Friday morning. The mist piled in my mind the dream from yesterday night, and the thought of what I believed that would follow. I was just curious. I have the book at home in my city, Iaşi. I had forgotten it among other books a long time ago, even if until then I was aware that I didn’t have time to read it, though I intended to do this. Rumour had it that it was a good one, and that its plot was an inspiration for a movie. But only now did I find out.
I stepped into the lecture room. I was a bit nervous because I was about to see a film about the life in Germany during World War II, which is actually the name of the course that I attend at the University of Konstanz- “Life in Germany since World War II”. I wasn’t convinced if the movie depicted a love story entirely or if it just recomposed some historical events. I watched the trailer on the Internet but I wasn’t really convinced.
Do you wonder what movie I refer to? The movie is called “The Reader”, and it seems to have raised further questions in my mind, about life, truth (“There’s no need to talk about it, because the truth of what one says lies in what one does”), about guilt and who accuses us of this, and most significantly, about love; as one of the characters in the film says, “love is the only way to escape… or to make a soul complete.”
After preparing an oral report on the “individual and collective guilt and (strategies of) memory” in Germany and Japan, and trying to draw both a comparison and a possible similarity on the manner in which the people were forced to live after World War II, now I was watching a movie. I was well-informed, it seemed that I knew what justice and truth meant, I was also aware what it implied to feel guilty or to feel like a victim, and what it was like to lack love. But did I trully acknowledge all this? I don’t think so. Was I willing to discover? I didn’t know that either.
I tried to find an answer in a book written by Karl Jaspers, The Question of German Guilt, on the shapes that guilt may take, and who has the right to judge all this. But an interrogation contained by a line in the movie I mentioned popped up in my mind, and perhaps you may find an answer to it: “What is law? Is it what is on the books, or what is actually enacted and obeyed in a society? Or is it a law what must be enacted and obeyed, whether or not it is on the books, if things are to go right?”
Now I was absorbed by the plot of the film. Love scenes, moments that were recalled, judgement, family, the letting go of he past. And everything was a love story that only attempted to erase the past which was devoid of affection, justice, and of innocent thoughts. The part of Hannah Schmidt is exceptionally played by Kate Winslet (irrespective of what the movie critics said after the movie had been released). She either doesn’t want to discover the truth, or she isn’t convinced that it exists but she does have strong inner experiences that make her desire to be loved, and she finds her place in the heart of a boy who is much younger than her (a 15-year-old boy), still an innocent schoolboy, studious, and who hasn’t tasted the fruit of love or of an exciting life until then. Did she choose him on purpose? Did she truly fall in love? I have no answer to these questions. Having recourse to the games of fantasy I have tried to dig into Hannah’s past, to find the reasons why she didn’t know how to read and to write, or to figure out how she was recruited by the SS troops. And by what means did she have the valliance to be of aid when she was supposed to kill? The thought that perhaps she was orphan crossed my mind, that either she had been born in a Germany that recovered after World War I, or that she couldn’t be sent to school, either…or…
Her sole escape was someone to read to her. The words and the stories were the only gateways to love, life, beauty, truth, and in the person of Michael Berg she found the best outlet to love. But she did not want to show the outcomes of the memory to him, for they didn’t suggest happiness. But “sometimes the memory of happiness cannot stay true because it ended unhappily. Because happiness is only real if it lasts forever?” Did she love because she suffered, did she desire to be in love in order to overcome the miseries, or in order to fall in love even more? Nevertheless, the answer was provided by one of the lines in the movie: “I’m not frightened. I’m not frightened of anything. The more I suffer, the more I love. Danger will only increase my love. It will sharpen it, forgive its vice. I will be the only angel you need. You will leave life even more beautiful than you entered it. Heaven will take you back and look at you and say: Only one thing can make a soul complete and that thing is love.”
The choice of the books that Michael read to Hannah looked interesting to me: Homer’sThe Odyssey, or Anton Checkov’s The Lady with the Dog. “The Odyssey is the story of motion both purposeful and purposeless, successful and futile. What else is the history of law?” Indeed, what is the fair, righteous history?
At that moment I wasn’t aware if we, the audience of that movie, were supposed to conceal our thoughts, our feelings, and I know we did this, because I glanced at the faces of the people in the lecture room. What a difficult thing is to hide one’s feelings, to show that some things are not as we imagine but different, and to detach from the reality. Did Hannah’s character in the film attempt the same thing?
At the end she only needed a hug to chase away the suicidal thought, and at that moment she didn’t receive what she wished for. This petty and perhaps insignificant aspect might have made her not to desire anymore to remain among people. The only person that she had to love was Michael Berg, and she wanted to convey to him a final message before passing away: “Hallo!” However, the significance of this movie goes beyond what I tried to explain here, it’s worth it to be seen but you should know that good movies cannot be watched if you are in a state of normality.
The important scenes from the film engaged my way back to the students’ residence, and I wanted to intermingle them with other verses and lines that I learnt by heart before long:
“I dare do all that may become a Man.
Who dares do more is none.” (Macbeth)
„By the power of truth, I, while living, have conquered the universe„. (Faust)
Shall we conquer the Universe or the power of being human? What would it be your choice?