new film review: the reader

I'm not normally compelled to claim a privileged position in regards to a film, namely, of having a reasonable and, dare I say, correct interpretation of a film. But in this case, many of the film critics reviewing The Reader, favourable and unfavourable, seem to have missed the bull's eye. Some critics, like the New York Post's Kyle Smith, were overly distracted by tits and ass like a frat boy at a strip joint and didn't even bother to peek beneath the film's outermost layers. Other's were mercifully less superficial and puerile, but still succeeded in playing a sleight-of-mind trick on themselves.

In New York Magazine, for example, David Edelstein writes:

In the movie’s second half, Michael tries to understand how not-bad people can do very bad things and whether learning to read can make a difference. It appears that the filmmakers have taken Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil” way too literally.
Give Edelstein credit for mentioning Hannah Arendt, but cancel it out for being too cavalier with his "whether learning to read can make a difference" comment. The issue is not whether the Holocaust was evil or not - it was. The issue is also not about reading ability. It's not about sex either, except in so far as it manifests character psychologies. To give Arendt her due as the philosophical progenitor of the moral dilemmas at the story's heart, the issue is about how evil occurs in the world and how we come to grips with it. It's not about the Nazis, but about the German society they existed in and the tragic legacy they left behind for later generations to struggle with. Roger Ebert gets it.

It's too early for me to declare my preference for best movie of the year - a game I don't particularly like to play. But at the very least, The Reader does deserve its surprise Best Picture nomination.

My review at The Front Page Online:

The Reader: Reading History Through a Provocative Lens

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