Monday, June 6, 2011

Of Words, Truths and Love

I finally saw the movie The Reader (2008).  If you haven't seen this nor read the book and would hate any spoilers on it, kindly stop now and skip this post.  I don't want to ruin anything for you.  Otherwise, please do sit back and try not to get too distracted by Ralph Fiennes' beautiful face on the left as you read on.  I promise to make this post worth your attention and sacrifice.  (Yes, yes, I think he's beautiful and I love his acting, but that's not the reason why I think this movie, this story, is riveting and magnificent!  I would also use the same words to describe Kate Winslet's acting, by the way.  She played the role of Hanna Schmitz).

I can think of two main reasons why I loved the story.    The first is because I'm a Sociologist and the second is simply because I'm a hopeless romantic and sucker for all things heartbreaking. Both my cerebral and highly sentimental sides felt satisfied with this movie for the most part and I can confidently say that I am now including this in my highly recommended movies list.  

And let me further break down my reasons for loving this movie into the three main things that stood out for me...


Viewing the film with a Sociological framework, I see it as a perfect illustration of C.W. Mills' point when he said in his book The Sociological Imagination (1959) that 'neither the life of an individual, nor the history of a society could be fully understood without understanding both'.  I couldn’t help but be reminded particularly of one thing Mills’ wrote: “When wars happen, an insurance salesperson becomes a rocket launcher; a store clerk, a radar operator; a wife or husband lives alone; a child grows up without a parent.”  In this instance, Michael Berg (played by David Kross and Ralph Fiennes) lost a lover and was forever dented.  Love stories are complicated enough just because you have two lives, two biographies intersecting, intertwining.  Imagine what further complications ensue when you begin to locate those biographies within social contexts (histories) that are tumultuous and therefore present those individuals with life choices that are impossible to simply be viewed as either black or white; a context where moral simplicity and status quo thinking cannot be applied.  Imagine the struggles.  Imagine the questions.  Imagine not having answers...


In this story, I saw two characters whose lives were ultimately defined by their respective secrets.  This brings me to a second point that struck me and that is, when people deny a powerful truth about themselves, a powerful truth that defines them, then that ultimately consumes and diminishes them.  Hanna repeatedly chose to keep her illiteracy a secret, even though it meant turning down jobs, alienating people (and herself), and suffering for something she was not completely guilty of.  She would rather choose the label 'murderer' (which she probably was, although this is a complex point in the story), than 'illiterate'.  It was one self-definition she was never willing to accept and reveal.


Michael's life, on the other hand, was obviously strongly defined by his affair with Hanna, the pain she caused him, the abandonment, feelings of rejection, and then perhaps shame that this woman who consumed him is morally questionable, to say the least.  His relationships suffered and his internal struggles dominated him.  He could've helped 'save' her, but he felt too conflicted.  He loved her but at the same time, 'hated' her, what she's done, her choice to let people die and perhaps more importantly, her choice to leave him.  Faced with the opportunity, he then chose to reject her as well, abandon her as she had abandoned him.  During Hanna's incarceration, he had every opportunity to resurface and make his presence known but he did not.  And when he had resurfaced by way of his audio tapes, he still was not fully there.  He chose to not have any physical nor real personal contact.  He refused to even send her a note.  Why?  Could it have been a way of tormenting her as well?  Letting her know he was ‘there’, ‘present’, but not quite, not reachable, still invisible, distant.  It was cruel, to say the least, but could he have been merely trying to inflict if only a fraction of the pain he feels she had inflicted upon him all his adult life?  Perhaps.  All the suffering and cruelty they both caused and experienced stem from the powerful denials they repeatedly chose, thus diminishing them one way or the other.

A third main point for me was the obvious power of words.  One of my favorite moments from the film, and perhaps one of the most powerful ones as well, was when Hanna finally started learning to read and write with Michael’s audio recording of The Lady With the (little) Dog.  Imagine the empowerment felt simply by being able to figure out a simple word such as 'THE'.  (There is more to say about words and how writers and readers like us take them for granted, but I will save that for another day).  And what about Hanna's expectation of a letter from Michael?  How a simple note from him would've made a universe of difference to her?  How a few personal words of direct acknowledgment would've given her life?  If only he wrote.  If only they said more to each other when they finally met again after decades of absence.  They both appeared utterly burdened by a sense of restraint.  As the audience, you could feel the heaviness in their hearts, how both wanted to say so much and yet neither knew where or how to begin, or felt it didn’t matter anymore.  To me, the way they seemed internally conflicted was palpable.  And again being me, I'd always prefer the presence of words and insist that it always matters.  Just say it. Say everything, ask your questions, ask for explanations, tell her how much she has hurt you, how much you’ve been carrying this pain all these years and how much the memory of her has tainted every single step you had taken since you parted years ago.  But then...for what?  Closure?  Will anything she says now truly give him that?  Does that idea even truly exist and if it does, will it be enough to heal all the wounds she caused and bring back the lives she took, including his?  I feel, though, that if he had chosen to speak to her, truly speak to her, that it would've breathed some life back into her.  If only he gave her more words...

I hear that a lot of people who saw this movie wondered if Michael and Hanna truly loved each other.  My answer would be ‘yes’ and I say that because in the end, they continued to make better persons of each other.  As Michael began to confront his feelings towards Hanna, he chose to go through the painstaking task of reading books out loud and record them for her, knowing that this fuels her.  As a result, Hanna saw an opportunity to finally free herself from the shackles of illiteracy.  I think only love can do that.  Only love, even in its faintest or transfigured form, drowned in painful memories and difficult less-than-ideal choices made, can make people achieve better versions of themselves or at the very least, get glimpses of such versions.  In the end, I truly think only love has that much power.   

    22 comments:

    1. Thanks for this detailed review! It sounds like a heavy movie...

      ReplyDelete
    2. It was a film I really enjoyed. It was very thought provoking.

      ReplyDelete
    3. Makes me want to watch the movie. And, yes, we are consumed by our secrets.

      ReplyDelete
    4. Hi Im a new follower from the uk
      I found your blog through the blog hop train and thought it very interesting!
      Please visit me anytime
      www.jollyjillys.blogspot.com

      ReplyDelete
    5. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    6. Stopping by from the Alexa hop. Have a good day! You should swing by my blog to join my Facebook/Twitter hop. I'm your newest follower on Google, too!

      ReplyDelete
    7. It always saddens me when people live their lives -- and literally go to their graves -- regretting what they never said. It was a pretty great story, though. Nice review. :)

      ReplyDelete
    8. Great review. I only saw the last hour of the movie. It was good, sad and definitely showed the power of love and war. Their relationship also showed me that for the most part, there is almost always one lover that is more selfish than the other.

      ReplyDelete
    9. Visiting from the Alexa Hop (kelly's lucky) I would love if you could visit me too!

      Our Growing Garden

      ReplyDelete
    10. Great review! Visiting from the Alexa hop! I'm a new follower & would love if you could visit/follow me too! Thanks! Have a great day!

      Musings From a SAHM

      ReplyDelete
    11. Thanks for this review! I've been on the fence about watching this movie, but now I REALLY want to :-)

      ReplyDelete
    12. Following you via weekend blog hop. I am following you blog every way I can. Stop by my blog and follow however you like.

      http://itsabouttimemamaw.blogspot.com/

      ReplyDelete
    13. Sam, TV & Donna: Yes, it's a powerful movie and you have got to see it...the whole thing :-). I'm sure you won't regret it!

      ReplyDelete
    14. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    15. Makes me want to watch the movie. And, yes, we are consumed by our secrets.

      ReplyDelete
    16. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    17. It always saddens me when people live their lives -- and literally go to their graves -- regretting what they never said. It was a pretty great story, though. Nice review. :)

      ReplyDelete
    18. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    19. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    20. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    21. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete
    22. What a wonderful review!! Just reading your words made we want to go and see the movie!

      Thanks so much for linking up to the Tuesday Train!

      ReplyDelete

    Let me know your thoughts!