Thursday, July 5, 2018
For kindred spirits who revere Tennessee Williams' work, Emily Kubincanek [ @emilykub_ ] has written a great piece for Film School Rejects titled A Guide to Tennessee Williams. Thanks and gratitude to my eldest son, Evan, for sending it to me. Enjoy, readers:
The Fugitive Kind is mentioned in it, which I posted about in 2010:
Also cited with a film clip is The Night of the Iguana. Though I’ve never written about it, the film is a favorite; it pulsates with sexual dynamics, both overt and repressed. Richard Burton was never better, though equally powerful in The Sandpiper with his love, Elizabeth Taylor. Cinematography of Big Sur in The Sandpiper is exquisite, reason alone to view it.
Though not cited - she couldn't possibly cover all - my beloved of Williams’ work is the film, This Property Is Condemned, adapted from a play. I posted about it in 2013, and from number of viewings and comments, many share my passion for and identification with it:
Too seldom do we read about Williams’ work today. Thank you, Ms. Kubincanek, for appreciating and writing about it.
Thursday, December 1, 2016
I've viewed it again. [preceding post] Having made the commitment to do so, I knew I'd follow through.
But I procrastinated, then steeled myself because an episode within the film is horrific in its emotional, believable, possibly factual depiction. It hasn't lost its searing impact in repeated viewing, just the opposite.
Betrayed rests upon and shatters the societal threads we believe unite us, or at least motivate most of us to be compassionate, decent, tolerant people, one to another. Emphasis on tolerant.
Our world is witnessing a rising tide of right-wing extremism. There are various iterations, but the most terrifying, the most vile is that of white supremacy. It's been a toxic presence for a very long time, largely underground and secret, occasionally emerging with permits to parade at social and/or holiday events. No longer. Now they're public, loud and proud, their tenets, their aggression given high-profile attention, practice and de facto endorsement by campaigning Donald J. Trump, now American President-elect.
They've re-branded themselves with intentionally-sanitizing, perception-softening labels of "alt-right" (meaning alternative-right) and "white nationalism." They remain white supremacists in composition and intent - purveyors of hate and rigid exclusion coupled with belief in white-race superiority and right of dominance. What they represent, what they attempt to impose is cruel, ugly, repugnant, and must be rejected by civilized people. They believe they're justified in being absolute arbiters of human dignity and worth -- fanatics who replicate the mindset, beliefs and evil of the Third Reich.
Here they are at a conference in Washington, D.C. November 19, 2016:
And here's a piece about it in Politico.
I said I'd reference other articles, but given the impact of above video alone, I don't think it's necessary. Seeing and hearing are enough. More than.
Instead, I'll quote a November 18, 2016 statistic from highly-respected Southern Poverty Law Center which tracks hate crimes:
701 incidents were reported in the week following Trump's election
In the ten days following the election, this piece puts the reported number at 900.
For those minimizing and/or denying the rise of post-election hate crimes, this New York Times November 22nd, 2016 headline puts George Soros' money where my words are:
"George Soros Pledges $10 Million to Fight Hate Crimes"
This is background information from the Betrayed DVD liner, which I'll post at story's end:
"The murder that sparks the film's FBI investigation is loosely based on the real-life slaying of Denver radio talk show host Alan Berg, who was killed by a neo-Nazi group in 1984. The murder was also the basis of the Oliver Stone film Talk Radio (1988)."
Here's the story as it unfolds. It speaks powerfully for itself, and gives insight into all sides. The writer, Joe Eszterhas, received a deluge of criticism for his 1995 Showgirls, unfairly, I thought - society just wasn't ready for his truth and reflexively, provincially hit back. In his truth-telling, he was ahead of his time, as he is here.
1980s American Heartland
"If Jesus came back today, he'd never stop throwing up."
"Hey people, know what we're talking about tonight? Jew-boys, anti-Semitism, racism, hate. I know there's a lot of kike-haters out there among the nice and friendly ten thousand. See if any of you have the guts to talk about it. You're not ashamed of what you believe in, are you? This is Kraus, WLD, voice of the midwest, 90,000 watts from Chicago. ...Sickcago ...whatever you want to call it. Hey, you know what, partner? I'm an old Jew myself. Yeah. Show me how brave you are now. Call up this Jew-boy and we'll talk-turkey right after this message."Callers spew denigration, Holocaust denial/minimization, ignorance and Biblical references to support their hate. As show is wrapping, we briefly see a pensive Kraus (Richard Libertini) who may be wondering about the content of calls or the wisdom of his invitation and what it produced and revealed.
Leaving the studio, Kraus says with jaunty nod of his head,"Huh, God bless America," after being told tomorrow's show subject is transsexuals.
He's seen driving a white Citroen and entering a parking garage while an image of gun cartridges being inserted is briefly juxtaposed.
Kraus parks below ground, gets out, and as he stands, we suddenly see terrified horror on his face.
Face-covered men, one in camouflage, open fire on him repeatedly at short range as he slides to the concrete floor, dragging a wide swath of blood down with him. A Caucasian hand spray-paints "Z O G" in huge black letters on the side of the white car, with the letter "O" encircling the blood and Kraus's head and shoulders.
Now we're in farm country; beautiful, authentic settings with which I'm familiar. Worked on a large produce farm as a teenager, and live on a lush agricultural island now, one with wide expanses of earthy, green, and golden fields.
An approaching male (Tom Berenger) tells the dog, "Lighten up, Rynie," and the dog quiets.
A large farmhouse, barn and silos are seen behind them on the other side of an adjacent dirt road, and a vehicle is parked on it with the driver's door open.
The man walks forward, picks up pieces of board and a stuffed, human-contoured figure and says, "My boy and me were target shooting. I guess we forgot all about it."
He: "Well, I didn't think you were even supposed to cut this section today."
She: Angrily, "Yeah, well, you're supposed to clear these fields."
He: Teasingly, "Ooooh, got a temper, too, don't ya?"
He: "Where ya from, girl?"
He: "Real cowgirl, huh?"
She: Climbing back up into her cab, "Look, I don't need this shit ... just trying to do my job."
The combine starts, and he waves up at her, part-teasing, part-mocking.
Next we see them in a country music bar where most folks know one another. It has a small dance area. He leaves buddies he's with, approaches her at the bar where she's alone having a beer. "Hey Cowgirl, buy ya a beer?" She declines with, "I have one." He banters about her attitude, then with charming self-deprecation, asks her to dance.
Her name is Kate Phillips and his is Gary. He doesn't give his last name and says it's "first time he's danced in three years, since his wife died," and tells her that transient harvest "combine-girls are the biggest thing to hit this town."
Leaving "to put his kids to bed," she accepts a ride back to her motel. En route, Gary nods to a large billboard bearing the image of "WLD voice of the midwest" talk-show host Kraus, saying, "I miss that guy. Ever listen to that guy? The radio guy that got killed?"
Kate says she "just saw about it on the TV." Gary answers, "Yeah, well, there ain't nothing on the radio now, that's for sure."
Kate is quickly dubbed, "Katie," and is invited to dinner with Gary, his children, Rachel and Joey, and Gary's mom, Gladys, who's cooked the meal.
We witness both moderate and ultra-conservative values around the table with Gary's Mom saying, "It just ain't the same country I grew up in; the bad just pushes out the good. It's filth and trash every place" before Gary shuts her down. [Thirty post-filming years later, "It's not the same country" became a Trump+supporters' theme in the 2016 American election. The pledge, the promise was/is to "Make America Great Again," and presidential candidate Donald J. Trump was elected, and is now President-elect.]
A relationship is developing between Katie and Gary, with a special bond forming between Katie and Rachel. The four attend an Independence Day community fair with Gary wearing a flag-themed cap with "USA" in white letters on red above a blue visor.
An undercurrent becomes palpable among some in the large, communal picnic-seating area after a man approaches Gary, wanting to know "when the hell we're gonna go hunting...gettin' restless." Gary, annoyed and dismayed at the question, replies, "I don't know, Buster, but I'll let you know."
Gary asks Katie if she's ever been hunting, and she says when she was very young, her daddy took her.
A group of men glare in their direction from a distance. Katie is occasionally taking pictures. Macho jokes and teasing swirl, and food's being prepared and eaten amid relaxed laughter and children.
A solitary, tall, fair, impassive man stares suspiciously at Gary and Katie. He'd been at the farm once when Katie arrived, and she appeared visibly wary and fearful as she passed him. He approaches Katie and asks why she's "taking all the pictures." She casually rebuffs him, saying she always does, "got a whole album at home." Gary looks up at him with a mixture of annoyance and surprise and says, "What's the matter with you, Wes?" (Ted Levine) "Scared your face is gonna bust the camera?" and than briefly laughs.
With his arm around visibly uncomfortable Katie, they watch gorgeous fireworks in a perfect night sky while collectively singing "America the Beautiful." Gary drops Katie at her motel, kisses her, is disappointed but
We next see Katie answer her room telephone. (No cell phones then.) With tense, strained face, she speaks a few brief, clipped words.
Katie arrives at Gary's farm in pouring rain. A beloved horse, "Beauty," must be euthanized, and Gary and his jokester friend Shorty (John Mahoney) can neither do it, nor even be present. Wes is there and shoots the ailing horse in the stall with Shorty outside and a distraught Gary heading there when he hears the gunshot.
Everyone's upset, and the men are observing Katie at different points, especially and pointedly, Wes. Shorty had watched with interest as Katie left the barn and got back in her truck to be as far as possible from the horse's death.
Through her truck window, Katie tells Gary her mother's having an operation, she has to go home and be with her. She'll be back in a couple of days; she has to wait for the fields to dry out anyway. Joey's concerned about the combine ride she promised him, so she assures him she'll be back. Gary tells her sadly, "We'll be waiting for you," as Joey and Rachel stand beside him under an umbrella, with Rachel waving, and Gladys watching from the door.
We next see an exterior shot of a busy courtyard surrounded by tall office buildings.
Katie is transformed.
Katie of baseball cap, braid and jeans is now professionally dressed and coiffed, presenting an ID card, stating her name as "Weaver."
She enters a secure area in which men and one woman, all in business casual, are assembled. She is strikingly attractive in white blouse, tailored skirt and loose, thick, pulled-back auburn hair. The meeting leader (John Heard) begins reciting a history of Gary Simmons. (This is the first time we hear Gary's surname.)
Gary's father joined the Sons of Liberty in 1978, refused to pay his taxes, IRS put a lien on his farm. His father hung himself. Gary's wife divorced him, moved to California, was killed a year later in a hit-and-run accident. Driver was never apprehended, but her body was so badly injured it's suspected driver ran back and forth over her.
Miss Weaver/Katie asks whether Gary was in California then. Meeting leader says it's still unknown, "they're working on it."
At this point, leader adds that Gary almost won Medal of Honor for heroism in Vietnam despite being wounded himself. Katie clarifies that he did win a medal for being wounded. Leader glares at Katie but confirms it in a clipped tone while looking suspiciously at her, we assume taken aback at her defense of the man we assume to be her assignment. There's electricity between Miss Weaver and the still-unnamed man conducting the meeting. We assume they're all FBI, and it's an undercover operation.
Conflict arises when Miss Weaver/Katie insists she's found nothing significant, and the meeting leader questions her loyalty. He mentions a car similar to Gary's was seen speeding away from Kraus' garage, but Miss Weaver counters that only two digits of the licence plate were identified. She refutes its importance, calling him "Michael," and suggests Gary's being targeted. Michael cites and sneers at her questionably frequent personal references to Gary and his family - in reports, we again assume. Clearly, there's some personal, volatile relationship between she and Michael, who angrily inserts vague sexual innuendo into his insistence that he and his "sensitive gut" suspect Gary.
As meeting breaks up with consensus they've nothing concrete to implicate Gary Simmons, we learn Miss Weaver/Katie's actual first name is Catherine when Michael introduces her to a visiting DC agent. Michael takes another swipe at her, saying she's "first time under cover and acting like a sixteen-year-old on a first date."
Now alone in the room, Michael kisses Catherine/Katie lightly on the lips, tells her he's missed her and she looks great. She's cool, doesn't respond, says thanks and quickly leaves. He follows her into the hallway, bantering, and he playfully suggests they feel the same about each other, including mutual irritation, which she denies, more truthfully, it seems.
|Michael and Catherine/Cathy/Katie Screen Capture|
Michael, two other agents, and Catherine/Katie are going through the photos Katie took. Again, conflict between she and Michael erupts; he suggests ulterior motives for events she defends as innocent. "Yes, they make black jokes," she says, "but they aren't racist." Guns, sure, there's lots, it's common there, and muddy, obscured licence plates are the result of rain in farm country.
"He smells too good; he's perfect for the part," Michael says, and with veiled meaning, holds up an Independence Day photo of Gary, Joey and Rachel, saying, "Gary's a good-looking guy, right, Cathy?"
Michael catches up with Catherine/Katie outside her apartment building and reels off elaborate details that have been put in place to cover her "visit with her mother and her mother's surgery," and if she needs him, he can be at an airstrip near the farm in an hour and a half. He makes reference to recruiting her from a campus five years ago and doesn't want to lose her now. She responds, "You already lost me." He wants to come up, and she declines, says, "Let it go." He says, "I don't want to." She, "I do." He, "Cathy, don't you think you like this guy just a little bit too much?" She, "I like him; ain't that the shits, huh?" He, "It is where I come from. I like you, too." Michael then asks her to repeat a phone number he'd given her minutes before; she does with one digit off, he corrects her, she repeats it correctly with a faint smile - she was possibly teasing/testing him - as she closes the building door. He remains standing on the sidewalk, pensively looking toward the now-empty landing, possibly wondering about both her safety and ability to do the job.
Katie returns to the farm with gifts for the children, but the family is at church. She joins them there, where she hears the pastor rail against "sexual disease, perversion and promiscuity." The all-white congregation answers with a loud, "Amen!" The pastor continues, "Listen to me, Americans, we are the true descendants of the lost tribes of Israel; we are God's chosen people! We are the sons of Abel, we must awaken," he says dramatically, "the time is coming, the long-forgotten wind is starting to blow." Congregation affirms with, "Amen."
Katie's return is welcome, though there was a brief, odd exchange of looks between Gary's mother and one of his friends in church. After church, Katie tells Gary how much she loves his family, and it's clearly genuine. Gary is noticeably happy, agrees he does, too. On the premise of pursuit of beer to take to his mother's house for dinner (kids have gone home with Grandma), Katie and Gary go back to his empty house. Gary takes her in his arms and tenderly kisses her for what may be the first, intensive time. Without resistance, she asks, "What are we doing?" And then over a span of subtle, gorgeous, sensual cinematography, two beautiful people make love. As depicted, it IS love, not sex.
After, Gary says, "That's the first time...since my wife died." Katie asks how she died. Gary says she left him, "went to California where she got hit by a car." He muses that maybe he didn't pay her enough attention, maybe it was his fault - fallout from Vietnam, maybe he worked the farm too hard, "maybe she read too many magazines," but that he "learned from it."
Katie is quiet and serious - says nothing. She'd seen pictures of his dead wife's body during her meeting with Michael. (We didn't see the photos, only Catherine/Katie's grim reaction.)
Katie is now at the house and sleeping with Gary regularly, but appears more observant, perhaps giving credence to Michael's experience, gut instinct, suspicion, and warning.
She overhears Joey and Rachel arguing over choice of game to play. Rachel wants dolls while Joey wants ZOG. Katie asks what ZOG is, and Joey, with toy gun in hand, says, "It's just a game. I'm the dog, she's the cat. It's real dumb." Gary comes on the scene, says, "Good Morning," and seeing her face, asks, "Didn't you sleep good?" She says she's fine, but clearly is not.
During an argument with Michael at headquarters, in frustration, Michael had shot back with, "What about ZOG?!"
Gary invites Katie to go hunting while she's giving Joey his promised ride in the combine. She claims she's too tired.
Frustration is building in Gary, with the heat, with wait time at a grain elevator, blaming it on foreign-made "Arab Abba Dabba" parts and ranting against what we now term globalization. He yells at those stalled in the elevator, and gets out to get a Coke from a machine which gives him two cans after a fierce kick. He gives Katie a can, who's waiting in the truck, and asks when they're going hunting. She tells him again she doesn't like hunting, but he says, "You'll like this."
He's ignored when he attempts to exchange pleasantries with a man named Del. Gary reacts, yells at Dell, who tells Gary he's no neighbour of his. Another man, Jud, intercedes, saying , "Come on, Gary, we don't want no trouble, we're just waitin'."
"What's that spot on your face, Jud?"
"It's a birthmark, Gary."
"Yeah, you sure about that, Jud? It ain't one of them spots you get from that there AIDS, is it, Jud?You ain't been airing your back door like one of them dyin' spotted faggots, have you, Jud?"
"You son of a bitch!"
"Don't fuck with me, Jud!"
And to Del who's walking even further away, "You hear me, Del?! ... You hear me, Del?!"
Katie watches from the truck with hurt and pain on her face. She asks Gary, "What'd you do that for?" Gary replies, "I ain't the one who started it all. It ain't no big deal, anyhow. Some people here just don't like me. Opening Katie's door, he says, "Katie, I'm goin' get down on my hands and knees right here, with all them lookin', unless you come huntin' with me. You know that, don't you? Yes, I am."
He puts his hand around her bare ankle and appears to kiss her foot. Laughing, she says, "All right, I'll come." Gary moves up into her side of the cab, scrunches in front of her and joyfully says, "You're coming?!"
"Yeah, I'm coming," Katie says. Gary says, "Okay," happily, and kisses her.
"Never been huntin' at night," Katie tells Gary as they drive through a dark, misty, rainy night with Gary's dog pacing, whimpering, whining excitedly behind them in the cab. Gary replies, "Yeah, gonna be a real mud hunt tonight."
"What're we huntin', deer?"
Gary: "It ain't deer season."
They arrive in a clearing where vehicles and five men are assembled and milling about. We see and sense Katie's apprehension. Guns and flashlights are being pitched around. Gary begins explaining a "Mach 10 fully-automatic machine pistol" to Katie. She resists, saying "You ain't goin' hunting with that." Gary replies, "Oh yes we are." Objection to Katie's presence is voiced, and Gary tells the man to "shut up!" The group all have military-style automatic weapons.
A car arrives and two white men get out. Dogs, too.
Oh, my God! I wish I could forget what follows.
They pull a young, blindfolded, shirtless, handcuffed-behind-his-back black man from the car, and with one man from the car holding him, the other touches his belly with the barrel of a gun.
Katie's face registers a mix of barely-concealed horror and disbelief.
They rip off his blindford, revealing his wounded, bloody forehead, call him, "boy," and pass him a gun, "cocked and ready." The young man is terrorized, bewildered, barely comprehending as he's told, "You better start running. You got ten bullets and thirty seconds. You better run, nigger."
They fire into the air and the dazed, terrified young man bolts toward the woods.
The dogs are released
What follows is searing, gut-wrenching, horrific. White supremacists sadistically dehumanize and convert a black-skinned man into prey, making him the captive object of barbaric sport and his own certain death.
Gary's purpose in bringing Katie is that he tells her he loves her so she's "gotta know everything; it's just training; it's your first night, you'll get used to it."
Katie is pushed by Wes to kill the already-wounded, cornered young man, and as she stands stunned, immobile, pointing her gun at him to ensure her own survival, Gary intercedes, giving him an opportunity to flee.
Katie's trauma continues when she eventually sees the fleeing, terrified young man -- bloody from flight and shoulder wound -- shot in the back, fall, and be shot again as he lies face down, lifeless. She cries out, "N o o o o o o!" in a screaming wail of pain and horror.
Katie's in shock, insists she be taken to the motel. Gary repeats his purpose was complete truth between them, adding, " C'mon Katie, c'mon now, it's just a nigger, don't make too much out of it. There's plenty more where he came from. If you love me, I got nothing to worry about...but if you don't, I don't care about going to jail. One thing's for sure, we're going to kick the hell outta ZOG."
"ZOG?", Katie asks.
"Zionist Occupation Government," Gary supplies. "Means the Goddamned fuckin' Jews are running our country with their nigger police."
Katie hurtles into her motel room, struggles to fasten all the locks as emotion safely overtakes her. She collapses on the bed, rocks back and forth, arms tightly across herself, panting, trying to ward off the sick horror engulfing her. Stripping off some clothes, but too traumatized to continue, she calls Michael.
En route to meet at the pre-arranged airport Michael had scouted, one of Gary's suspicious friends attempts to stop her outside her motel. Katie mangles his truck door as he jumps clear, and she plows past.
Michael and same two agents she met with at headquarters sprint from a small plane and find traumatized Katie motionless behind her steering wheel. Michael opens the truck door and embraces her, telling a weeping Katie, "Just hold me. Just hold me real hard. You sure nobody followed you?"
In a small (airport?) office, they're debriefing Katie who is guilt-ridden that she didn't "do anything." Michael tells her, "There wasn't anything you could do; they're guilty; you're not." Michael tells her they'll never find the body of the young man she saw murdered, nor those of others. Despite her offer to testify, Michael says he wants them for Kraus, "We have a body there." "You have to go back in. She protests. He says, "I need you to link them with Kraus. You're the only one who can do it."
Katie: "How can I ever look at him again? Let him touch me? I feel dirty" Head bent in agonized voice, she repeats, "I feel so dirty."
Crouched in front of seated Katie, Michael says, "I never said you had to sleep with him, did I?" "DID I?!"
He quietly says, "I thought ... " lapses into silence, then, rising, smashes his fist down and screams, "WHY?!"
With tear-stained face and red-rimmed, haunted eyes, Katie looks into his angry face and quietly says, "I didn't sleep with him, I made love to him."
"What the hell difference does that make?!" Michael yells back.
A team member intercedes in the personal-professional drama: "Take it easy, man."
Katie says she's "in too deep, off balance, her loyalties are all screwed up."
Michael persists. He denies her accusation that he wants to punish her. He asks, "What's more important?"... how "dirty" will she feel if she doesn't continue to get vital evidence and they continue killing?
Katie muses, "Don't know how I could have been so wrong ... if you could see him with his family," which Michael skewers with, "Yeah, well, I dunno; I guess your gut instinct's really not that good, right? Now you know."
She relents and is instructed "to not convert too easily; make their garbage look new to you; play it normal," and with a dagger-thrust, Michael says, "You don't want them to think you're an easy lay, do you?"
She's told Wes has a long history of physical and sexual violence in California, was involved with Aryan Brotherhood in prison, and tried to be a mercenary in South Africa. She's told to stay away from him, "He's not just a freak, he's a freak's freak and Gary is using him."
Near dawn, back at her truck on the tarmac, Michael hands her a pistol and says, "Take it." She does, saying, "If he finds it, I'm dead." A team member tells her to be sure he doesn't; reminds her she's "just doing her job." Behind the wheel, she gives Michael a scathing look and drives away.
Back at the motel, she finds Gary waiting in her room, stretched out on the bed. He wants to know where she's been. She tells him she's been driving, but decided to come back. "For your stuff?" he asks, "It's there," pointing to what he's packed for her, sliding to a sitting position at the end of the bed. She shakes her head, no. "Katie, you coming back 'cause you love me? 'Cause if you do, I need to know. Say it. Please say it." She moves closer to him so her face is just above his head and quietly says, "I love you." She rests her chin on the top of his head and puts her arms around him. He gets up, closes and locks the door, pulls the curtains and aggressively throws her to the bed in a distortion of their former love-making.
From the motel window they watch various itinerant farm workers pack up their cars, say good-bye and drive off to other jobs. Katie watches longingly, feeling trapped.
Ashen-faced, Katie asks Gary, "What ya' kill him for, the fun of it?" Gary responds, "It ain't fun killin' anything; it was self defense, he had a gun, we were protecting ourselves. All we're trying to do is protect ourselves. Self defense."
Katie says, "I don't like killing anybody. Don't like people hurt."
Gary: "They ain't people. They're mud people."
Gary tells her she "has a place now," that with her help on the farm and with the kids, "we got a chance at a real family again."
Katie moves in with Gary and the kids. Gary's mother isn't happy about it, warns her against hurting Gary.
Katie asks about an incident she sees between Gary and Wes in which she sees Gary grab and throw Wes against the side of a truck. Gary says "Wes thinks you're a grasshopper." Asked to explain, he tells Katie the kind of grasshopper Wes means is the kind "who's getting in your hair all the time, like the FBI, CIA, KGB, JDL, NAACP, that kinda' grasshopper." He asks her point-blank if she is, and she responds with a defiant, "Shit, yeah!" and walks away to kiss the kids good night.
It's difficult to relate the following scene, but it's important and instructive in explaining how hate (and fear) is implanted into young, innocent minds through parenting, teaching, example and environment. Sociologically, we know that early learning and conditioning can be difficult, sometimes impossible, to counter, ameliorate or remove.
Joey and Rachel are both under ten, and sleep in a partially-partitioned room within sight of each other.
Rachel tells Katie that "Daddy said we don't need to have no secrets no more."
Rachel: "About the niggers and the rabbis."
Joey adds: "And the race-traitors."
Rachel: "And ZOGS. They're the sons of Cain."
Katie hears other slurs, characterizations, and inaccuracies and makes one attempt to probe Rachel's understanding of what's she's said, but when Rachel veers suddenly to an unrelated topic, as children will, Katie leaves it alone, says good night and goes back downstairs.
Katie endures the environment, has become a more accomplished actress through her painfully-gained maturity, and forms a very close bond with Rachel. Always, she's subtly vigilant.
Gary proudly shows her his password-protected connection to a secret country-wide online supremacist network.
In the guise of a family camping vacation, Gary takes them to a secret, heavily guarded woodland enclave
Gary gives Katie shooting lessons in the militia training section of the camp.
Wes almost catches Katie spying on the delivery of heavy weapons nearby.
One sunny camp day, federal political candidate Jack Carpenter arrives at the camp with an entourage and message eerily similar to Donald Trump's. Carpenter says he's going to "return America to real Americans." Gary confronts him, tells him he's in it for himself, for the ride, that he hasn't got a prayer of winning." Carpenter's primary campaign aide knows Gary - they have shared Vietnam history. He approaches Gary and attempts to calm him with assurance he has a long-range plan, one he'll never allow Carpenter to subvert."
Katie secretly meets Michael and the team in a hotel room in a nearby town. Michael expresses frustration at not knowing what's being planned, given the accumulation of heavy weaponry ("mortars, rocket-launchers, submachine guns - enough for a whole Goddamned division"), and at no progress on Kraus. Katie tells them Wes knows about her. They dispute. She insists he does, "He's all over me!" meaning constantly watching and suspicious. She and Michael joust over who's using whom and the fact she refuses to kill to prove herself to the group, saying, "I didn't join up to kill anyone." One on the team blandly says , "Everybody uses everybody, girl, it's just a matter of what you're being used for -- what it is -- it's the only important thing." Michael tells Katie they'll find her "a safe home, house, place, whatever ... you'll be all right."
Katie returns to pointed questions from Gary who resents her lengthy "time shopping." To distract him, she attempts modest sexual enticement with a homemade cut-off slip. His response is to shame her, tells her she looks like a whore.
Gary, Wes, and two others include her in their extremist plans for a "big job next week." It's to be a robbery, one in which killing will be avoided, but done if necessary. Wes says Katie won't kill. Gary says, "She will if she has to," while Wes again says, "No, she won't," glaring at Katie. She questions why she should be involved, and Gary's response is that she "has a better eye." Katie continues to probe but Gary closes the subject.
Katie goes to a phone booth shortly after, where Wes sees her and reports back to Gary. Gary questions her, but she's covered it with a call to his mother.
The five are heavily armed enroute to the robbery. One in the van says, "the winds are starting to blow," referencing words of the church pastor. Gary says his great-grandad robbed stage coaches, Shorty, the driver, laughingly says his granddad was the town marshal, and another says his grandaddy owned a bank and he'd managed one. Katie is present and grim, wearing a vest Wes tells her to zip up because it's bullet-proof.
In camouflage, militia gear, and improvised masks, they create terror inside a large bank. Katie is forced to shoot an armed security guard who suddenly appears on a stairway and is about to shoot her. Wes says, "Nice shot."
One of Michael's team appears in the bank doorway and shoots Wes as the group is hurtling into the waiting van. There's a bloody death scene in the van, and questions later from Gary on their faulty bank-guard intelligence. Gary tells Katie, "You did good."
Katie is back at another secret hotel meeting, briefly alone in the room with Michael, questioning what went down. She's haunted by her shooting of the guard, "an innocent." Michael is cavalier, correctly stating it was self-defense, but callous, factually justifying it and the fact they "decided to let the robbery happen." He's laser-focused on learning the reason for the war chest the supremacists are assembling, since this is a fourth lucrative bank heist across the country, and for evidence on Kraus' murder. Robbery convictions would only put them away for a few years, he tells her.
When she questions only Wes's killing, Michael says it was done to protect her from him. At this point, she tells Michael she wants out. He responds with cutting criticism, listing examples of her leaving other issues "half-done," including their relationship. He reminds her that she ended it, not he, and that he cares a great deal about her. In response to her ending it, she enigmatically responds with, "That was self-defense."
A team member returns to report the bank guard she shot is okay and out of danger.
Back at the farm house, Katie attempts to change Rachel's mind about hatred based on skin colour. And it's to be their secret.
Gary proposes marriage at a dance; Katie hesitates, and he accepts it with humor and grace.
Hate-based attacks are discussed around a table on Gary's porch. The Chicago court house is to be blown up, preceded by a hit carried out by Gary and Katie three days before.
Katie tells Gary a single word "yes" [to his proposal] while he and Rachel were brushing down a horse at sunset. He's ecstatic, producing celebratory wine inside and asking for her mother's phone number, intending to call with the happy news. Katie stumbles for an instant, gives it, and Gary passes the phone immediately to Katie once he hears a response to, "Mrs. Phillips?" Katie takes the phone and gives a joyous performance. Gary takes the phone back, introduces himself and chats, so obviously the maternal subterfuge was still in place and effective.
On a high, Gary discloses extensive secret information on highly-placed sympathizers and co-conspirators nation-wide. Later, on her wedding dress, they alternately quote a rhyme I've never heard:
"Marry in blue, your guy'll be true."
"Marry in brown, you'll live in town.
"Marry in green, ashamed to be seen."
"Marry in yellow, you got the right fellow."
"Marry in grey, be sad someday," Katie says, looking into his face with pain behind her eyes.
"Marry in white, you'll be all right," Gary concludes, happily.
Gary wants to make love, but Katie defers with, "You smell like a horse!" Later, a showered Gary says to her, "You're never going to turn against me, are you?" He reveals that his deceased wife "wouldn't go along with me," had an abortion in preference to exposing another child to his policies of hate, "tried to turn the kids against me, ran away from me, called the kids behind my back." "I didn't have no choice with her." Katie asked who killed her, and he said, "Wes." Then Rachel bounds into bed with them.
She passes documents she's taken from the stash Gary showed her. Michael isn't pleased, dismissing it as evidence while using it to coerce her into continuing for the greater good. The secret hit-lists include high-profile politicians, diplomats, and sport figures. Michael says, "We can't possibly protect all these people for God knows how long. What are they supposed to do, crawl into a room and stay there?!" We need the name...or the time and the place. We'll monitor their schedule. Then it's over."
Katie tearfully says, "I can't stand it anymore."
Michael moves close to her, places his hand on her shoulder, looks into her agonized face and says, "I wish I could do it instead of you. I'd give anything if I could do it for you. You know that, don't you? You do, don't you?"
She responds with, "I'd better take this stuff back before he knows it's gone."
Michael watches her leave with concern. He does care.
It's a close call, but she gets the documents back under the floor boards.
Gary takes her with him to a clearing where a large U.S. government helicopter descends. He meets alone in it with the same Jack Carpenter campaign aide who tried to calm and assure Gary at the white supremacist camp. He passes Gary a confidential Justice Department file containing Katie's real identity, photograph, and fact she's with Special Investigations.
Gary looks up from it, grief and pain on his face. His friend tells him, grabbing and shaking him by the arms, "You got a point, Gary. We're gonna win THIS war," referencing their Vietnam service. "I brought you something else; it's your hit point. Everything you need is inside."
Gary leaves the helicopter, it lifts off, and he returns to the truck and Katie. She asks who it was and he responds, "The Lone Ranger. The Lone Ranger rides again." Emotionally, he reveals nothing.
She asks again, and he responds, "Who's crowding who now? We're going to Denver tomorrow."
"Why," Katie asks. "You know why," he replies.
In bed, she senses something's wrong as she catches him watching her. He claims he's just tired and tells her he loves her.
Believing he's asleep, she slips downstairs to the phone where she whispers, "Denver tomorrow. If I disappear now, they'll stop everything. I have to go through with it."
He was feigning sleep, and back in bed she grasps the hand moving to her breast and holds it.
Dawn finds Katie saying good-bye, promising Rachel she'll be back.
Gary takes the exit to Chicago, not Denver, saying he changed his mind. He's packed sandwiches to avoid food stops, so Katie requests a bathroom stop. He pulls into a massive truck stop where Gary thwarts her attempt to scratch a message into a metal stall door.
They're both on a deserted floor of a high-rise that's either being renovated or under construction. Gary looks down on the quiet, wide, exterior entrance to a television studio. He opens a briefcase and begins assembling the high-powered rifle it contains, loads it with two bullets, and snaps on the scope.
Gary pulls back a tarp, and we see people gathering near the entrance below.
Stunned, she looks directly at him
"And the name ain't "Phillips" either. It's "Weaver." Your mom ain't sick, and you don't have any folks. They were killed in a car crash when you were a kid."
Pointing the pistol Michael gave her at him, Katie says with shaky voice, "You're under arrest. Put it down, Gary. Please."
He doesn't move.
With agony on her face, she asks, "Why'd you bring me up here for, if you knew?"
"I wanted them to find a dead FBI agent-shooter. Boy, ain't that rich."
"Put it down, please."
"You were a whore all along, weren't you?"
"No, in the beginning I was falling in love with you."
"You laid down with me to get what they wanted."
"I didn't think there was anything to get. Put it down."
"What for? What the hell for?!"
Sirens and cars arrive for some official gathering in front of the television studio.
Gary lifts and aims the rifle, and Katie again tells him to put it down. Says "please," begging with love and pain.
Candidate Jack Carpenter's now in the center of the crowd below.
Gary looks away from where he's aiming to tearfully cry out at her, "God, I loved you, Katie!"
Gary turns back, aims, and Katie yells, "Put it down!" and shoots him when it's obvious he won't.
There's an instant reflection of surprised shock in Gary's eyes as the force turns him toward her and he slides to the concrete, the rifle falling away. Katie stands frozen, then moves closer as Gary appears lifeless.
Before she reaches his body, more shots are heard and she moves to the building edge to look down. Jack Carpenter is holding his bloody shoulder as he's carried inside. A single tear falls as she sees Carpenter's aide, Gary's Vietnam friend, looking up at her location, possibly seeing her.
A dazed, distraught Catherine wanders city streets, reliving Katie's life and the moment she killed the man she loved, even the last fleeting expression in his eyes.
Catherine watches a television screen on which candidate Carpenter's aide - Gary's co-conspirator - is announcing Jack Carpenter's death. Asked whether another candidate will be advanced or whether he'll run himself, the aide launches into a Donald-Trump-like monologue, saying "Jack was gunned down in the street for what he stands for. Tell me where this country is going. And the saddest part is that is what Jack was always saying, that we've got to return this country to the country we grew up in."
Catherine's been watching in a luxurious apartment. She says, "He saw me." A team member replies, "They got a second killer going; Carpenter didn't have a chance. Neither would you, without your gun."
Carpenter's aide, still speaking on TV, says, "If I have to run, that's what I'll do."
Michael comes in, happy and smiling, puts his guns on a shelf and says, "Got here as soon as I could. We're busting people all over the country." Looking at Catherine in casual clothes, standing against a wall, he says, "That printout you gave us is a gold mine. We got money, weapons...Washington's going to make a statement in an hour. We did it, Cathy. We got 'em."
Catherine doesn't look at him, and with a glazed look in her eyes, she lifts and points her chin toward the TV and says, "Best thing that ever happened to them. Now they got their own order."
Michael is frustrated, says, " We got 'em, Cathy. Don't you get it? Busted 'em all over the country."
Looking at Michael, she says, "Gary knew who I was."
"He had someone in the inside."
"They couldn't have."
"They got friends all over."
"Doesn't matter. We'll get 'em."
"You'll never get 'em. Anyway, we'll never get all of them." And she walks away from them.
"You can't stop them by waiting for them to commit a crime each time, Michael," and with that she removes the pistol Michael gave her from her bag and places it on a shelf.
"Where are you going?" Michael asks.
She turns, her hair in a braid again, and says to Michael, "I had to kill him."
Michael, emphatically: "Of course you had to kill him."
"I didn't have any choice, right?"
"No. Where are you going? You need protection, Cathy. They know who you are. They'll put you in the Goddamned computer, and they'll all know who you are. Stay with us. We're your family. We protect you."
"No, I never had a family, Michael. You were my family. The Bureau was my family. I trusted you. You used me. You betrayed me. I betrayed ... [cuts herself off]. I don't have a family anymore. I don't have anything anymore. I got too dirty."
"We won, for Christ sake!"
"YOU won," and she walks out.
A team member follows and asks, "Catherine, where you gonna go?" She says, "Just away."
He says, "Cathy, there ain't no goin' away." She opens the door, looks back at him blankly.
It's Sunday, and we see Catherine outside the white picket church fence as congregants are leaving.
Rachel sees her.
"Katie! Katie!" Rachel comes running over to the fence. Catherine reaches over, lifts Rachel up to her over the pickets and kisses her cheeks.
Rachel says, "They say your name is Catherine." She answers, "It is." Rachel says, happily, "I like Cathy better anyway. I thought you were never coming back." With a sad face, Catherine says, "I care about you, Rachel."
Tall stetson-wearing pastor is approaching. Those leaving church have all stopped and are silently, grimly watching.
The pastor says in a deep voice, "Get out of here, Jezebel! This is a house of God."
Rachel promptly retorts with something Katie/Catherine had taught her, "This is America, Reverend, she can do anything she wants."
Gary's mother calls Rachel back. She and Catherine continue to awkwardly hug over the pickets, Catherine promises to "always be here," then sends her back to her grandmother and brother, watching misty-eyed as Rachel leaves with her family while continuing to look back and wave.
|DVD Liner Note|
Postscript - December 11, 2016
There's a lot to read above, I realize, but I must include this link to
an Associated Press article just published yesterday, December 10,
2016. In it, AP reporter Jay Reeves interviews KKK members near
Pelham, N.C. - in Klan regalia no less - who object to being called
white supremacists. The piece is here.
Saturday, November 5, 2016
It's almost a year since I've posted, and for any who've looked for updates, I apologize. It's not that I haven't thought about it, nor that there aren't deserving films -- many of which eclipse my ability to do them writing-justice. I hope it's not that I'm living in the past either, for I keep up and try to view new films and TV series from different parts of our world. I eagerly await the next episodes of "Hinterland," an extraordinary, compelling crime series set and shot in Wales.
Truth is, the years have begun to erode my energy, but hopefully not my perception. Most folks don't want, need, or have time for lengthy film analysis these days, and for the few who do, they can find more and better elsewhere. I do think it's a reflection of age that I'm often more comfortable with the style and dialogue of films from another era, and it seems unfair to write about those which may not be widely accessible, despite our great digital resources. But I'm going to do exactly that soon about the 1988 film, "Betrayed" featuring Tom Berenger and Debra Winger.
I found the DVD in a thrift store and was attracted by Berenger's name - an actor I've always admired. The case summary closed the deal.
The film had a profound impact on me. It slowly uncoils...unveils the existence of a supremacist hate group in the American heartland [but could be anywhere, any country - we have them in Canada] -- its secrecy, its toxic ideology, its ability to inculcate at home, infect, spread, and kill. We've known about these groups, but their prevalence and public presence have massively increased the past several years. Secrecy is no longer their generalized principle. Informative print pieces have begun to appear on the subject, which I've saved and will reference.
I've viewed "Betrayed" three times, once with film-buff son and his family, who were similarly captivated and impacted. I'm going to watch it again before writing and posting. The subject is too important to inadvertently slight or err through omission.
Thanks for reading, and for your interest, patience and time.
Sunday, December 27, 2015
2001 America (year this film was released)
Impressive computer coding graphics randomly insert actor names, scenes into opening credits.
Cut to tech CEO Gary Winston [Tim Robbins] pacing on stage saying,
"This business is a living organism multiplying constantly, surrounded by predators. There's no room for idle time or second-guessing. Discoveries are made hourly; new ideas are ready to be devoured, redefined. This business is binary; you're either one or a zero, alive or dead."
Cut to Winston's appearance before Congress, facing antitrust accusations, refuting them with:
"Only monopoly we have is a monopoly on excellence. This is still a free market."
"Congressman, I don't need to remind you the essence of competition has always been quite simple. Any kid working in a garage anywhere in the world, with a good idea, can put us out of business."
Cut to Gary Winston announcing:
"Three months from today, NURV [his company] will launch SYNAPSE [through which the] world can send audio, video or text on any medium. S.Y.N.A.P.S.E will wholly unite the global village."
Cut to young Stanford computer sci grads assembling makeshift computer lab in a residential garage. Four males, one female, different personalities, talk of employment and venture capital possibilities which result in comments which include "corporate recruitment losers" and "fascist monopoly" in reference to a Gary Winston NURV recruitment live-chat airing on one computer monitor.
Milo [Ryan Phillippe] and Teddy [Yee Jee Tso] are star attractions to venture capital.
Milo receives a call from Gary Winston inviting he and Teddy to corporate HQ at his expense. Teddy strongly believes in open source and objects to NURV's "inferior" proprietary capitalism. Milo and Teddy are friends and kindred spirits with opposing professional philosophies.
Milo goes, is taken to Winston's huge, beautiful private estate rather than corporate HQ.
Winston pitches the potential peripheral societal benefits of wealthy capitalism - lists altruistic ventures he supports - versus Milo's intention to create an open source startup which will be free to users except for tech support, a creation which Winston suggests will be hijacked, modified and exploited to benefit and profit others. Winston skilfully promotes eventual-greater-public-good through proprietary control and scale over naive, misplaced trust in ethical public good, the very characteristics in Milo he endeavors to exploit, those of an idealistic, naive genius, the word Winston applied to Milo as he greeted and welcomed him.
Department of Justice unsuccessfully offers Milo a competing job offer, one of substantially less salary and fewer perks.
Milo goes to NURV while Teddy and the others pursue their startup dream without him.
The movie's major themes and dynamics are at play and in conflict in the real tech and corporate world today.
"The only art left in America is business..."
Even symbiotic relationships between corporate media and technology are referenced and revealed in one plot development.
See it for those reasons and others - Winston's megalomania, his siege mentality, creepy, ruthless, insular corporate culture, beautiful cinematography [John Bailey], a bit of late, dark humor - and how themes evolve and plots resolve in thrilling, beautiful poetic justice.
Within an hour of posting the above - words about a 15-year-old movie - a Reuters news article appeared online, one which reflects a warning voiced by Gary Winston in Antitrust. The piece is about North Korea; how the Hermit Kingdom has adapted and modified technology for its own authoritarian, repressive reasons and purpose. Life imitates art and in this case, negatively and regrettably for citizens of North Korea. Here's a link to the piece:
Friday, April 3, 2015
Ever wanted to capture a beautiful blown
bubble, reached out and grasped it, only to have it disappear in your hand?
That best describes my attempts to write about To The Wonder.
A year or more ago, I set aside five pages of roughly scribbled notes made during my first viewing. I was so moved, so overwhelmed, that I felt unable to capture and accurately present it in words, perhaps even dishonor it with inadequate writing skill.
I've watched it again, and still its essence, style and concept elude words. The work of Terrence Malick, who's written and directed it, does that for many; never more so, me. Folks will either love or hate this film; I doubt there's middle ground.
It's beautiful to watch and hear, with little dialogue. We're taken on an odyssey of love, from its pinnacle when it seems enough to conquer all, through its evolution and conclusion.
Marina (Olga Kurylenko) is French, a beautiful free spirit raising her daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) in Paris. She's fallen deeply, passionately in love with Neil (Ben Affleck), an American visiting Paris, and he with her.
The theme is set by Marina as she and Neil visit Le Mont-Saint-Michel in France. As she's climbing steps there, she softly says, "We climbed the steps to the Wonder."
|Le Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy, France|
At his request, Marina and her daughter accompany Neil to America, and their story unfolds.
There are interspersed, peripheral storylines which make muted societal points, but Marina and Neil's story is central.
I question whether the film isn't semi-autobiographical, given that Terrence Malick (according to Wikipedia) met a French woman in Paris in 1980, married her in 1985, and divorced her sometime after 1996 at his request.
Malick juxtaposes reality with the artistic and ethereal; a story of exquisitely beautiful images and scenes (his trademark) with a tale 'painted' as much as told, a story as enigmatic as love.
To The Wonder will warm and hurt your heart as it indelibly writes on your mind and soul. At least, it did/has mine.
April 15, 2015 Postscript
Cinephilia & Beyond have an excellent piece on Terrence Malick's exquisite 1978 film, Days of Heaven.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Powerful, riveting, encompassing, at times harrowing, The Reader is sophisticated and emotionally realistic to a degree rarely encountered in film. It demands intellectual and emotional maturity, and isn't entertainment in the conventional sense. It challenges us to think, evaluate and decide.
It's about secrets: truth and love warped by them; guilt: responsibility and abdication of it; judgment, kindness, and ultimate, difficult acceptance.
(Spoiler alert, for what follows is retold story/commentary hybrid. Please see this profound and unforgettable 2008 film for yourself. It will eclipse anything you read below.)
The film begins by showing us 52-year-old Michael Berg, played by Ralph Fiennes, in an upscale apartment preparing breakfast. Text on the screen tells us it's Berlin, 1995. He calls to a woman who's obviously slept over and leaves shortly after, trailing the question, "When will anyone stay long enough to know what goes on in your mind?"
Michael gazes out a window into the rain and sees a transit bus passing. Seeing an adolescent boy in the bus window takes him back in time and memory to when he, 15-year-old Michael Berg, brilliantly played by David Kross, from an upper middle class family in Berlin, West Germany, crossed paths with 36-year-old Hanna Schmitz, a female transit employee played by Kate Winslet. Her performance as Hanna won her the 2008 Best Actress Academy Award and BAFTA.
Hanna finds a vomiting Michael, who's developing Scarlet Fever, in the alley entrance to her modest apartment where he's taken refuge from heavy rain. She takes him home, helps him clean up, and guides him back to his neighborhood. The encounter leaves an indelible impact on Michael and he later returns with flowers and thanks.
So begins a complex sexual and emotional relationship between them, one in which Hanna initiates Michael sexually, and in which we see Michael grow in years and maturity. At Hanna's request, Michael reads to her, usually preceding intimacy. As years pass, we see Michael's secret relationship, his stolen hours with Hanna, begin to impact and intrude upon his life.
Though neither focus nor intent of the film, Michael's emotional involvement and fallout over time speaks to an issue society is only now acknowledging, that power and/or age imbalance in early sexual encounters can adversely impact males as well as females. To a much greater extent, the film speaks to the lasting impact early, powerful emotional relationships have on lives. Though sexuality permeated and suffused Michael's early relationship with Hanna -- explicitly, sensuously depicted -- it grew far beyond sex for him, and arguably, for her, though to a much lesser degree. We really never came to know Hanna to the extent we know Michael.
As time lessens sexual heat between them, Michael seeks to expand their relationship. He plans a bike trip, and they cycle into the countryside, eating at an inn where a female server believes Hanna to be Michael's mother, and while leaving and in her view, he kisses Hanna on the lips, wanting to correct the assumption. Hanna sits in a church in that village in which a young choir is practising, strong emotion on her face. Michael looks on from a distance, taking pleasure from an experience he's given Hanna. It's a moment that symbolizes and foretells how little he/we may know someone, or about them.
As Michael's peer-group activities begin to interfere with his secret time with Hanna, Michael's growing self-assertion and their differing maturity levels create conflict.
Then suddenly, without warning, Hanna is gone, her modest apartment empty.
Michael is devastated, bereft, isolated in his secret loss and grief, unwilling, unable to share it. He's always been distant from his family, from a father pictured as years older than we might expect, rigid, detached and formal; a mother subservient and austere, and siblings with whom he seems to have no relationship.
Time passes and 1966 finds 23 year-old Michael at Law School in Heidelberg where he's among a select few who voluntarily take a lecture series on The Question of German Guilt. The professor, played by Bruno Ganz, and small group travel to a high-profile trial where six former female Nazi SS guards are about to go on trial for Holocaust involvement. It's twenty-one years since WWII ended.
While bending to retrieve something from his case, Michael is stunned to hear Hanna Schmitz's name among the six accused. As the trial progresses, he will often bend forward and down, both from the onslaught of horrific information, and to hide his emotion.
Hanna is now 43 years old. Through trial questioning we learn the extent of Hanna's personal responsibility and guilt. She was in charge of her Nazi guard component. We get brief insight into her rigid thinking, her stated reasons for acting as she did, her concern for order at horrific human expense, and how readily she surrendered and transferred ethical responsibility to others, despite having voluntarily joined the Nazi SS in 1943.
In an attempt to reconcile the woman he loved, the person who'd had a monumental impact on his still-young life, Michael travels to the remains of a concentration camp, seeing for himself the barbed wire, the countless rows of rickety bare wooden beds, the 'showers,' the ovens, the overwhelming horror.
At this point I paused the DVD, wanting to write this before seeing how the story resolved. Powerfully moved and doubting there'd be a facile ending given preceding complexity, I still feared the conclusion might somehow alter or dilute. Whatever the medium, narrative shapes emotion. Knowing doesn't make us immune.
With time to mentally analyze the movie conflicts, I thought of times in my own life, of much lesser importance and scope, when loved ones or friends demonstrated behavior and capabilities that were surprising, disappointing, even shocking and cruel, and how I've never been able to banish the incident(s) from memory, how it/they've impacted my relationship with them, often in secret within myself. And also to wonder how something I've done may have, may be impacting others. True for all of us to one degree or another, no doubt, but an issue rarely confronted in society, apart from law. Forgiveness is talked and written about and recommended, but I've yet to read anything that delves into the magnitude of a wrong, and how it factors in.
Collective German guilt is an exception that's received attention through art, plays and scholarly work. Attention is currently being turned on Japan and what some believe is Japan's unwillingness to confront, expose and take responsibility for wartime activities, both publicly and through selective school curriculum. It's a complicated issue, and always easier to point away from our own national wrongs.
Canada is forever stained by how we treated indigenous people, our tearing of First Nations' children from their homes and families, forcing them into residential schools where they were emotionally, physically and sexually abused and neglected, in a smug, openly-declared government policy, often willingly executed through churches, to assimilate them, to "make them like us, white and proper."
Our Canadian Prime Minister's official apology, a bureaucratic and insulting process for scant monetary reparations, and the series of national reconciliation forums broadly based on South Africa's, will never, ever compensate for what was done to a proud and noble people. Victims and their families came to those public forums to tell their heartbreaking stories and have them recorded. Unsurprisingly, I recall only one government agent of the day appearing, at least only one whose press coverage I'm aware of. He appeared voluntarily, haunted by what he'd inflicted in his youth at the will of the state. First Nations people and Canada suffer from the travesty still, and will for generations to come.
We're aware of national and international controversies and alleged wrongdoing in the real world through global news coverage, but it's much more difficult to face and deal with grievous wrong that's up close and personal, rather than distant and abstract.
Both were simultaneously thrust upon Michael in that German courtroom. When he tells his professor about knowing Hanna, the professor asks Michael, "Have you spoken to her?" Michael answers, "Of course not." Professor Rohl replies, "Why, 'of course not' ? If people like you don't learn from what happened to people like me, then what the hell is the point of anything?!"
Found guilty of murder in 300 cases, the five guards on trial with Hanna were each sentenced to 4 years, 3 months in prison. Because Hanna was their superior and responsible for the orders given, she received life.
Despite near-completed attempts to visit Hanna in prison, Michael was never able to follow through. Truth was too overwhelming, too powerful, too daunting.
Ten years later in 1976, while surveying books packed for moving as a result of his failed marriage, paging through The Odyssey, lost in reverie, he read a resonating passage he'd read to Hanna,
Sing to me of the Man, Muse
The man of twists and turns
Driven time and again off course
Once he had plundered the hallowed
heights of Troy
Sing to me of the Man, Muse
The man of twists and tur
Haunted by her and memory of their past, an idea occurs. He begins to re-read books he'd once read to her onto audio tapes, imbuing them with appropriate animation, indulging his love of literature, reliving golden hours. He mails them with a player to her in prison, adding countless others over time. They and Michael's voice are a stunning, life-sustaining surprise to visibly-aged Hanna, who appears to be - to have always been - alone in the world, a solitary soul. Though not actually so, and despite now having a daughter, Michael is essentially still like Hanna, solitary, introverted, aloof, but with greater depth of humanity. They were physically apart, both emotionally adrift, yet still connected by a timeless bond.
Quiet, bitter irony overwhelmed me as Hanna is seen stating her prisoner number to claim her mail. Her number wasn't burned into her flesh, nor did it promise starvation, torture and death.
Hanna selects matching books from the prison library and uses them with the tapes to learn to read and write English. Since the film's spoken language is English, this was momentarily confusing for me. We'd seen Hanna defer to young Michael's food selection at a country inn during their cycling trip. It appeared Hanna couldn't read the menu, but what language was it in? The underlying issue wasn't yet evident, at least to me.
Michael receives an envelope addressed in rudimentary style, opens the envelope, unfolds the enclosed paper, reads it, places it on his desk in his refined, book-lined office, steps back from it, seemingly in shock, but what else? ... distaste? ... unwelcome intrusion? ... rejection?
|Screen capture, The Reader|
There's no need of a signature. Hanna always addressed him as "kid."
Hanna looks for a written response which never comes. As her vocabulary minutely increases, she writes
|Screen capture, The Reader|
She'd taught young Michael the language of sex and love; now their roles are reversed. Indirectly, through his tapes, he's teaching her to communicate via the basic written/printed word, offering Hanna hope, an avenue through which to renew their relationship. Will he?
He cannot. He does not. He keeps the envelopes and their contents in a small separate cabinet, as if to symbolically isolate that part of his life. We see him throw another of her envelopes into a drawer and kick it shut, as if to say, "Stay out!"
Years pass. Hanna's been in prison for 22 years. It's 1988 in West Berlin and Michael receives a call from a prison official asking if he's received her letter advising him that Hanna's due for release and she's listed him her only contact. She adds that Hanna has no family and no friends. He admits receiving the letter and confirms he's never visited Hanna. Will he take responsibility for her, the official asks. While listening, Michael's doodle is telling. It depicts aspects of the courtroom where Hanna was tried and convicted, and the gallery where he sat.
|Screen capture, The Reader|
Michael hangs up without giving a commitment. He is troubled. His penchant for order, his insistence upon it, emblematic of German society and culture, subtly noted in both he and Hanna throughout the film, has been breached. Finally, he summons the courage to go to Hanna's prison and is forewarned by the official, "For a long time, Hanna held herself together, she was very purposeful. In the last few years, she's different. She's let herself go."
Hanna is strikingly old now, grey-haired, haggard, vacant in expression, her 66-year-old eyes dull but aware. Successful lawyer Michael, now 45, smiles wanly at her, sits down across from her at their otherwise-empty table in a near-empty room. There is little reaction in Hanna's face as she timidly reaches her hand across the table toward him and says, "You've grown up, kid." Michael is visibly, though subtly, taken aback, possibly remembering her as he last saw her 22 years ago, possibly remembering other things. He slowly slides his hand across the table to meet hers, gently grasps it, then withdraws it and begins a recitation of arrangements he's made for her.
Resigned understanding appears on Hanna's face, and she quietly thanks him. Nothing of what they once had is evident in him, not even a superficial attempt to renew acquaintance. His manner is pained, perfunctory and obligatory, lacking in emotion and any sense of shared history. In an exchange about reading, Hanna indicates she prefers to be read to, but sensing and seeing his rigid, non-response, follows it with, "That's over now, isn't it?" Michael inclines his head, unwilling to meet her eyes. That possibility vanished for Michael in a courtroom when she was 43 and he 23.
Their relationship raises the real-life question for which answers will differ from person to person: how much is forgivable and how much do deeds impact and irrevocably sever relationships?
Michael deftly probes to see if the years have brought Hanna to terms with what she'd done. Hanna is focused on their personal connection, reiterates her long-ago courtroom attitude and smashes his hope by stating, "... they were still dead," and what she's learned is "to read."
Michael tells her he's found her a "small, but nice place to live, near a library, and a job with a tailor." He'll be back to pick her up when she's released in a week.
They stand, Hanna desperately wants to reach out and embrace him, but he's rigid and remote, as if virtual stranger. Resigned, she simply says, "Take care, kid." He replies, "You, too; see you next week," and walks away.
Outside, he is troubled. We next see him decorating a bright apartment, we assume for Hanna, then going to the prison, flowers in hand, to pick her up. Perhaps the flowers signal a tiny degree of warmth, a minor acknowledgment of good in their past. She's still Hanna.
Again, a catastrophic event intervenes. The larger past, the important part they shared, and any future are all irrevocably sealed.
Hanna is dead. She's taken her own life.
The official takes him to Hanna's cell where her pages are still posted and her effects remain. She tells him Hanna never intended to leave, and reads him a section of requests she left. It asks that a tin tea can containing money be given to Michael who's to return it to the daughter who testified at her trial, who escaped with her mother a fire in which they and other prisoners were trapped because of Hanna's order. Michael collapses in bitter tears. Hanna did take responsibility, felt remorse, and was trying to symbolically make amends in the only tangible way she could. Words were not her language of choice; Hanna dealt in deeds, as was evident when she was hurt and angry with young Michael when he didn't sit in her specific transit car section. Deeds spoke starkly and unambiguously to and for Hanna.
We next see Michael enter a luxurious American apartment in which a menorah is visible on a side table. It's the now middle-aged daughter's home of Ilana Mather, played by Lena Olin, and their brief visit is uncomfortable and painful, possibly more so for Michael, though it evokes past trauma for Ilana. Under blunt questioning, he reveals for the first time to anyone, his youthful history with Hanna. The daughter understands his unspoken connection, asks -- though it goes unanswered -- whether Hanna ever understood the effect she had on Michael's life. She is unforgiving of Hanna and unwilling to accept the money, but does want the tea can. It replaces a childhood keepsake, one stolen from her in the camp.
Michael tells her Hanna was illiterate and learned to read in prison, so she agrees with Michael's suggestion that the money be donated to a Jewish literacy program and leaves it to Michael's judgment whether it's made in Hanna's name. The daughter places Hanna's battered tea can on a dresser next to a picture of a family with young children, presumably her family before Nazi horror and the camps.
It's now January, 1995. Michael takes his twenty-something daughter to a country church. It's the same one in which Hanna sat listening to a practising children's choir during their joyous, long-ago cycling trip, the same one near which she'd told Michael not to tell her where they were going, responding to his offer with, "It's okay, kid. I don't want to know."
In the church cemetery he clears off a modest, square, flat headstone which reads
1922 - 1988
He begins to tell his daughter about Hanna.
It seems right and necessary to list those most responsible for a film so important, one of such power and grace. Many others contributed, though their names are absent below.
Der Vorleser (The Reader)
Published in Germany in 1995 and a textbook in German schools
(Shot in Berlin, Released 2008)
Produced by, and in loving memory of
- and -
Directors of Photography
Roger Deakins, ASC, BSC
From her own account in a DVD bonus section, Ms. Broch left her native Germany 40 years earlier in angry response to her country's war history and silence about it. Her first return since then was to work on this film, for which she did extensive and difficult research.
Costumes Designed by
May 23, 2015 Postscript
Mark Kennedy, Parliamentary Bureau Chief for The Ottawa Citizen, published an excellent piece May 22, 2015, on Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of Canada's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a forum set up to hear and document the experiences of aboriginal children forced to endure Canada's Residential School system. Justice Sinclair was determined that those who suffered should have an opportunity to tell their truth, to bear witness, and that Canadians would/must hear and know it. In his own words,
“When people look back on this experience in 25 or 50 years from now, I want them to be able to say that this was a turning point in the history of this country,” says Sinclair. “That this was a time that Canada came of age in its relationship with aboriginal people. That we came to recognize not only that we had been doing it wrong, but from now on, we can do it right.”