17 January 2009

At the movies: The Reader.

In 1958, when Michael Berg was fifteen, he had a brief but passionate affair with an older woman whose only demand was that he read to her before they made love. Less than a decade later and now a law student, Michael finds that his onetime lover is on trial for war crimes and that she had been a guard at Auschwitz. Much angst and soul searching ensues.

As do questions of atonement, forgiveness, and misplaced erotic longing. So we've got a big budget film that gets into some very provocative moral questions, as well as an effort with several jaw-dropping change-ups throughout its runtime. As an erotic coming-of-age tale, a legal procedural, a testament to the shame of illiteracy, and as an illustration of Hannah Arendt's concept of the banality of evil, The Reader tries to be all things to all people, which is impossible.

As a provocative film about moral responsibility and how decisions can reverberate throughout our lives, The Reader is fairly successful and genuinely unsettling, and its central performances are effective and useful.

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