Tuesday, February 17, 2009

For the Patient and the Sentimental

A few days back, I finally caught "The Reader," the only one of this year's "Best Picture" Oscar nominees I had not yet seen. I thought it was a good and touching film. But, I understand why many have not been enthralled.

Based on the 1995 German novel of the same name by Bernhard Schlink, "The Reader" stars Oscar-nominated Kate Winslet as an illiterate, working-class woman in post-WWII Germany who has a sexual affair with a teenage boy (portrayed by David Kross) who reads to her. A decade later, the woman goes on trial for standing by as some 300 Jews burned to death when she was a wartime concentration camp guard. Ralph Fiennes plays the boy as an adult.

"The Reader" takes its time. You need to be at least a little patient -- and sentimental -- to appreciate it. And, it probably would help if you can have sympathy for someone who has made mutliple very poor decisions in life.

Folks with drama-free lives, this isn't the movie for you.

In a recent America magazine podcast on The Oscars, Fr. Jim Martin, S.J., said he thought it was odd that more has not been said about the movie's handling of the sexual relationship between a 35-year-old woman and a 15-year-old boy. "It's essentially about sex with a minor. ... If you put a (clerical) collar on Kate Winslet would it be 'Doubt'?" Fr. Jim asked.

It's a good point -- and not something to be glossed over. I think the lack of attention this aspect of "The Reader" has garnered demonstrates the different way in which society looks at pedophilia when the adult is a woman. Perhaps it's also is due to the way the film paints the power roles of these two characters -- and the way Kate Winslet so ably makes you care about this woman. There may have been more controversy had a lesser actress attempted the role.

"The Reader" also has been accused of Holocaust revisionism -- that the main character is made out to be a "nice Nazi." It's a charge that does deserve reflection.

As of this writing, this film has a 60 percent rating at Rotten Tomatoes. That's too low. This one is worth checking out in the theaters.

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