Dienstag, 16. Dezember 2008

Guilt & Trust

I normally don't talk about books or films I haven't read. But I came across this review of the film version of "The Reader", and I really was puzzled by the reviewer's seeming lack of understanding:

Maybe I'm lacking in moral complexity (or maybe this is a uniquely German story that translates poorly to an American context), but The Reader's central problem (which seems reducible to "I shagged a Nazi") strikes me as a bogus one.
If Michael can say, truthfully, that he knew nothing about his lover's past, doesn't that effectively absolve him of guilt? A lifetime of Fiennes-ian brooding seems a steep price to pay for one summer of unwitting fascistic congress. And even if Michael can't help but feel haunted by his fling, shouldn't others (like the Holocaust survivor he confronts near the end of the film, played by Lena Olin) let him off the hook? Why on earth should a horny teenage boy have to abstain from sex with a willing blond goddess on the off chance she might be SS?

Just by reading the review, it is clear that we're not talking about a one-night stand, but about a relationship enduring a summer long that was deep and meaningful for Michael, even if perhaps not for Hanna. Without having read the book or seen the film, I would assume that Michael's problem is not so much guilt, but disappointment and loss of trust, especially in his own feelings - how could he fall in love with a woman who did such unspeakable deeds? How can he be sure that the next woman he falls in love with, or he simply is attracted to, doesn't hide a hideous character behind a beautiful face?
Even if Michael's reaction, to reject all deeper relationships with women, may still seem exaggerated, I think it's much easier to understand as based on loss of trust and confidence in his own ability to correctly assess other people's character, than as based on guilt by association. It's a feeling probably known to many people who, after the excesses of the 20th century, had to find out that a loved person had perpetrated crimes against humanity in the past.