Stephen Daldry’s The Reader

Alan Stone in the Boston Review:

The power of The Reader, however, is that it is psychologically believable. Schlink’s book is written in short chapters; each offers at least one telling psychological insight about dreams, about memory, about the disconnect between what I do and what I am. Schlink subtly raises the vexing and intriguing problem of responsibility and agency early in the novel. Michael says:

I think, I reach a conclusion, I turn the conclusion into a decision, and then I discover that acting on the decision is something else entirely, and that doing so may proceed from the decision, but then again it may not. Often enough in my life I have done things I had not decided to do.

One of the great virtues of literature is that it conveys a kind of truth about the human condition, and that truth is what Schlink gives us.

The line between the intention and the action is deeply problematic when we think about our own lives. Explaining radically evil behavior in others, we would like to believe the connection is clearer; the evil–doers are monstrous people. Hannah Arendt refuted that claim, inventing the phrase the “banality of evil” in Eichmann in Jerusalem. Adolf Eichmann, the man directly responsible for the destruction of European Jewry, was portrayed in Israel at his trial as a monster. But Arendt could find no connection between who he was and the evil he did. Her account might suggest Michel Foucault’s general thesis that evil has gone out of our world and sickness has come into it. But it should be noted that Arendt also concluded that Eichmann was not sick. She found nothing, not even madness, to connect the person and his heinous acts.