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.