Monday, February 23, 2009

The Reader

The 81st Annual Academy Awards
I have to admit that I have not yet taken a close look at the results of the 81st Academy Awards, some movie critic, eh? I know some broad strokes, and, much as I already knew a week and even a month ago, Slumdog Millionaire has been anointed the best film of 2008.

Now Slumdog Millionaire, in all fairness, probably was not the best film made in 2008. That does not, however, in any way suggest that it is unworthy of its Oscar night acclaim - Slumdog did something that all movies attempt to do: it touched millions of people in an intimate way. It touched some of those people through memories of India, some through the rhythms of song, some through the poignancy of the story and some through the gorgeously filmed colors and textures.

Slumdog won best picture because it has come to mean something in the basic fabric of our cultural consciousness at this moment - and that is what the Academy Awards are: a look at what is at the core of our modern culture (as reflected in cinema) at this moment.

I will not peruse the list further tonight, because it is 9:00 pm and I am tired. No, I am not tired (and 9:00 is not my bedtime). I am drained. I am emotionally spent. I am wrung dry and completely subdued - I have been rendered silent in front of the flickering images of The Reader (oh how I wish film still flickered...).

The Reader (1998, Stephen Daldry) (Park Lane) I remember enjoying the book this film is based on when I read it years ago (despite the contrary opinion of DreamQueen), but I was not really planning on seeing the film in the theater if at all. As The Reader began I thought perhaps the reasons for my resistance were founded, as artfully posed nude shots proliferated, areolas appeared willy nilly, and seemingly shallow symbolism reared its head in the small stars of David that decorated the window-glass of the door to Hanna's apartment.

A young Michael was being seduced by a flinty, older Hanna - a former concentration camp guard in Nazi GErmany - and I shuddered in expectation of The Notebook playing itself out for the next two hours (yes, purely prejudicial slander, as I have not seen The Notebook). But sparks of a great film were already apparent even as my fears mounted - that first shot of Hanna (Winslett) in the Berlin rain - so hard, so practical, so steely in her demeanor.

And that spark blew into a flame as the themes of this film weighed upon me more and more heavily. It's easy to call out Michael's brief visit to Auschwitz as such a moment of emotional strength, but harder to explain and embrace the conflicted thoughts and feelings that are elicited by Hanna's simple honesty in the face of questioning at the Nuremberg trials - her insistence on the real necessity she saw in actions that horrify.

Similarly, it is perhaps impossible to convey the coldness, and the fear, and the longing when an old woman meets the middle-aged man she seduced as an impressionable teen.

Winslett gave a stunning performance in this film. No one even came close. Ralph Feinnes was good, if a little smarmy in the opening (I think Ralph Fiennes should be in the dictionary under smarmy). Winslett and a monumentally good screenwriter were the stars of this film, which weighs heavily as I sit listening to the soundtrack to The Piano and grope for words to convey my mood.

The film ended at the perfect time to slip into another show - Doubt was starting next door - but I could not do it. I had to savor this film, and I will do so at the cost of several other films that I have fallen behind on mentioning.

Go and immerse yourself in this film like you would in a hot bath on a cold day, when there is a hint of sadness in the air and you light a few candles and try to soak it away.

1 comment:

DreamQueen said...

Given how I loathed the book, I'm unlikely to see this film (also because I see one film every 3 months or so). However, if anyone could save it, it would be Kate Winslet. I'm glad she finally won an Oscar because she's deserved them before.