else can), especially after having spent several hours at the holocaust memorial museum only recently.

This story hurt to absorb and I am glad that the feeling is fading away from me. I couldn't sleep well for two days and kept mulling it over in my mind and discovering new implications to the story line the more I thought of it. That bastard Schlink provides no satisfying resolution. The truth is infinitely worse.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Aaron,

It's frightening to contemplate the proposition that man is the measure of all things, including morality.

Yours.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

Both the audiobook and the book are on Gigapedia. Grab them. I've just uploaded the audiobook to my new iPod Shuffle (and boy! is that small). I'm listening to it now, and I can tell that it's going to be very, very good.

Thanks Again,

Steve

gail said...

I saw The Reader on a Friday afternoon with a friend of mine, purchased the book immediately afterwards, and finished reading the book within a day and a half from purchasing it. I agree--it was an intense combined experience that, nearly two weeks hence, I am still thinking about. I think one of the scenes that touched me the most in the movie actually was not even in the book (unless I read it so quickly that I missed it). It was the scene where Hannah is sitting in the pews of a church and she is crying as she listens to the church-children singing, and Michael is watching her as if that too is one of the images that he will always remember of her. I thought, as I initally watched this scene, that she was crying because she was just very moved by the beauty of the song she was listening to. It wasn't until after the movie ended that my friend clued me into the fact that this was the same church (with its burned-out roof), in which the female Haulocaust prisoners had burned to death--the same church that Hannah is ultimately is buried at.... Was the writer of the screenplay trying to show that Hannah had some remorse for what she'd done?? And that Michael was the only one truly privy to that remorse? Thoughts like these still haunt me. The book was brilliant. I especially liked how the character of Michael's father was brought out in the book. My own father was a physicist and taught at a state college in the small upstate NY town where I grew up. My relationship (or lack thereof) with my own father was almost EXACTLY like that of Michael and his father. I still remember my father's two formidable studies -- one at his office at the college and one in our redone attic at home. I still remember having to schedule in formal times to speak with him, and all the college students that would come to our house to meet with him. These are two of but hundreds of aspects about the movie and the book that I could go on and on about. Highly recommended movie. Highly recommended book.

Aaron said...

I think I've managed to distill the saddest aspect of the book, as far as it affects me- the fact that Michael was all she had, and that she hugged him in the prison, and he sort of shrugged it off and almost unwillingly went along with it, then she decided to commit suicide instead of live and work with him in her life. You never know how much of the suicide had to do with Michael. She felt like she was doing penance in prison and didn't feel it was worth living outside. She "let herself go" right before her time was up, possibly knowing that she can't live in the outside world again.

Kate Winslet's portrayal adds a whole new dimension to the story. She plays a doe eyed, almost naive woman. Not dumb, but totally cut off intentionally from the rest of the world. She is the kind of woman that actually would have this affair with a kid. But the sad thing is this look of innocence is still in her at the end, and that is the major theme of the story- thousands of otherwise ordinary people stuck right in the middle of the holocaust.

Interesting that the Siemens company she worked for that made the gas pellets used to exterminate the jews still exists, and they make ultrasound machines now.

In some future world they will all consider us vile savages for what we do on our dairy farms. I imagine it will be much like how we look at George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and wonder "how could you have used other human beings as farm equipment?"

gail said...

Okay, two weeks and counting now, and I'm still thinking about The Reader. Maybe the old English major in me just won't die. So here's one of the perhaps more obsure aspects of the book that I couldn't help but try and explicate: I can't help but relate the story to one of my other favorite stories, Gulliver's Travels. Did you ever end up reading that by the way, Aaron? The movie sort of wraps up a neat little conclusion to the story where, in the end, Michael 'the father' in the end comes back to the real world of his family and tries to rebuild his relationship with his daughter by opening up to her etc.... Very sweet and very satisfying. The book doesn't do this for us and I'm wondering if that was intentional. At the end of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver is NOT able to integrate back into human (British) society (which he utterly condemns completely because he feels that human beings consist of little more than a bunch of truly violent, grotesque, and barbaric Yahoos--even his own family he feels this way about). He finds that he can ONLY wish to aspire to be a pure and perfect 'Whnummm' (spelling), which essentially consists of a society of horses, and for this, Gulliver gets carted off to a British insane assylum when he returns to England. Michael compares Hannah to a horse in part of the book as I recall. And even Hannah's initials "HS" sound a little like 'horse'. Hmmmm.... Okay, you can stop laughing now.... I'm sorry, but I just can't seem to let this go. Pure coincidence or literary genius--you decide!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

I've now read most of the actual book, The Reader. This is helpful:

http://thehoot.net/articles/5279

Imagine dissociating yourself from your parents because they are criminals. Imagine that. Imagine being thrown into the world as a conscientious child of Nazis! Imagine, for instance, being Klaus, the son of Rudolf Hoess (the commandant of Auschwitz) and Hedwig Hensel.

What would you think? How would you feel? What would you do? How would others treat you? How would you treat them?

Bernhard Schlink's exploration of guilt--collective guilt--is a powerful one. Nazism was a mental virus, assembled over the course of decades, that overpowered the German people. The horrific acts that followed were a result of the replication of the virus.

Evil emerged out of a collective.

And now, after the war--at least for a time--it has retreated into hiding.

But for how long?

When will the disease recrudesce?

Yours,

Steve

Aaron said...

I must admit, I have never read Gulliver's travels. But since you recommended the reader and for Christ's sake, you bought Gulliver's travels for me, and said I would resonate with the "curmudgeon", I must read it now. But today I bought "The Road" by Cormack McCarthy and plan to read it first.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

Read this:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/7858822.stm

I'm still haunted by the implications of The Reader, not to mention David Kross's electrifying performance:

http://images.hollywoodgrind.com:9000/images/2009/1/david-kross-nude-naked-penis-the-reader-nsfw-1.jpg

Yours.

Anonymous said...

PS Don't forget to read:

http://www.americanliterature.com/Chekhov/SS/TheLadyWithTheLittleDog.html

Yours.

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

To increase traffic to your blog, I urge you most vehemently to replace the picture that you chose for The Reader with the one that I pointed out instead:

http://images.hollywoodgrind.com:9000/images/2009/1/david-kross-nude-naked-penis-the-reader-nsfw-1.jpg

Remember, as my dear friend says: people are monkeys. Actually, he says that they're cockroaches. Embarrassment is an absurd emotion.

You, yourself, have previously said that you believed that people ought to walk around naked rather than hiding behind clothing. I think that that would encourage people to exercise and it would probably do wonders for health and longevity, actually.

In any case, why don't you write more often, and at length? But return to form: write about the NDE, about life after death, about Raymond Moody and Brian Weiss and others, and not about mundane matters, and most especially not about politics?

I'm Yours, Forever Yours.

Anonymous said...

Won't it be wonderful, Aaron, when future generations reading textbooks come to view our own era as a time of irrational primitivism? They will be shocked to learn that people were discriminated against for being homosexual. They will view it as morally neutral, in the same was as we view left-handedness in the same manner. Interestingly, even as of a few decades ago, teachers tried to force left-handers to write with their right hands. This is now regarded as cruel and neurologically damaging.

I called you last night, asking to understand your workflow as a sonographer. You've not replied yet, but your reply is important to me for my work.

My MacBook Pro 17" arrived today. I haven't opened it yet, although I am curious to see how much faster it will run my virtual machine than my MacBook Air does. I hope that I didn't make a mistake in spending $3,200, but it will definitely help me at work. I love my MacBook Air, though. It will be difficult to give that up and pass it along to my (still angry and abusive) father, who has long wanted a laptop.

Finally, I'd like to recommend a short book. It's Dawn, by Elie Wiesel. The back cover reads as follows:

Through the night two men wait to look on the face of death. One of them is John Dawson, a British hostage. The other is Elisha, a young Jew, a survivor of the Nazi camps who has seen death close-up--but only as a victim. Elisha will be John Dawson's executioner.

In occupied Palestine, the British are preventing the birth of a Jewish nation. Elisha sees the need of the death he is to create; but he abhors murder and he has never killed. He is 18 years old and must face a man and kill him at dawn.


It is 127 pages.

Yours,

Steve

gail said...

Speaking of good movies... I saw "Milk" today. I'm emarrassed to admit how ignorant I was of the of the heroic efforts of Mr. Milk, and the enormity of what was going on in San Francisco and elsewhere, at the time in which his story takes place....

Anonymous said...

Hi Gail,

I downloaded the Milk torrent but haven't watched the film yet. Perhaps I'll do so this weekend. I'd also like to know about him.

Steve

gail said...

Hi Steve,

Well, if you do see Milk, make sure you've got enough Kleenex nearby....