"It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you viddy them on the screen."

Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Reader and Haevnen

Two excellent films that open up a can of ethical worms:  The Reader and Haevnen.

The Reader is a fantastic film about an illiterate woman who gets a teenaged boy to read books to her.  Then, as a law student a decade later, he happens to be at her trial for the murder of several hundred Jewish people during WWII.  She allowed them to burn when their quarters were bombed instead of unlocking the doors.  But she couldn't have written down the plan people are accusing her of masterminding because she can't write.  He knew that, but he remained silent.  She was ashamed of her illiteracy - so much that she'd take a jail term rather than admit it.  And he was ashamed of the relationship he had with her - enough to keep him silent when he could have saved her.

It's about the atrocities of Nazi Germany, but also about all the times we all choose not to act when clearly the high road necessitates action.  We convince ourselves we're not doing anything wrong because we're just sitting here.  We're not doing anything, we insist, so how could we possibly be doing anything wrong?  It's a funny little denial that gets used too often.

And it's about how much shame, and preserving our ego, can lead toward unethical action.  How often we're kept from doing the right thing because it would be embarrassing.  A little thing like that - public opinion, can lead to such heinous crimes.  Funny that.

Haevnen is about two boys who get into mischief.  They both have dads who were unfaithful in marriage.    One father is painted in a much more sympathetic light as a doctor with Doctors without Borders.  It's curious that his career choice almost absolves him of his immoral personal choices.  I didn't mind as much even though he clearly hurt his wife.  But look at all the good work he's doing under horrid conditions somewhere in Africa!  He's not such a bad guy.  The film paints three-dimensional characters so we can never be sure about anybody.  Nobody's all good or bad.

One of the boys is being bullied at school, and the other beats up the bully in order to keep them safe.  His dad tells him hitting doesn't solve anything.  The boy replies, it does if you hit hard enough, then nobody will touch you again.

This good father comes across as a bit of a wimp when he's faced with a jerk of a parent at the playground, and the stronger boy insists he should fight back.  The dad goes back to give the guy a good talking to, and gets slapped in the face.  The father insists he won, but the boys are clear that the other guy doesn't see it that way.

Sometimes violence is necessary to stop a greater violence.  Sometimes asking nicely for an apology gets you slapped.  People are often unreasonable, and we need measures beyond reason to convince them to behave.  Some people will never be nice unless they're forced to be.  But if it's not nice for us to force them, then what do we do?

It's tricky, eh?

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