I’ve been asked by one of my loyal readers to defend my claim that The Reader (a story “that promotes reading”) is a dreadful movie.

Let me begin by acknowledging that I have been known to enjoy bouts of teasing “Reading Propaganda.”

(Even though, that is, I certainly think books are often great disseminators of information and stories, I resist those who seem to believe that they are always superior to other forms of artistic entertainment such as movies and television.)

However, in spite of my admitted predilection for antagonizing the glorification of books, my quibble with the movie, The Reader, is not so much that it’s attempting to reinvigorate the over-stated claim that reading is the best, but instead my concern is the contrived way in which the plot pushes the point through.

Let me make the point through the aid of my friend television. On the wonderfully written television show Seinfeld, Jerry discovers one day  that his dentist friend Whatley has converted to Judaism so that he can have “total joke-telling immunity” against both Jewish people and Catholics (his current and former religious groups, respectively). So Jerry complains to a Catholic representative:

FATHER: Tell me your sins, my son.

JERRY: Well I should tell you that I’m Jewish.

FATHER: That’s no sin.

JERRY: Oh good. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you about Dr. Whatley. I have a suspicion that he’s converted to Judaism just for the jokes.

FATHER: And this offends you as a Jewish person?

JERRY: No, it offends me as a comedian!

Hee, hee, brilliant!

In similar (though less brilliant fashion) my contempt for The Reader is an artistic one. If you’re going to promote a dull, unoriginal cause in your movie, at least do it eloquently, not with contrived statutory rape scenes, followed by gratuitous use of the holocaust to seem like a deeper movie than you are, culminating in the heroic arrival of the blessed saviour, reading, to give the characters’ difficult lives renewed reason for being.

I’m offended as a writer.


  1. And I’m offended by your review, as a reader. Although the film (and book) certainly expresses the renewal and reward that comes with reading a good story (which I am totally onboard with anyways), I don’t think that its agenda is to preach to its audience that they should read more. One wonders if you would have responded differently had the film been called “The Writer” or “The Sitcom-Watcher.”

    The reading, not the Holocaust, is the device that reveals the complexity of Winslet’s character. Her innocent, child-like process of being read to and learning how to read reminds us that we tend demonize war criminals in a one-dimensional way, putting them into a box with all other things that are pure evil, without considering that they are humans too, with their own struggles, flaws, desires, and dreams, despite their evil actions, and to help us confront the brutal fact of how, or whether, we would truly have the courage to react much differently were we in her place.

    I found the honesty refreshing, as difficult as it was to grapple with.

  2. Well, Natalie, I reject what you’ve said because “it’s devastating to my argument!” (Note: I’ve stolen this delightful line from a movie or TV show, but I can’t remember which: enlighten me if you know it.)

    I must admit that “The Reader” should get credit for its unusual willingness to humanize a Nazi foot soldier, thus perhaps provoking us to painfully question what we would have done in the same position. (I suppose I under-look this because my particular study in school brought that question up frequently, so it’s not as unusual in my experience as it is maybe in the movies. So I will concede credit to “The Reader” for that.)

    Nevertheless, in spite of this one anomaly of originality, and even if I am wrong that the film was meant to glorify reading, the story itself still seemed continually contrived to me in its travels towards whatever point it meant. I could feel the writer of “The Reader” throughout as he (David Hare) seemed to be orchestrating each strange event for the purpose of getting us to his allegedly deep end result (where the joy of reading certainly played a very deep part, if not the only one). A well-written story, I think, does not seem to have a writer, and instead appears to be run by the characters as they behave independent of any greater plotting purpose. But, at each moment in this story, I could smell the writer dotingly steering the characters to their deep destiny.

    P.S. Yes, of course, if the film were called the “Sitcom-Watcher” and celebrated the works of Seinfeld as a means to save one’s soul, I would have loved it! (At least, that would have been a truly unique message. 😉

  3. While finding your comments and the comments of Natalie instructive, I believe I know why you seem to have an anti-reading bias. Your phrase ‘…antagonizing the glorification of books…’ is clearly incorrect usage of the English language (although you may be writing in Clingon). You can only antagonize people or other living creatures, but not inanimate objects or ideas. When you read you must see all kinds of mistakes in other people’s writing as it does not fit into the norms which you understand to underly the language. That said, I appreciate your viewpoints on various subjects.

  4. Thank you, TomM: I suppose, technically, you’re right: I should have said “antagonizing the glorifiers of books”; however, fortunately for me, I have a poetic licence that allows me to adjust the language to fit my purposes, so I shall invoke that protection here (even though I wasn’t aware that I was utilizing it at the time of the “error”). However, as far as I understand, you are an unlicenced writer and so therefore have no legal privilege that allows you to misspell “Klingon” (unless, by “Clingon”, you meant my audience’s general attachment to my words). Please pay your fine at this blog.

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