Monday, April 20, 2009

Lessons from the movie "The Reader"

I recently watched the movie "The Reader" with Ralph Fiennes and Kate Winslet. Though this movie (rated R) is not suitable for all audiences, and may shock the sensibilities of some (due to its graphic sex scenes), it has some powerful messages about literacy amid the backdrop of the Second World War. There are also really powerful undertones of pride, shame, ignorance, and intent to commit crimes (mens rea).
Kate Winslet's character, Hanna, was a factory worker who became a Secret Service (SS) agent and was in fact one of those who would decide who died and who didn't. After the war, she carried on with her life as a worker on the trolley. She met up with the young Michael and began a love affair. He would read to her the books that he was studying in school before their trysts. Hanna disappeared and Michael carried on with his life, entering law school. On a law school field trip, they attend the war crimes trials for SS agents, of which one on trial is Hanna. Hanna gets scapegoated as the leader of the six SS agents because she was ignorant as to what was going on and wasn't really aware of the implications of her actions. In fact, we find out, she was illiterate and could possibly have written the documents and orders that they claim she did. Instead of submitting to a handwriting analysis and thereby exposing her illiteracy, she confessed falsely to all that they had accused her of. She was sentenced to life in jail.

Though everyday cases of discrimination and shame for illiteracy are admittedly less dramatic, much pain could be avoided if we all took steps to get involved, help our nation's children learn to read, and help those who have fallen through the cracks.

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