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Is 'The Reader' the worst Holocaust film ever made?

So many overwrought, shamelessly sentimental and earnest Holocaust films have populated the theaters in recent years that it would really be a tough call to pick the worst one ever, but noted author and essayist Ron Rosenbaum has weighed in with his choice -- "The Reader." Rosenbaum isn't just an armchair Holocaust observer, having written "Explaining Hitler," a fascinating and expansive look at Hitler's unusual origins and enigmatic psyche. Writing in Slate, Rosenbaum takes a harsh stand against any votes for "The Reader" as best picture or Kate Winslet as best actress. As he puts it:

"This is a film whose essential metaphorical thrust is to exculpate Nazi-era Germans from knowing complicity in the Final Solution. The fact that it was recently nominated for a best picture Oscar offers stunning proof that Hollywood seems to believe that if it's a 'Holocaust film,' it must be worthy of approbation, end of story."

Rosenbaum was especially appalled by a recent N.Y. Times report on the state of the Oscar race that ran a glamorous photo of Winslet above the headline "Films About Personal Triumphs Resonate with Viewers During Awards Season." WinsletNoting that Winslet, as a death-camp guard in the film, was personally involved with the gruesome deaths of 300 Jewish women locked in a burning church, Rosenbaum asks: "What, exactly, was the Kate Winslet character's 'personal triumph'? That ... she taught herself to read? What a heartwarming fable about the wonders of literacy and its ability to improve the life of an Auschwitz mass murderer!"

I'm not so sure the film's moral lessons are quite as black and white as Rosenbaum paints them. But he does burrow into the film's greatest thematic weakness -- that it uses its 1950s-era story of the sexual intimacy between Winslet and a young German teenager to create audience empathy for a loyal tool in the Nazi campaign to exterminate the German Jews.

The best part of the piece details one of those classic, carefully orchestrated Oscar taste-maker screenings, where Harvey Weinstein stops by to say hello and "Reader" filmmaker Stephen Daldry takes polite questions from the audience after showing the film. Like a skunk at a garden party, Rosenbaum brought along a friend who was so outraged by the film that he disrupted the decorous atmosphere, inspiring "shocked gasps" when he tells Daldry that the nudity was a manipulative tool used to create intimacy with an unrepentant mass murderer. Rosenbaum doesn't recount Daldry's response, though he notes that he received an outraged phone call the next morning from the film's chief publicist, upbraiding him for bringing a rude "interloper" to the screening and reminding him how important it was, in these tough economic times, for films like "The Reader" to succeed. Incredulous, Rosenbaum responds: "You mean, you're saying I could be the death of Hollywood?" If only!

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HARVEY WEINSTEIN AND SCOTT RUDIN KISS AND TELL ABOUT "THE READER:"

Photo of Kate Winslet in "The Reader" by Melinda Sue Gordon / The Weinstein Co.

 
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It is sad that everything that comes from that period cannot scape the "moral" judgment and, on the contrary, be seen through the filter of a moral "certainty" (we know the goods, the bads, we know the facts, etc.) instead as being seen from other perspectives. We see nazi, and we don't see the story of a illiterate person, a story that happens to set place in that complicated era. We just mix everything, and we prive ourselves from learning and enjoying from another kind of tale. Everything that is set on the nazi period always has to pay for the terrible things that happened. Nobody is trying to deny responsabilities, we are trying to see beyond, to look further, to see the truly complicated context that it was. And what... are audiences so innocent and dumb to not be able to make the difference and then judge? Are audiences incapable of leaving the nazi context aside (and that doesn't mean that we forget the holocaust!). And actually, we don't have to leave that context aside, we have to see the tragedy of Kate Winslet's character. And that doesn't mean we exempt her from the blame!
No matter how an expert he is, Mr. Rosenbaum shows his hate (even a justified one) wins over his judgment. I don't mean by this that he has to like the film, just that he doesn't have to judge him by the perspective: Oh, she is a mass murderer, no comprehension for her! Yes, even victims from terrible episodes in history, like Mr. Rosenbaum, are obliged to think further.

I watched The Reader a few hours back and have been unable to pretty much focus on anything else since. I was thinking in my head, I dont think most people are going to like this movie because it shows an "archetypal villain" as human. I need to mention here , I absolutely loved it and felt great sympathy for Kate Winslet's character, as also Michael Berg ( Ralph Fiennes), though was quite hurt that he didnt reveal evidence at the trial, which may have resulted in a lighter sentence for Winslet. Yes I am not Jewish, but does not mean I dont see the holocaust for what it was...evil ruling unfettered. I am not a westerner, but due to Hollywood and the internet, aware of the holocaust, as far as possible. I have watched so many stories that tell of the holocaust, The Schindler's List, The Anne Frank Story, The Uprising, Escape from Sobbibor, countless more...The Pianist stands out in my mind for its portrayal of one person's triumph..stories on a personal level impact more, I suppose. But those were all stories of the victims, more easily liked, or so I thought. Never in my life did I think I would feel sympathy for a Nazi character...The Reader certainly has shaken that belief. I am happy to know that the film has been nominated for a Best Picture Osar, didnt think most people would approve it, but googling brought me here..Rosenbaum is against it, for its sympathetic portrayal of a ruthless Nazi guard. Movies tell stories of individuals, of masses...provide an insight into their minds, lives...helping us find a connection. I guess, we are not allowed to connect to the human in the archetypal villain. Is it all that wrong to realize, that maybe the murdered were not the only victims of that situation ? To anyone watching the movie with an open mind, Hannah Schmitd is as sad a victim, an illiterate working as a guard, merely following orders, either her rationality suspended and/or her judgement coloured by the atmosphere of the Third Reich. I am not white, certainly not a westerner or a christian, I would be the last person to defend race supremacists( these people tend to kill my kind first), but I certainly could see the person in the story, I could understand the pain and guilt somebody who loved her felt, and I was definitely moved by her personal triumphs, she taught herself to read, she created a bond with the kid which endured through their lives. If everyone could keep pre-conceived notions and prejudices aside, things like the holocaust would not happen. I am thoroughly moved by this story of two people, whom I wouldnt have ever cared for, had it not been for The Reader.

I watched The Reader a few hours back and have been unable to pretty much focus on anything else since. I was thinking in my head, I dont think most people are going to like this movie because it shows an "archetypal villain" as human. I need to mention here , I absolutely loved it and felt great sympathy for Kate Winslet's character, as also Michael Berg ( Ralph Fiennes), though was quite hurt that he didnt reveal evidence at the trial, which may have resulted in a lighter sentence for Winslet. Yes I am not Jewish, but does not mean I dont see the holocaust for what it was...evil ruling unfettered. I am not a westerner, but due to Hollywood and the internet, aware of the holocaust, as far as possible. I have watched so many stories that tell of the holocaust, The Schindler's List, The Anne Frank Story, The Uprising, Escape from Sobbibor, countless more...The Pianist stands out in my mind for its portrayal of one person's triumph..stories on a personal level impact more, I suppose. But those were all stories of the victims, more easily liked, or so I thought. Never in my life did I think I would feel sympathy for a Nazi character...The Reader certainly has shaken that belief. I am happy to know that the film has been nominated for a Best Picture Osar, didnt think most people would approve it, but googling brought me here..Rosenbaum is against it, for its sympathetic portrayal of a ruthless Nazi guard. Movies tell stories of individuals, of masses...provide an insight into their minds, lives...helping us find a connection. I guess, we are not allowed to connect to the human in the archetypal villain. Is it all that wrong to realize, that maybe the murdered were not the only victims of that situation ? To anyone watching the movie with an open mind, Hannah Schmitd is as sad a victim, an illiterate working as a guard, merely following orders, either her rationality suspended and/or her judgement coloured by the atmosphere of the Third Reich. I am not white, certainly not a westerner or a christian, I would be the last person to defend race supremacists( these people tend to kill my kind first), but I certainly could see the person in the story, I could understand the pain and guilt somebody who loved her felt, and I was definitely moved by her personal triumphs, she taught herself to read, she created a bond with the kid which endured through their lives. If everyone could keep pre-conceived notions and prejudices aside, things like the holocaust would not happen. I am thoroughly moved by this story of two people, whom I wouldnt have ever cared for, had it not been for The Reader.

Once again another so called journalist misses the message of a film and depicts The Reader as a Holocaust film. Is it any wonder why people are not turning out for this remarkable film! The Holocaust theme, whilst important, is not the central message of the film. It is unltimately a love story and also deals with social issues of women in Germany at that time. There are no flashbacks to horrendous scenes and generally the film is beautiful to watch. The first half of the film is fascinating as we discover why Hannah behaves the way she does. I beg people to go and see this movie without reading other people's opinions. The critics and journalists have completely murdered this first rate and important film.

Worst Holocaust film ever? Try "Jakob the Liar"; so bad, the only award it was up for was a Razzie nom for its star Robin Williams...

I read with great interest the various opinions on The Reader and am anxious to see it and formulate my own viewpoint. Those with an interest in the WWII period might want to check out my new novel, The Fuhrer Virus. It is a spy/conspiracy/thriller (fictional) set in 1941, for adolescent and adult readers. It can be found at www.eloquentbooks.com/TheFuhrerVirus.html or at www.amazon.ca.

Thanks!

Paul Schultz

"The Reader" in one word - E X C E L L E N T.

I think great art has to explore the extremes. I myself dealt with the issue - not the Holocaust, but the deadly attack of 911 - in the first novel ever about the day that changed America; The Cabal. It is the fictional account of three brave souls who try to find out what really happened.

http://www.cabalthenovel.com/

Wow this article is seriously one of the worse and dumbest ones ever published
Seriously author and essayist Ron Rosenbaum has totally missed the point of "the reader'
Goes to show that even if you are an author etc u can still get something completely wrong
Sure, it does make u sympathize with kate winslet character but it never asks u to forgive her for what she did
Nothing can do that.... they were not forgiven for what they did
She got her just deserts in the end as ralph fiennes never acknowledges her and could not bring himself to show outright affection for her
Thus she dies alone in a cell with no one to remember her
The movie raises questions of how guilt, pride affects one’s life
It shows all the fallacies of human nature
ralph fiennes cld not forgive her for what she has done but cannot help loving her
Do not accuse the movie of trying to make the holocaust less than what it was
It shows the full horror of what happened as evidenced by what happened to the mother and daughter
It doesn’t trivialized the holocaust at all!
And the daughter could never forgive kate winslet for what she did but she had to accept it
Yes kudos shld be given to kate for portraying so well such a complicated character.
She truly deserves the oscar for her great performance
Yes she is a monster and she got what she deserves
But what about the other women who lied thru the trial and got off with light sentences?
The movie shows very clearly what they did was wrong
It also shows how truth can be manipulated and justice is sometimes not served
I am really quite surprised that 'The Reader' is getting such bad press and all

Thank you Glen and Andy for your comments. This is not a holocaust film. The holocaust is a backdrop, if you will, for the larger story and theme playing out between these two people and how they deal with responsibility for their lives and the lessons therein. The Winslet character, Hannah, is not the protagonist, nor the main character of the film. Regardless of whether she learns to read or not, in the end, she doesn't learn anything about her actions as we see when the Fiennes character meets with her before her scheduled release. It is the boy and the adult who is the main character and has the arc. The Reader is a profound film and terrific screenplay. Quite frankly, Winslet should have been nominated for Revolutionary Road because it is a leading role whereas her role in the Reader really is not a leading role per se. In either film, she is brilliant. Rosenblum doesn't get it.

 
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