The Reader is an adaptation of Der Vorleser, a partly autobiographical novel by Bernhard Schlink, a German law professor and judge. Since it’s original German publication in 1995 and then English translation in 1997, it has won multiple awards and become a best seller. This film adaptation is aware of its distinguished literary background and the serious acting, serious Philip Glass inspired score and serious cinematography all insist that The Reader is An Important Film. In the hands of less capable filmmakers it could have been excruciating but as they demonstrated when they collaborated on The Hours, director Stephen Daldry and screenplay writer David Hare are more than capable of making such a text accessible to wider audiences. The Reader is not a cold academic exercise but a deeply moving film.
The key line of dialogue in Revolutionary Road, the new film by director Sam Mendes, is spoken by John Givings, a mentally ill mathematician who features in two keys scenes from the film. When John first meets Frank and April Wheeler and identifies their desire to escape from suburbanite conformity he remarks, “Plenty of people are onto the emptiness but it takes real guts to notice the hopelessness”. This line comes during the first part of this film about 1950s middle class American life. The Wheelers are a young couple who have decided to ditch their dull and bland lives to move to Paris in order to escape from their self imposed comfort zone. The idea is that April Wheeler will work instead of playing the part of reluctant homemaker and Frank Wheeler will attempt to discover what it is he really wants to do in life, rather than waste away in a meaningless office job. However, as their plan to escape to a new life is set in motion fears, anxieties and the trappings of their secure routine lifestyle begin to threaten that plan.
Audiences rarely see American films about the German perspective of World War II and Nazism. There is Lewis Milestone’s 1930 antiwar classic All Quiet on the Western Front but it is set during World War I. Sam Peckinpah’s brutal Cross of Iron (1977) shovels scorn upon the treatment of German soldiers by their careerist seniors and psychotic Nazi commanders, but it is a criminally underappreciated film that few people have seen. Valkyrie is hence an intriguing film for Hollywood to make because it is told from a German perspective and, like Cross of Iron, it sharply distinguishes the differences between members of the Nazi regime and the regular German army.