The movie The Reader is an adaptation of a book by Stephen Daldry. Michael Berg was a sixteen-year-old boy who was traveling home from school when he starts to feel sick. He gets off the tram in order to get fresh air.
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He only makes it a short way down the street when nausea overtakes him and he needs to vomit. He turns into an alley which happens to lead to residences. Hana, a tram conductor in her late 30’s turns into the alley and sees that Michael has thrown-up. He is in pain and crying and she helps him clean-up and ushers him home. This is where the first indications of Hana’s motherly care show up. Michael was sick for months but eventually recovers and decides to go visit the woman who helped him out. He goes to visit her with flowers to thank her. She is maternal and stern and forces him to bathe because he had gotten dirty from coal. She instructs him to remove his clothes and she ends up seducing him. They begin an affair. She is 20 years his senior so naturally he is hiding this relationship.
He eventually withdrawals from social activities with friends, becomes distracted in school, and distant from his family. Hana was dealing with secrets of her own and she senses that Michael may want more so after their last encounter she leaves without saying goodbye. The movie fast forwards to years later when Michael is in law school he goes on a field trip with the class. To his surprise, Hana is on trial for crimes against humanity for her time as an officer in the Nazi party during the Second World War. He learns of her acts and realizes that he was in love with someone that he never really knew. Also, it comes out in the trial that Hana would favor some of the weak, sicker prisoners and nurse them back to health. She would in turn ask them to read to her as well. Michael starts to recall their encounters and realizes that she is illiterate. This realization causes Micheal to sympathize with Hana. He also suppresses his own feelings of victimization which have left him emotionally distant and unavailable to all women his own age and his future daughter because in comparison to the pain she caused others the effect she had on his life wasn’t comparable. An Oedipal theme that is visible in the film is symbolic castration.
When in the affair, Hana would encourage him to be submissive and withdrawn. Overtime he became passivel about his victimization, allowing her to physically abuse him. When they would argue, it was like they were in a romantic relationship but the outcome always shifted to a mother-child like dynamic. Michael would apologize for things he hadn’t done. Asking for to Hana to forgive him for upsetting her and begging for her to be kind to him. He thrived off her love. Michael confessed that he could not imagine living his life without her yet eventually she just left him without saying goodbye. Feelings of rejection and abandonment by his mother-lover caused him to have a permanent disconnect to bonding relationships, especially females. Michael married but was later divorced for not being emotionally available and his wife simply not being Hana. Hana as well experienced castration. Whenever Michael would try to be the aggressor she would become mean and cold. She didn’t want to be dominated.
During the trial she was accused of writing a false report and the judge was demanding a sample of her handwriting, but the truth was Hana did not know how to write. Instead of saying this, she admitted to something she did not do. This was her fear of being socially degraded and where she is seen going to extreme lengths to protect her pride. From a mother-son perspective their relationship becomes very coercive. Hana’s intentions with Micheal are not made clear at first yet he seemed to succumb to her seduction and fall into a submissive role. Michaels character begins with a form of innocence that blinds him to the reality that he is actually being taken advantage of and abused. His silence can be viewed as a rejection or societal norms and rule. Michael chooses silence in order to stay connected to Hana. At the end of the movie he stops reading to Hana, and confesses to nature of his relationship with Hana and admits that he has kept it a secret all his life. This break in silence can be considered a dissolution of the complex.
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