The Reader – Literacy and Illiteracy

-A Self-Reflective Meditation on the darkside of Enlightment – a Tragic Absurdity that occured between Literacy and Illiteracy (The Reader (Der Vorleser) is an award-winning novel by German law professor and judge Bernhard Schlink.)

The movie begins in a small town of post-WWII Germany. A young fragile boy Michael gets sick on his way home and is helped by Hanna, almost twice older and illiterate woman. Seeking a way to thank her, Michael finds that she loves being read. Reading books for her, Michael is drawn into a secret but passionate affair with Hanna. But this affair ends when Hanna suddenly disappears. Michael is left confused and heartbroken. Many years later, Michael, now a law school student, meets her again, at a Nazi war crime trial; Hanna was there because of the war crime she made, during the period of her disappearance, as a concentration camp guard. Being observed by Michael, the judge asks her why she did not unlock the door of a church where many Jewish people were imprisoned and eventually burned to death in fire. She answers that keeping the door locked was the order that she had to obey. Ilana, the only survivor of the disaster and other guards testify that Hanna was in charge of the event with her own written order. Hanna, who lived her entire life as an illiterate, however keeps silent; maybe she doesn’t want people to know her shameful secret. Watching all of these lies, Michael finds nothing to help her. Henna, eventually, is sentenced to life imprisonment. Michael sends her tapes on which his readings are recorded until she dies in the prison.
After she dies, Michael visits Ilana, the only survivor to hand in a money that Hanna left for her…

Perhaps you heard. Hanna Schmitz
recently died. She killed herself.

ILANA shakes her head.

She was a friend of yours?

A kind of friend. It’s as simple as
this. Hanna was illiterate for the
greater part of her life.

Is that an explanation of her


Or an excuse?

MICHAEL shakes his head.

No. No. She taught herself to read
when she was in prison. I sent her
tapes. She’d always liked being
read to.

ILANA shifts slightly.

Why don’t you start by being honest
with me? At least start that way.
What was the nature of your


When I was young I had an affair
with Hanna.

ILANA looks at him for a moment.

I’m not sure I can help you, Mr.
Berg. Or rather, even if I could
I’m not willing to.

I was almost sixteen when I took up
with her. The affair only lasted a
summer. But.

But what?

MICHAEL just looks at her.

I see. And did Hanna Schmitz
acknowledge the effect she’d had on
your life?

MICHAEL stares back, understood for the first time.

She’d done much worse to other
people. I’ve never told anyone.

People ask all the time what I
learned in the camps. But the camps
weren’t therapy. What do you think
these places were? Universities? We
didn’t go there to learn. One
becomes very clear about these

ILANA looks at him, unrelenting.

What are you asking for?
Forgiveness for her? Or do you just
want to feel better yourself? My
advice, go to the theatre, if you
want catharsis. Please. Go to
literature. Don’t go to the camps.
Nothing comes out of the camps.


~ by cjc128 on April 10, 2009.

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