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Humanizing the Holocaust? by fluffly
February 20, 2009, 4:57 pm
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When I first saw the preview for The Reader awhile back, I was intrigued and a little confused.  I had never read or heard of the book, but it appeared from the preview that this was a movie telling the Holocaust from the perspective of an SS prison guard.  I was a little disturbed by that becuase there is no way to tell a story from one person’s perspective without creating some sort of empathy for them or making an attempt to explain away their motives.

When I was younger and first fell in love with The Godfather, my friends and I would debate over who the protagonist actually was, Michael or Vito.  We found ourselves rooting against the malicious Tattaglias and thought that Carlo got what was coming to him.  The Corleones, however, were more human.  They had motives and were forced into this situation by a corrupt police captain and the Walt-like realism of an untrusting system.  Looking at it from the Corleone lens means that Barzini and Solazzo are actually the bad guys, and you can forget for a moment that they’re all murderers and thugs.  It is a powerful movie that can make you feel what its characters feel, and that is what I feared coming from The Reader.  Would this movie, so powerfully acted by the great Kate Winslet, lead the viewer to empathize with the human side of a Nazi prison guard?

Ron Rosenbaum has an article in Slate asking Hollywood to not give an Oscar to The Reader for just this reason.  The preview alone devotes half of its clips to scenes of love, Winslet’s legs, sex, and her relationship with a boy.  That she is a Nazi appears just to be the thing that makes this particular love story difficult.  Worse yet, the tagline is “Behind the mystery lies a truth that will make you question everything you believe.”  What is it that we are supposed to be questioning?  Assuming the mystery is what could bring a person to act like this towards other human beings, will this movie expose to us a deeper truth that should allow us to see Winslet as a victim of circumstance?   In Rosenbaum’s opinion, that is exactly what this movie tries to do.

…that’s what The Reader is about: the supposedly difficult struggle with this slowly dawning postwar awareness. As Cynthia Ozick put it in her essay: “After the war, when she is brought to trial, the narrator [‘Michael Berg’] acknowledges that she is guilty of despicable crimes—but he also believes that her illiteracy must mitigate her guilt. Had she been able to read, she would have been a factory worker, not an agent of murder. Her crimes are illiteracy’s accident. Illiteracy is her exculpation.”

So the story comes back to her motives, her human-ness.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine (since apparently we’re supposed to stay anonymous on here) and I were discussing this at a bar.  It wasn’t just a coincidence that this many people with a desire to kill others got together in Europe at one time.  There was clearly something that led to the corruption of otherwise good people, like Winslet’s character.  But while it is important to understand what it is and was that can arouse in us this propensity towards evil, this movie doesn’t seem to have as its goal an exploration of that.  Instead, according to Rosenbaum, what this movie intends to do is not claim that the Germans of this time made some conscious decision towards evil, but that Kate Winslet’s illiterate character is “a stand-in for the German people and their supposed inability to “read” the signs that mass murder was being done in their name, by their fellow citizens.”  What do we gain from that?

The Holocaust was not perpetrated because others were blind to what was going on around them.  The Holocaust was perpetrated because millions bought into hate.  I know that this is a blog on politics, but more generally, we discuss human behavior as a whole.  As my friend from the bar and I agreed, it is fascinating to think about what it was that led so many people to commit such crimes.  Humans no different from any of us, but they succumbed to their inner demons.  A movie exploring that is certainly worthy of merit, but to compartmentalize those actions as an anomoly and instead try to focus on them as “regular” people is not just wrong but irresponsible.

Winslet’s character was responsible for locking 300 people in a burning church, but, according to the director,

the scene was omitted because it might have “unbalanced” our view of Hanna, given too much weight to the mass murder she committed, as opposed to her lack of reading skills. Made it more difficult to develop empathy for her, although it’s never explained why it’s important that we should.

By all means, let us explore the motives of those who supported or bought into the Nazi ideology, but avoid the trap of empathy.  A victim of spousal abuse may defend her husband as an otherwise good person except for when he loses his temper, but those acts of violence cannot be separated from the person’s character.  As I eventually saw that there was no glory or “good guys” in The Godfather, I hope that Holocaust movies can inspire drama or thought, without seeking to make you sympathize with the characters.

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Most Conservative… by A Milder Despot
February 17, 2009, 4:43 pm
Filed under: A Milder Despot | Tags:

Movies!

I love overanalyzing music, books, songs, media in general for conservative or pseudoconservative themes and ideology. Thank you, NRO, for throwing more fuel onto the fire.

Following in the footsteps of their “50 Most Conservative Rock Songs” list, National Review has released the “25 Most Conservative Movies.” For those of us who loved the rock songs article (and the hilarious indignant righteous rage of the music fans and artists themselves that followed), this is much welcomed.

I do agree with much of what is said, but the authors of the list ignored some of the blatantly Leftist messages of some of the movies in favor of movies that many would consider to be a heresy to call conservative.

For example, Thank You For Smoking is one of the most consistently conservative movies that I have ever seen (as well as a personal favorite):

Nick Naylor: Gentlemen, it’s called education. It doesn’t come off the side of a cigarette carton. it comes from our teachers, and more importantly our parents. It is the job of every parent to warn their children of all the dangers of the world, including cigarettes, so that one day when they get older they can choose for themselves. I look at my son who was kind enough to come with me today, and I can’t help but think that I am responsible for his growth and his development. And I’m proud of that.
Senator Ortolan Finistirre: Well, having said that, would you condone him smoking?
Nick Naylor: Well, of course not. He’s not 18. That would be illegal.
Senator Ortolan Finistirre: Yes, I’ve heard you deliver that line on 20/20, but enough dancing. What are you going to do when he turns 18? C’mon, Mr. Naylor. On his 18th birthday will you share a cigarette with him? Will you spend a lovely afternoon – like one of your ludicrous cigarette advertisements? You seem to have to have a lot to say about how we should raise our children. What of your own? What are you going to do when he turns 18?
Nick Naylor: If he really wants a cigarette. I’ll buy him his first pack.

Come on! How beautiful is that? Love that scene. They nailed a few of the choices on the list (Team America, 300, Braveheart, Red Dawn), and had a few predictable  selections and a few never-heard-of-em picks.

The snub? Hot Fuzz! I don’t want to spoil the movie for anyone, but suffice to say its message rivals perhaps only Red Dawn in its anti-communitarianism. Plus, it’s a kick-ass action movie that glorifies violence in all forms. What’s more conservative than that?