Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Reader

I finally got around to seeing this movie and I find it to be a great story.

I've always had a penchant for movies that are sad and moving. Well I obviously am a big fan of lots of movie genres, but movies like this one would evoke those deep thoughts and feelings, one of them being empathy. And I do think that empathy has a lot to do with it, empathy for the characters. If you have this, then you'd enjoy movies more often than not.

Hanna Schmitz once helped a boy in need. A 15 year old. An affair ensues - the boy would read to her, after and/or before you-know-what. But she disappeared one day. Years after, when the boy was in college studying law, he observed a trial of 6 female prison guards of an old war camp, one of which is Hanna Schmitz. Hana and the others are apparently responsible for the deaths of 300 prisoners who died in a fire back in those days.

Throughout the trial, Hanna's answers made her appear naive, ignorant and honest, but the revelation came when Hanna chose to claim responsibility as the leader of the guards rather than letting people know that she can't read and write.

This is where questions come in. Why, would anyone in their right mind, choose life imprisonment over self pride? But then I guess it wasn't pride. It was shame. A sense of shame so deeply rooted within the soul that makes it impossible to admit. And it surely wasn't all shame. Surely there was fear. Fear of consequences. But how can that be? How is it possible to comprehend that consequences of one's admission towards one's inabilities could outweigh consequences of admission for murder?

Whatever Hanna's reasons were, she stood by her decision, even as she shook when the sentence was read in court - guilty of murders on 300 counts - life imprisonment.

Micheal (the boy), now realizing that she's illiterate, sends recordings of his voice reading from some of the books he used to read to Hanna for her to listen to in jail. And this act of kindness (and empathy if I might add) breathes life into Hanna and eventually motivated her to learn to read, and then to write.

On her release day, Michael came to collect her and was informed that she had hang herself in her cell. "She never packed. She never planned to leave" said the guard. But I think she did. She did want to leave the place. Until she found out that there was nothing (or no one) waiting for her outside that prison wall. Until Michael said to her "I wasn't sure what you've learned".

A little empathy could have saved her.