Janet and I had our first "date" in many months last night. We had gotten so lazy about it we even blew off our anniversary. Nice to get a quick start on completing my goals for the year . . .
We went out the Chelsea to watch The Reader, a post-World War II period romance . . . I guess. It's one of those films that reviewers struggle to categorize and describe in a brief blurb. Since I tried and failed three times, I'll just lift it from IMDB: "Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, law student Michael Burk re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a war-crime trial."
It was kind of nice to watch a film that had no digital effects whatsoever – I had almost forgotten what movies looked like before green-screens and CGI. Unless, perhaps, they blew their entire special effects budget on aging Kate Winslet. She did such a great job turning herself into a stern, pretty-in-a-totally-plain-way German matron that I totally forgot she was in the movie until they rolled credits at the end. I admire actors and actresses who give themselves over to roles that are physically unflattering. Directors and casting agents will remember this film as the one that proved Kate Winslet can play any age; on the strength of this one performance, she'll be getting work into her sixties.
This was such a German story, full of passion overpowered by shame and repression. (Warning: spoilers follow.) Hanna Smitz's secret shame is that she is illiterate, and she has probably spent enormous energy her entire life to hide it. Her shame is so deep, so engrained in her character, that she would rather confess to writing a damning Nazi document and be convicted for murder than reveal her secret. This seemed like such an odd plot twist, and yet it rang true, psychologically – our deepest shames are the earliest ones. Michael is trapped in a parallel shame: he stands by and watches his love sentenced to life in prison, rather than confess his secret affair. His victory over the past only comes when he can tell the story.
I thought it was interesting that the Jewish survivor's summation of Auschwitz – "Nothing good came out of the camps. Nothing." – is fairly close to Hanna's – "It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what feel. The dead are still dead." Both of them see no chance for redeeming the past. The Jew is completely unwilling to forgive, and the Nazi is completely unwilling to be forgiven. I don't think either of them realizes how close they are to each other. An unwillingness to forgive implies an unwillingness to accept forgiveness, and someone unwilling to accept forgiveness is someone who believes they can do no wrong.