Arts & Culture

“The Reader” is the Worst Movie of the Year

No contest. It’s not just another degrading conflation of Nazis and sex a trend in cultural stupidity I’ve noted elsewhere. It’s just plain incoherent, idiotic–and deeply offensive. Kate Winslet — a wonderful actress (what could she be thinking?) — plays … Read More

By / December 22, 2008

No contest. It’s not just another degrading conflation of Nazis and sex a trend in cultural stupidity I’ve noted elsewhere. It’s just plain incoherent, idiotic–and deeply offensive.

Kate Winslet — a wonderful actress (what could she be thinking?) — plays a Nazi deathcamp guard, a job she got because, we’re led to believe by the deeply meretricious Bernard Schlink novel of the same name, she was illiterate. During the war she allowed 300 Jews locked in a church to burn to death. After the war–20 years after the war–when she’s finally put on trial, she takes the blame for writing a lying report on the incident, and thus a longer (but still not very long) prison sentence because she didn’t want to admit she was illiterate and thus couldn’t have written it. She’s (seriously) actually more ashamed of her inability to read than her particiation in mass murder.

We’re apparently supposed to feel sorry for Kate for some reason because she really likes reading. In fact the whole first third of the movie is devoted to her imediate postwar sexual affair with a teenage boy in which she shows how much she likes sex and reading–and how much the filmmakers like showing us her naked body as she gets herself read to and laid.

In the film the teenage boy (Ralph Fiennnes–what was he thinking?) grows up to be a law student who’s shocked when he learns of her crime, but not shocked enough to prevent him from spending hours reading books into a tape recorder and sending her the tapes and the print versions which she uses–in conjunction–to learn to read.

We are somehow supposed to be inspired by this tale of a her learning to read agaisnt all odds as a story of self improvement I guess. In the book she reads about the Holocaust she participated in and feels really, really bad about it. In the move the director, Stephen Daldry told us at a pre-release screening he eliminated this because he thought it was “too redemptive.”  In the movie she’s totally unrepentant except for sending a tea tin of her meagre savings via poor conflicted Ralph to the daughter of one of her victims. Thanks Kate!

In the book, literature is supposed to show her the path to a new humanity. In the movie she doesn’t even show repentance. So what’s the point of the movie. Reading Is Fun, even for mass murderers? It’s not even an advertisment for literarcy which in the film does nothing to change her morally.

This one of the most baffling, misguided, wrongheaded cases of filmmakers overcome by their misbegotten reverence for a widely over praised “contemporary classic” about collective guilt, not knowing what the fuck they’re doing. The film makes no sense whatesoever. The book was offensive but at least coherent.The film is an absolute disaster. Talk about Titanic being a disaster movie. This is a disaster of a movie. You almost expect that when a Jewish Holocaust survivor opens the pathetic tea-tin at the end they’ll find the blue sapphire, “The Star of the Sea,” from Kate’s Titanic role inside. It could not get any more farcical or moronic.

And yet the reverent reviews this film has got from people who should know better. Are they out of their minds? Or does the reverence for a “serious” film with “serious” actors and “serious” pretentions outweigh, overwhelm their “serious” powers of judgement? I’m totally baffled. I’d like to call this movie the Emporer’s New Clothes of “serious” Oscar contenders, but maybe with its sleazy exploitiv use of nudity to keep our attention from wandering in the first thifd, it should be called The Emporer’s New Nudity.