When I went to see The Reader last week, I didn't know it was a film based on a respected book. As I watched the film, however, it didn't take me long to suspect it was so. I found the story to be so compelling that I went out immediately after viewing the film and bought the book.
That almost never happens. I usually don't read books after seeing the movies. In fact, the last time I wrote about the whole book to movie issue, Wordlily said she likes to watch the movie first. Normally, this is something I can't do as I can't stand for any of the plot to be spoiled. But since this is a different kind of story...one where there isn't much plot to spoil, it worked. In fact, as good as the movie is...and it is a very good movie and excellent adaptation, the book is just that much better. In fact, you could say that the movie gave me a little taste of the richness of the book. So as it turns out...Wordlily might be onto something. At least in situations where the book has been faithfully adapted for the sceen.
These days I find myself wanting to talk in a more detailed manner about what I read. (and watch) It's going to lend itself to some very long blog posts. (my review of Mad Men season 1 promises to be massive at present) It may because I've had more time to properly digest and reflect on what I'm reading, whereas towards the end of last year I was in a reviewing frenzy.If you haven't watched the movie or read the book and wish not to be spoiled, you might not want to read any further.
In any case, here goes.
Part of me wonders if I loved this book so much because I connected to many of the story elements used to explore the issues. (I especially wondered this after Jena said the book made no impact on her) If something other than illiteracy had been chosen, would I have felt the same way? (I have worked in adult literacy for the past 3 and a half years) Who knows? But it was used and so well portrayed (it was never a surprise to me, I knew immediately), that I got tears in my eyes when I read this:
She must have been completely exhausted. Her struggle was not limited to the trial. She was struggling, as she had always struggled, not to show what she could do, but hide what she couldn't do. (p. 136)
And while that quote is talking about Hanna's illiteracy, it so perfectly sums up where hatred, racism, prejudice, and fear drive us and determine our decisions. When we are unable to be comfortable in being who we are, when we know we are lacking something, when we allow shame to take hold...than we go on the attack to hide ourselves and avoid exposure.
Later, when Hanna teaches herself to read and write and sends Michael letters from prison, he can't help but notice just how much work it must be for her to write these little letters. He reflects on missed opportunity:
...I was sorry for her, sorry for her delayed and failed life, sorry for the delays and failures of life in general. I thought that if the right time gets missed, if one has refused or been refused something for too long, it's too late, even if it's finally tackled with energy and received with joy. Or is there no such thing as "too late"? Is there only "late" and is "late" always better than never?
There's also a really lovely part where he reflects on the fact that Hanna has no idea that the stories he reads to her are not written by contemporaries..that human nature is so unchanging that even stories from long ago, can be seen as merely happening in a foreign country. You have to know I loved that!
There are many other moral questions raised in the book...the nature of generational guilt, the nature of criminals, one's right to determine what makes them guilty, loving a criminal. (I'm sure some of you are surprised by the things I've chosen to write about in comparison to the greater context of the novel!)
I was so pleased, then, when the book ended strongly. I am going to share one final quote that I loved so much. It is one of my very favorite thing that happens when reading...when you read something that is phrased in such a way that you feel the truth of it in the core of your being and know that this human experience is indeed shared.
The tectonic layers of our lives rest so tightly one on top of the other that we always come up against earlier events in later ones, not as matter that has been fully formed and pushed aside, but absolutely present and alive.
I reckon it's a good commentary on history as well.
I want to say a few things about the film. For the most part, this was a great adaptation, but I would like to note a few things. I thought the film was a lot more sexual than the book. Perhaps this seemed necessary, but if you go see it be prepared for lots of sex and nudity especially in the first half.
A few characters were given greater prominence as well...mostly to show the journey Michael was on and as a filter for his internal conflict. (His daughter and law professor)
So in the end, I can once again say with confidence that the book is better than the movie. But it's a good movie as well.