Sunday, April 26, 2009

Review:The Reader

What does it take Kate Winslet to finally win an Academy Award? - about a dozen nude scenes with an 18 year-old actor, a controversial role of a Nazi prison-guard responsible for the death of 300 Jewish women and yes, a fabulous performance. But I am not going to let Kate Winslet hog all the limelight in this post of mine 'cause well I am going to talk about The Reader.

Inspite of the mixed reviews this movie has been received with I'd give it a 3.9 out of 5 stars rating. Not bad huh?(as if it counts...on second thought it actually does). The first half of the movie, which has been a topic of immense controversy among critics does appear to be a tad disgusting. For it shows a juvenile Michael Berg indulging in an illicit affair with a 36-year old tram-conductress Hanna Schmitz.

One day on his way back from school Michael feels terribly sick and throws up on Hanna's door-step. Hanna, who is shown to be a cleanliness freak throughout the movie, helps Michael and escorts him back home where he is diagnosed with scarlet fever(according to the movie) and which in turn forces him to stay in bed for 3 months. After recovering from his illness Michael pays Hanna a visit to say thanks and one thing leads to another and finally they end up in bed in her apartment. Thus the two begin a forbidden relationship that would've been condemned by not only a conservative German society of the 50's but also by any society even in contemporary times. From a legal point of view Hanna would've also probably been accused of either child abuse or rape and even Hanna knew this, which explained her feelings of guilt. And she would often vent her frustration on Michael for obvious reasons. But to teenager Michael - it was love and he was NOT guilty of it. Every day after school he would make a mad dash for Hanna's house to make love to her and read to her - the one thing Hanna asked of him. He would read out pages from books like The Lady With The Little Dog, Homer's The Odyssey and even comic-books like Tintin and Hanna would listen to him, mesmerized and enthralled. And Michael was more than happy to make Hanna happy.


As Michael says this to himself -
I'm not frightened....I'm not frightened of anything.The more I suffer...the more I love. Danger...will only increase my love...or sharpen it or give it spice.


And personally I feel that these few lines capture the essence of The Reader. It is a love story after all - a very unconventional one at that. But a love-story nonetheless. This is the kind of love which always inevitably ends in disaster.

Moving on with the plot, Hanna suddenly gets a promotion at work which for some unknown reason terrifies her and Michael feels himself getting attracted to his class-mate and tries to resist. Finally one day Hanna packs her bags and disappears from Michael's life for good. And Michael's world collapses like a crumbling house of cards. He is forced to return to his normal life and his family whom he seems to have deserted when he was with Hanna.

8 years go by and Michael is now at law school. But Hanna and her memories still torment him. And one fine day Michael is taken to a Nazi war-crime trial where he finds himself face to face with Hanna who seems to have been a Nazi concentration camp guard charged with the murder of 300 Jewish women along with 5 other female guards. And all the demons of his past come rushing back to Michael once again.

A guilty Hanna confesses to all her crimes of locking the 300 women inside the church and not letting them escape when it was set on fire though all the other defendants deny it. In addition they even accuse Hanna of planning the entire thing and drafting a report on the church fire all by herself.(The hags were lying of course to save their own skins from capital punishment.) In such a situation the presiding judge asks Hanna to produce a sample of her handwriting so that they could compare it with the writing in the report. After a moment of hesitation she says 'There's no need. I wrote the report.' And it is at that very moment that Michael realizes why Hanna always asked him to read to her, why she never ordered food from the menu when they were eating out. It was because she couldn't read nor write. She was illiterate. And this was a secret she wanted to carry with her to the grave.
It was a secret more shameful to her even than her Nazi past. And to protect it she had to face a punishment of imprisonment for life.

Years fly by again and Michael has become a successful lawyer with a grown-up daughter and an unsuccessful marriage. Hanna is still at prison, now a very old woman. Michael often thinks of her and his past. And he does something to make her prison life a little better - he reads out pages from his old books recording them into the tapes and sending them to Hanna. And she finds joy in listening to Michael's voice and the stories just like she used to do in the past.

The most poignant scene from the movie would be when Hanna borrows a book ( The Lady With The Little Dog) from the prison library, recognizes the word 'the' from the tape and circles it each time it appears on the first page, thereby learning her very first word 'the' in the process. It made me tear up so badly - the way Hanna's fingers trembled while she held the pencil in her hand, the excited look on her face upon learning her first word. I could've given Winslet an Oscar just for that one scene. Anyway in this way she learns to read and write - with help from Michael's tapes.
She begins writing to Michael asking him to read from specific books and to visit her. Michael however doesn't reply to any of them but keeps sending the tapes. Finally the day arrives when Hanna would be released from prison and Michael is asked to take her home by a prison official as he is her only contact. A reluctant Michael complies. But by the time he arrives at the prison she had already committed suicide. A grieving Michael finds that she has left some money in her tea tin for Ilana, a survivor from the Nazi concentration-camps, and instructions for Michael to deliver it to her. And Michael honors her last wish by going to the U.S. to hand Ilana the money. She refuses to take it but accepts the empty tea tin. Michael decides to donate the money to an organization which promotes literacy among adults.

The movie ends with Michael taking his daughter to visit Hanna's grave and starting to tell her about his relationship with her - something he has never told anyone before.

I don't know how others might react to The Reader - to the scenes where both Kate and the young actor David Kross are shown stark naked or to their illicit affair. But I know one thing - that at the end I don't feel those scenes matter at all since the sheer brilliance of the rest of the movie overshadows them. Hanna and Michael didn't only lust for each other. It was love that they felt for each other.
The Reader has portrayed how Michael never got over Hanna.When he fell in love with her, he fell in love forever. How Hanna felt about Michael wasn't very clear. But a few of the scenes told me that the feeling might have been mutual. Another thing I liked about the movie is how it never tries either to glorify or villify a Nazi. The Nazis committed heinous crimes no doubt under the orders of a tyrant. But they may not have been entirely devoid of emotions or principles. They were human beings too. Hanna Schmitz could throw away her life in exchange for protecting the secret that she was illiterate. And she did not lie even once during the trial. This tells us something about her morals. Although by pointing this out I don't support her actions as a concentration camp guard. What she did remains unpardonable as Ilana pointed out to Michael.

As far as performance goes Kate Winslet and David Kross(the young Michael) have fared excellently. Especially Kross deserves more than a pat on the back since he did such a major movie with a veteran like Kate Winslet at the tender age of 18. Ralph Fiennes as the older Michael doesn't have as many scenes as Kross. Yet he plays his part with aplomb. There's a perpetually pained look on his face that will make you understand how profoundly a brief affair with a much older woman had left him damaged for life.

To conclude I'd like to remember The Reader as a love-story that could never have a happy ending, the story of Hanna Schmitz who finally added meaning to her life by teaching herself to read and write and the story of Michael Berg and his unfulfilled love.



Sig 2

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Night Whispers


Something's strange about this hot April night-
'Cause I just can't switch off my dim bedroom light.
The mass of swirling thoughts inside my head-
Is doing enough to keep me away from my bed.

I strain my ears and listen,to the sounds of the night-
The occasional cry of the night-bird,
The distant barking of a stray,
The familiar,eerie whistle of the night-guard-
And the screeching of tyres on the highway.

As I look out the window and breathe in the night air,
The night whispers something into my ear.
And just like that they all go away-
The lonely hours and the tears-
The despair and the sad years.

The chiming of the clock tells me it's three.
And I know this night has finally set me free.
I am free to make my own roads.
I am free to dream and fight all the odds.

Ah! now I want to sink into a deep sleep.
I just realized I have numerous promises to keep.
And I know when I wake up to a new tomorrow.
My heart will be empty of all the bitterness and the sorrow.



Sig 2

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Review:Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

I never really expected a book,each of whose pages are strewn with f-words,to impress me.But uncannily enough this piece of young adult fiction by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan did.This book is about two teenagers each of whom are going through a difficult phase in their lives and how one night of togetherness helps change their views towards love,life and the future ahead.
Nick,the conventional 'nice guy' and the bassist of a band which doesn't have a fixed name,has just recently been dumped by his girlfriend Tris after he confessed that he loved her.Norah,on the other hand,is a loner despite having been in a relationship with the chauvinistic and the self-centred Tal for the last 3 years.She is the straight-A student,the feisty and a tad spoiled daughter of the hot-shot CEO of a record company and the chaperone of her best friend Caroline who is quite the party animal and gets drunk at every opportunity she gets.Norah is the witty,intelligent kind of girl who can't exactly be called hot but is beautiful in her own way if you notice carefully.Thus these two people meet on an eventful night while Nick and his band(they were calling themselves 'The Fuck-Offs' for the night...ridiculous huh?I know-_-) were performing in a certain club where Norah also happened to be present along with Caroline.And after Nick comes up to Norah and mouths this corny line-“I know this is going to sound strange, but would you mind being my girlfriend for the next five minutes?” and she accepts his ludicrous proposition,their whirlwind journey through the night begins-a night during which they discover that their notions about love were prejudiced and learn how to deal with the demons of their past.
Norah who had been in only one relationship all her life instantly takes a liking to the decent and well-mannered Nick.Nick however finds it hard to get over Tris and entertain the idea of having a new girl in his life.Eventually though he comes around and realizes that Norah could be more than just his 'music soul-mate'.And all of this happens during the course of a single night as these two teenagers make their way through different clubs and gigs in Manhattan.
So now why do I like this book?The story doesn't seem like anything new.Yet it is.
I think this is juvenile fiction at it's best.'Cause Nick and Norah are actual teenagers here.Not cliche American teens who indulge in drugs, sex and alcohol all the time.They have their own strong points and weaknesses.They are good and they are bad.They use words like 'shit','fuck' and 'bitch' a lot yet there is nothing offensive(well profanity doesn't happen to be a part of MY conversational English..so yes I find these words offensive in most cases) about the way they hurl them at each other or others.It's almost like part of a tough guy/girl act on their part to hide the sadness that lies underneath the exterior.
Another thing that I liked about this book is that inspite of being a romance novel it never gets mushy.It's not the kind of romance where boy and girl meet,fall in love and get married after overcoming different kind of obstacles.
Nick and Norah discover how an ordinary night can turn out to be nothing short of spectacular and exciting when one has the right kind of company.It's almost as if forever is trapped somewhere inside that night where Nick and Norah and their relationship have endless possibilities.It could be that they end up married someday with a son named Salvatore as Norah muses('Salvatore' was printed on Nick's jacket which he offers Norah).But for the moment,for the night,it doesn't matter.This night is theirs and theirs only.And perhaps, it will stretch itself into both of their future lives.
Narrated alternatively by Nick and Norah the story is fast-paced and the dialogue,witty and sarcastic.A recommended read for teenagers and also for readers who like their romance novels without the dose of mush.
P.S:I watched the movie after finishing with the book but as usual was disappointed.Michael Cera and Kat Dennings made a good lead but the screenplay was bad-even yucky in parts(Caroline and her chewing gum-eww).For Heaven's sake why don't the directors follow the original storyline of the novels?I,for one,feel the end-product will turn out to be much better if they followed this simple rule.
Sig 2

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Truth About Tears

It's weird how sadness provides me with inspiration for writing which,by the way,doesn't mean I am emo.Okay maybe a wee bit.But not much.Anyway right now I am totally in the mood to create something only because my heart is aching-hurting a lot.I know I am speaking as if I am about to invent a space-shuttle of some kind which can travel through to another universe but trust me creating something out of a piece o' paper and an ordinary pen or just a plain notepad page and your keyboard keys is something of no less importance.Atleast I feel that way.And I am sure there will be quite a 'few' people out there who'll agree.
Anyway before I begin digressing like hell(is that even an expression?maybe not...but what the heck?Most poeple are too much into profanity..so I am writing it anyway)I should kick-start this.So tears huh?What about them?
I'll tell you.
Official definition from Merriam Webster site- a drop of clear saline fluid secreted by the lacrimal gland and diffused between the eye and eyelids to moisten the parts and facilitate their motion plural : a secretion of profuse tears that overflow the eyelids and dampen the face.
But there's more to the word 'tears' and it's meaning than that.And here's a feeble attempt on my part to bring out it's significance.So here goes-
They say tears are a sign of weakness.Your tears are a living(or non-living? -_-) proof of the fact that you are so weak,vulnerable,not strong at all.
In a country called India where emotions,spiritual well-being and relationships are valued more than materialistic matters people say 'Don't waste these tears.They are precious pearls.' to soothe the heart-broken and the grieving.
A fact worth noticing is that tears seem to be conspicuously absent in about 99% of the entire male population of the world.Boys don't cry.Boys should never cry.Otherwise they wouldn't be men.They would be er..sissies.Or it could be that their lacrimal glands are missing or something.
Tears are-what should I say?-a woman's thing.Women and tears are associated in just about the same way a mother and her baby or Einstein and the theory of relativity or perhaps Pamela Anderson and cleavage are.Women are supposedly weak-emotionally and physically and psychologically and well in every damned way possible.So whenever a woman is wronged or hurt or witnesses someone else being wronged she gets emo and she cries.She can't fight back and she isn't even 'tough' enough to ignore an act of cruelty or inconsideration.So what she does is shed tears.How truly pathetic!
And pathetically enough I am also a specimen of this 'pathetic' species.And this means I cry.Cry now and then.Cry when I am sad.Cry when someone else close to me is sad.Cry when I feel lonely.Cry when friends turn out to be..well..not that friendly.Cry when I see a little child in tattered rags washing dishes in a streetfood-stall with a genuine smile playing about her lips.Cry when an 80 year-old man barely able to walk around approaches me on the pavement and offers me a pack of incense sticks for 10 bucks.
Okay I am being a bit over-dramatic here I guess.I don't cry all the bloody time.But these things do make me sad to the point where I am on the verge of tears.So does this mean I am weak?
BLOODY HELL no it doesn't.It means I am a human being-not a cyborg.For some reason the fact that I can actually cry for someone else apart from myself makes me feel happy-relieved even.And I think anyone who has a heart that can feel for another,that can bleed for another has nothing to be ashamed of.'Cause it's only when we feel pain like this that we truly seek to find a way to heal it.And that makes us strong-not weak.
In most situations people draw strength from their bittermost memories and painful experiences to carry on with life.It's only when we witness the distress of others that we feel the urge to alleviate it.Many would probably share the opinion that 'People can take care of their own damn misery.We have much more important things to do.' Yea like what?-Taking care of your own selfish needs and turning a blind eye to everything else just like you have done for most of your truly meaningless life?If we do that all the time don't we degrade ourselves from humans to some lower life-forms?
I think we do.
It's okay to feel sad and vulnerable.It's okay to turn to somebody to support you when you can't do it yourself.And it's totally more than okay to shed tears for someone in pain.'Cause it's agony like this that gives us the strength to endure and to overcome.In a way it also helps us to get in touch with our humane sides which,strangely enough,all of us are losing at an alarming rate.
So I say let it all out honey.And cry!Sig 2
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