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The Act of Reading - Movie Review

The Act of Reading

The heavy book appears to be suspended in the blue sky behind it.  It is turning slowly, slowly, and then we see the cover of this classic.  Moby Dick.  American Literature teachers everywhere smile at the cover and then their hearts drop suddenly at the thought of letting this classic book hit the ground.  Please!  Someone catch it!

"The filmmakers succeed in breathing fresh life into not just an understanding of Moby Dick, but - as the title of the movie suggests - The Act of Reading itself"

"There she blows!-there she blows! A hump like a snow-hill! It is Moby Dick!"  Something so thick and so heavy should not be able to defy gravity this way.  And then we see the full picture: it is about to be caught by someone sitting on the grass.  That someone is the filmmaker responsible for this magnificently detailed and delayed response to an assignment he previously failed, director Mark Blumberg.

This image is the one which haunts almost every frame of this documentary.  As an English teacher, I am sure more than one of my students has hurled Moby Dick into the air or into the wall or down the stairs or, hell, maybe even attempted to flush it down the toilet.  But here, this poetic image is crystallized into perfection as director Mark Blumberg tosses a copy of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick into the air and catches it quite nimbly.  This slow motion effect probably represents a lot of the attitudes toward reading this literary giant.  Thing is, there is a reason it is assigned in the classroom . . . and Blumberg, along with editor Nathan Berkowitz and executive producer Alissa Blumberg are finding out what EXACTLY is with this documentary which is, essentially, a 15-year late book report.

The Act of Reading is an incredible documentary that is both beautiful and visionary as one failed student of Moby Dick returns to the metaphorical high seas to understand the text, its connections, and discovers more about himself and his own learning than probably expected.  It is inspirational, too, as fans of Melville’s work get to see one teacher bring it to life for her students in an engaging and limitless way and learn some incredibly interesting things about the author himself.The Act of Reading

Along the way, fans of Melville’s work get up close and personal with the author’s relatives, his themes, and get a new appreciation for the white whale which has caused the suffering of many a student of American Literature.  Ultimately, this film becomes an often surprising journey into the world of Herman Melville and the art of learning itself.  The documentary is also full of interesting interviews, glimpses into high school literacy, the teaching profession, and a special look at Melville’s own residence at the Arrowhead and the Berkshires.

To put it bluntly, I love this film as both an English teacher and as a film critic. The filmmakers succeed in breathing fresh life into not just an understanding of Moby Dick, but - as the title of the movie suggests - The Act of Reading itself as Blumberg returns to the scene of the crime with an understanding of his past failures and an appreciation for the text as he attempts to make amends with the teacher who failed him and book that stumped him. This film is more than just a journey of self-discovery.  It is an acceptance of the fated lives we live.

Call me Ishmael indeed!  The Act of Reading premieres on digital Feb 16 from Gravitas Ventures.

5/5 stars

Blu-ray Details

Home Video Distributor:
Available on Blu-ray

Screen Formats:

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Film Details

The Act of Reading

MPAA Rating: Unrated.
87 mins
: Mark Blumberg
Peter Bergman, Alissa Blumberg, Kristofer Blumberg
: Documentary
A voyage of self-discovery.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Failing your class really was a good thing for me"
Theatrical Distributor:
Gravitas Ventures
Official Site:
Release Date:
Februray 16, 2021
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:


A retired high school English teacher is confronted by a former student who failed her class 15 years prior. He then involves her in a feature-length presentation on Moby-Dick and the science of reading.


The Act of Reading


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