Friday, August 21, 2009
Kate Winslet's Slightly-Ruined (but Magical) Body in a Quite-Ruined Movie (The Reader)
It's so easy to explode things. Lop off a head. Burn a boat. Bring on the apocalypse-- and the voice of God like a herd of scared rats. Yes, as a writer (or maker) it's easy to do these things. But to be brave and workmanlike and create a real story of redemption! This doesn't seem to be for me. Sigh. But for others, sure. And when they succeed it's great. And I'm the first to cry with joy. But mostly they fail. Sometimes magnificently. But mostly awfully.
The Reader is a great example of a failed redemption story.
And it's too bad. Because the ingredients are so hot. Yes, I said it: hot. A thirty something year old woman with only slightly ruined breasts, etc, and a slanting, dubious past. A 15-yr old boy who falls into great, eager pussy and is (surprise, surprise) caught up madly. and scarred by the experience. (some on-line critics think the extent of the scarring is far-fetched. well, well.)
And in the background, man at his worst: The Holocaust.
And the goal: Redemption.
The stakes are high. But succeed and you have a masterpiece.
And for a while things go well with The Reader. Besides the steamy sex and the quaint reading sessions (which take on a stranger, eerie feel when we learn she did the same to concentration camp victims) I was riveted by how selfish the main characters are. And this ratchets up as things develop and we move into the characters' futures. Bitterness, betrayal, bitterness, betrayal.
But then, I realized that things were going awry. The moralizing efforts were floundering. The redemption moves stuttering. The film was stuck, circling in its own bog and fog. And the ending was an absolute abomination. So, the film crashed. And I blame it completely on missteps taken in the redemption-theme curve.
Obviously I can't say how the redemption angle could have been done right (and have achieved the masterpiece I mentioned earlier.) But I can say that I'm pretty sure a masterpiece could have been more easily created by NOT going the redemption way. Yeah, I know, this way is easier. Much easier by my thinking. (I'm the type who likes to cut off heads, burn boats, etc...) But, heck, a masterpiece is a masterpiece. And I'd like to see that movie. I'd like to see both movies. Both masterpieces: redemption and not.
The easier way:
Forget redemption (annihilate it, actually) and plunge the characters' selfishnesses and other darknesses deeper and deeper into their own bone and blood. The awkward, frightening and pathetic abyss of their misshapen but very-human souls. And then (truthfully but with no mercy on the viewer) let them rot. Like a camera drowned in a pond. (some cracked, crumbling light filtering through perhaps. perhaps not.) Astonish the viewer. Horrify the viewer. Obliterate the viewer. And that's ok. A masterpiece is a masterpiece. Like Kate's slightly-ruined body.