Sunday, 5 February 2012
The Reader: Unexpected Sympathies
I was already horrified with some of the scenes in the film Shutter Island - the Holocaust is a very minor theme in this film, to the point where nobody remembers or mentions it - but I was shocked and sickened by some of those scenes. Even though they were necessary for the film, they were too much for me.
So after this unexpected horror in Shutter Island, I was incredibly nervous to watch The Reader. I knew what it was about, and assumed it would be full of terrible scenes. However, it was not. There were no recreations of the Holocaust, so if you are like me do not worry on that part.
There are a lot of thought-provoking lines and moments in this film (unsurprisingly), but their nature is surprising. During the trial scene, the panel ask Schmitz why she would select women to be sent to the death camps, and her response is that there were new arrivals on their way so they had to make room in the camp. I had never thought of the Holocaust in this way: the camps were a conveyor belt of death. More people were arriving, and room had to be made. It is a harrowing thought, and when she responds with this, she adds, 'What would you have done?'. This really questions humanity: if one of us was in the position she was in, working in a camp, and receiving orders to make room and send others to the death camps, what would we have done? Would we have risked our own lives by disobeying orders from the top? Or would we have done what she did and made the selection, because someone else would have taken her place and done the same anyway. Horrific questions that don't bare answering.
One really interesting moment in the film, one that really made me think, was when Michael visits one of the survivors of Schmitz's camp, who also provided evidence at the trial. She says to Michael, people ask me what I learnt in the camps. What is there to learn? Nothing comes out of the camps. I finally realised what a stupid question that is. In history, religious studies, documentaries I have watched, we ask the survivors of the Holocaust what they learnt. What on earth do we expect to hear? What can you learn from such an event?
Perhaps what most surprised me about this film was the fact that I felt sorry for Schmitz, and I never thought it would be possible for me to feel sorry for a character with her history.
This film is not everyone's cup of tea. Many have complained that there is too much sex, and that the story is too sick, but it is a good film, regardless of how disturbing and upsetting it is, and I believe it is an important film to watch. I do recommend it, there is nothing physically shown to disturb, but what is heard at the trial, and the entire storyline is a deeply disturbing one, but what isn't disturbing when linked to the Holocaust?