The Night Out: The Reader (2008), or The Cruelty of Silence

11 01 2009
To touch, to kiss, to speak...

To touch, to kiss, to speak...

Hello, all! Today is my first Night Out segment! On the Night Out, obviously, I will go to the theaters and watch a movie that tickles my fancy or one that everyone is buzzing about, and I will review said movie so you don’t have to. And this time I lucked out, because I saw what should be a sure-fire Oscar contender for this year, The Reader.

It all begins in immaculate white. In the white morning light a man in a white dress shirt prepares breakfast on white china just so for a woman he was with the night before. He seems cagey, closed-off: not because of her, but because he has been that way for most of his life. After she leaves, he goes by the window and stares off into the distance, and as a passing tram rolls by, he is taken back to his youth. In the tram, we see his 15 year old countenance, ill and unhappy, riding through the streets of Germany in the late 1950’s. He gets off abruptly, stumbles around for a bit, goes near an entrance to an apartment building and throws up. He is found by an older woman who cleans up the mess he made and assists him home. His doctor tells him he has must stay in bed for 3 months because of his illness, and so he does. But the first thing he does when he is better is go back to the apartment he fell ill at and thanks the older woman. They talk for a while and the woman says that she will walk back with him as she needs to go to work. She only needs to change, and asks him to wait outside the door. He does, but as she is changing, he catches a glimpse of her putting on her stockings and finds he cannot look away. She eventually sees him, but she does not move from his gaze. They stay locked in a state of mutual attraction, poised almost for anything, but the boy’s fear gets the best of him and he runs off quickly. He returns, though; again, and again, and again he returns.

I will not give too much of the plot away, because when I saw it, I was completely in the dark about the storyline, and when I pieced it together, like the characters do, it really came together for me. If you have not read up on this film much, don’t read up any more for fear of spoilers. This is a film you want to experience in an organic state, so you can let the emotions wash over you from scene to scene.

This is such a visceral movie! Damn it, when I left the theater I was so emotionally drained that I actually had a headache. When it was erotic I trembled in silent pleasure, when it was more light-hearted and optimistic (although it rarely is) I smiled, and when it was heartbreaking I closed my eyes a bit to hold back the tears. It can really dwell under your skin and leave you talking outside the theater for a while.

Director Stephen Daldry does not waste one scene. He creates a very wistful, regret-tinged atmosphere based on Bernhard Schlink’s 1995 novel of the same name. He makes time seem irrelevant as he flows from the past to the present, old to new, and we see his characters are always broken and always breaking and are lost beyond the tide of themselves and their mistakes. Will he win an Oscar? No. This will probably be David Fincher’s or Sam Mendes’s year. But he should be nominated, and isn’t that honor enough? Again? (see Billy Elliot and The Hours)

If anyone is going to be nominated for anything, it is going to be Kate Winslet. She puts more in this performance than I have ever seen from her. She dazzles as the comely older woman the young boy becomes infatuated with.  She will either win an Oscar for this or her husband’s film, Revolutionary Road. And if she does not, then they should not give it to anyone, because although I cannot speak for Revolutionary Road(that could be my next Night Out movie, though…), The Reader was a grueling process for her, and I felt she put out more vulnerability than I have ever seen from her.

This movie is wonderful. If you are not into deep movies that will stay with you after the lights have gone up, I would turn somewhere else. This is a haunting movie about secrets and the shame of bearing them, topics that may hit too close to home for many of us who have other sides we would rather not reveal to the world. I hope more people see this film, if you can find it (It’s one of those fancy, artsy-fartsy, movies that makes you think! Heavens, no! Let’s keep it in one theater per town!) Go see it with an open mind to learn more about yourself and your fellow man, because we all have secrets, and it’s harder to keep yourself distanced when all of us have something to hide. I give The Reader 9 white, white breakfasts out of 10.

Next time, we have another Night Out segment! A bonus for you, since last week one was remarkably absent from the lineup. Until then!