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Post no. 75 (The Reader)

February 16, 2012

I know it’s old hat, but it’s very closely linked to post no.73. If you haven’t watched it yet, I’m not going to give much away of the film by saying that the protagonists are a 36 year old tram conductress (Hanna)  who can’t read and a 15 year old boy (Michael) who can. It is set in post WWII Germany and you may not be taken completely by surprise to learn that they develop a sexual relationship. There is more to the film than this, and it’s deep on some levels, but I think that only for this film Kate Winslet should have changed her name to Kate Bush. (You’ll get this when you see the film 😉 ) I’m not quite sure whether the film is what you’d call good. In fairness, although the sexual relationship is central to the development of the theme, it’s not the be all and end all of the film. I haven’t read the book and, frankly, I don’t think I will.

I have tried to rerun the film with the roles reversed i.e. where Michael is the older half of the “couple”. Despite the fact that everything can be reversed as well – Michael can be illiterate, the young Hanna can become besotted with him of her own free will, Michael could have done the job Hanna did before she worked on the trams, etc, it just won’t work. It immediately becomes a case of child abuse. Not that it’s not the way it is, but due to way we’re wired it takes us some time to see the parallels. Not seeing the wood for the trees, as it were.

The way that sex in human works (barring fetishes and assorted perversions) gives the male the option of  choice. A man can choose to have or not have penetrative sex with a woman irrespective of her wishes. This should in no way be taken to mean that rape is an option; it’s just an observation of possibilities “on paper”. So a 15 year old boy – who has the hormonal and physical beginnings of a sexually mature man – can “refuse” to engage in sexual intercourse with a 36 year old woman. A 15 year old female cannot. We take this into consideration when we look at such “mismatched couples”. It is also why we look at the “perpetrators” with varying degrees of “revulsion”.

I imagine you’d have to be  a bit of a history buff to get the whole context and all the nuances in the film. The sex, although plethoric, tries to put the viewer on an emotional par with Michael. Without the emphasis on sex the point that the writer probably wanted to make would have been lost.  The way the story develops makes Hanna look like a complete fool and, although inappropriate, you wind up pitying her a bit. Had it been the other way round, Michael would have emerged as an absolute monster.


From → The Elephant

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