Life Arts

A Minimalist Review of Two Heavy Flix

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12 January 2009: Two Heavy Flix: A Minimalist Review with a Twist

Last weekend it was my privileged indulgence to go to the E Street Cinema two days in a row. I saw both Doubt  and The Reader.

     No wonder I am feeling zonked today.

     I assume you are familiar with the plotlines:

     Doubt  is about a Catholic church/school in the grips of a would-be scandal. The relationship between a charismatic priest and a troubled young student becomes the immediate focus and remains center stage while the school principal and the priest engage in a subtle battle that escalates into a screaming match.

     The implicit has developed into the explicit in completely euphemistic terms, perhaps the film’s greatest accomplishment.

     The nun prevails. The priest leaves.

     She has accused him of sexually exploiting the troubled student. She is sure about this accusation until, after the priest leaves she experiences doubt and bursts into tears, as if a concrete wall could cry. Here it does. Adamantine turns into oatmeal.

     But I think the ending, reverse Pieta pose reveals that same relationship between the priest and the troubled boy: platonic, Christian (as it were) love.


     The Reader  is about a beautiful, lonely woman in her twenties, illiterate, who rescues an ill teenager vomiting in the dirty tunnel that fronts her modest apartment.

     He recovers, comes to thank her, and soon after she initiates him into eros.

     A lifelong relationship evolves. She loves being read to, so he reads to her. She leaves him to his teenage friends and he misses her dreadfully. Then, as a law student, he finds her on trial for working as a guard for the Nazis during World War II. She is sentenced to lifelong imprisonment that ends up lasting twenty years. He sends her endless tapes to listen to.

     What he doesn’t figure out until the trial is that she is illiterate. She chooses to serve twenty years in jail rather than admit this to the judge and jury.

     In prison she teaches herself to read and write.

     At the end of her time in prison, he comes to see her, to the ruins of the wonderful summer they spent together.

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A jack of some trades, writing and editing among them, Marta Steele, an admitted and proud holdover from the late sixties, returned to activism ten years ago after first establishing her skills as a college [mostly adjunct] professor in three (more...)

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