Kate Winslet is innocent, OK?

Kate Winslet is innocent, OK?


norman lebrecht

February 25, 2009

She was only doing her job.

She was a late stand-in for the pregnant  Nicole Kidman.

She was just obeying director’s orders.

She would prefer to be remembered for films she made after the war.

Kate Winslet cannot be faulted in The Reader. She spoke the lines she was given and acted to the best of her immaculate ability. I did not intend here to diminish her triumph.

My problem is with the film itself, specifically with David Hare’s clumsy and anachronistic script which dispels whatever intellectual quest was to be found in Bernhard Schlink’s novel into a simplistic bluperint for vindication.

As a stand-alone, the film could be dismissed as an aberration. But allied to other historically distortive works of the moment, in particular to Jonathan Littell’s odious novel The Kindly Ones, The Reader leads a dangerous drift towards even-handedness in the treatment of the Nazi attempt to wipe out large sections of the human race.

Instead of regarding the Holocaust as a matter of pure evil, we are invited to understand mass murderers, to sympathise with their situation – ‘I am a man like other men … a man like you’, says Littell’s perpetrator – and to regard the victims as either dispensable or insignificant.

Once the wickedness of Hitler’s plan is compromised in this way, it is only a short step to acceptance that there must have been good and bad on both sides, just cause for the victims to be killed. We are on the threshhold here of moral equivalence.

That Oscar gave great pleasure to millions of racists and revisionists. Kate Winslet ought to feel some shame for accepting it. A visit to the Holocaust Museum would be a good start on the road to reflection.


  • M. Villeger says:

    Norman Lebrecht writes: “Instead of regarding the Holocaust as a matter of pure evil, we are invited to understand mass murderers, to sympathise with their situation – ‘I am a man like other men … a man like you’, says Littell’s perpetrator – and to regard the victims as either dispensable or insignificant.”
    Indeed, you are right. Because the next one is being slowly prepared in front of our eyes. Because they need to “excuse” in advance the acts ordinary neighbors will be asked to do onto those labelled “ennemies of the planet”, the same way others were called ennemies of the Party…

  • Mike says:

    “That Oscar gave great pleasure to millions of racists and revisionists”
    I doubt that even one percent of such are even aware of this film, let alone have seen it and been comforted by it.
    But if you are going to argue that way, let’s cancel every piece in the musical repertory that deals with murder, that presents the angst of the murderer, the abuser…

  • Mike says:

    To understand is not to excuse.

  • Matthew says:

    I think you are missing the point of Acting, and of Art.
    Firstly, the point of Art is to express some ‘true’ about humanity. To aestheticise, reflect upon and critique human experience. One could write forever about Art and its ‘point’, but in a nutshell that’s what Art means to me.
    And in humanity is there not ‘evil’? Are there not mistakes made by humans in the past? In the present? Right now? Then isn’t art’s job to also focus on the bad as well as the good? Isn’t the way to avoid the bad again to address it – if we do not study history then we do not gain anything from it, and wouldn’t we make the same mistakes?
    And isn’t there evil and good in all of us? I know there is a scale of evil evil and ordinary evil? (Could my choice of words be any more elementary in this debate?) But isn’t evil evil? And what is so wrong about humanising bad people? Doesn’t it show that there is such a fine line? And the Nazi Holocaust was such a complex system of mass murder and by no means what so ever am I suggesting that there is an excuse? But in reality there IS an Excuse. There is an excuse for why everybody does anything. And in most circumstances it is not because they are being malicious or sadistic, but choosing the option which is best, most convenient for them, and fine it may not be the most morally correct choice but it is still their choice. Some choices are rightfully punished – like Hanna in THE READER, others go unpunished. And doesn’t Hanna suffer at prison? And I believe that there is NO SUCH THING AS A HIERARCHY OF SUFFERING. full stop.
    Kate Winslet’s acting was superb. She’s been nominated 5 times and has lost. She smartly acted in a more attention-grabing (mutual connotation used here) role and won an Oscar, which she should have won long ago. She conveyed the right emotions to push this story through. She should not be ashamed of winning for this film. In fact she should be glad that she was able to humanise, and for making people understand, a character that is considered “EVIL” by people like you who only see the world in shades of only BLACK and WHITE.
    Moreover, if you think of all the people dying in the world because of starvation because of the geography of their country (Africa) – aren’t you [whom I suppose have the INTERNET and thus most luxuries in life] aiding in this apparatus of ‘evil’, of oppression and impartiality? Why aren’t you lobbying to help these people who are suffering?