The Reader

Holocaust themed films have remained crucial viewing for many years.  Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, and The Pianist  have all shown the horror of the holocaust in ways the history books can’t explain.  The Reader strives to be among them, but through the eyes of someone not a victim to the crimes on humanity.

The Reader, based on the book by Bernhard Schlink, is a story of secrets.  Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) is a train operator who begins an affair with a 15 year old boy named Michael (David Kross).  He lies to his family and friends about his whereabouts, and he heads straight to her apartment from school.  They make love, and she has him read to her.  He reads everything to her, from poetry to Homer’s Odyssey.  Then one day following a heated argument, she leaves without a trace.  Years go by and Michael heads to law school, where he is one of the top students of his class.  He is so highly regarded that he, and a few other students, get to sit in on a trial to observe.  To his shock, Hanna is on trial for war crimes, because she was a camp guard during the holocaust.  He is conflicted since he knows a secret that could save Hanna from a life sentence, but she is too ashamed to admit to.  The story is told through Micheal’s eyes when he is fully grown, played by Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges), reflecting on his life.

Winslet (Titanic) gives a good performance, in a very boring film.  Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours), the movie moves at a very slow pace.  It is a struggle to stay awake at times.  The Reader is at it’s best during the trial of Hanna.  The courtroom tension is fantastic, since you wish to know more about what happened at the camps Hanna was guarding.  Instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Hanna and Michael, which is really bland.  It’s hard to connect with or feel compassion for Hanna.  She uses Michael for sex, then throws him away, and never shows any guilt for anything in her life.  Even when she is old, and withering away, I didn’t feel sorry for her.  The same can be said for Michael, who is haunted by the secret he holds.

The film feels like it was made to win awards.  Holocaust movies seem to be bait for Oscars, and with its five nominations, it worked.  But I would really like to know what the voters saw in the movie to nominate it.  Others like Gran Torino and The Dark Knight were much better at showing internal moral struggles than The Reader.  Winslet deserves an Oscar, but not for this movie. She has been fantastic in more deserving films.

While some movies would rather educate and enlighten than entertain, The Reader does neither.  Other holocaust themed films have been far better at both.  What The Reader is good at is showing the length in which people will go to hold a secret captive.  I wish this movie was kept as a secret, and I were still in the dark.

4 thoughts on “The Reader”

  1. Everett Johnson:
    You say that the character of Hanna “never shows any guilt for anything in her life”. On the contrary, wouldn’t you agree that her not admitting to the secret that Michael knows (that could potentially prove her innocence) and taking the fall for the rest of the guards would be a pretty monumental example of her indeed revealing any guilt she does feel? Wasn’t that a fairly obvious example of her in fact taking responsibility for her actions?
    You say you thought this movie was boring, which is respectively your own opinion, but you never say why. You say that the relationship between Hanna and Michael is “bland”, but again you don’t say why. You failed to ackowledge that their relationship is the pivotal plot point of this piece. Schlink wanted you to see Hanna from Michael’s view, and not the Hanna that was a guard in the concentration camps; that’s why he made Michael the narrator.
    One of the best reviews of this movie that I have read on the web mentioned that Kate Winslet’s character “never asks for sympathy”. I thought that was a very unique and objective way to look at this beautifully layered, richly complex character that you have painted as so one-dimensional in your review. Of course your opinions are your own, and I enjoyed reading your review; however; I wish you’d given some more concrete information to back up your own personal reasons for not liking all of this film.

  2. Thank you for the comment, I appreciate any reaction to a review I get. I also especially appreciate constructive criticism, so again, thank you very much! I will try to incorporate your suggestions into future reviews. About The Reader, think she felt more shame, than guilt from her secret. During the trial she says things like “I was just doing what I was told,” which maybe true, but doesn’t show she regrets it. To her she was just doing a job, and was willing to take the fall for everyone, if that meant keeping her secret. The relationship with her and Michael, just didn’t feel real to me. She just out of the blue seduces this young boy, then begins a long affair for no apparent reason. Maybe bland was a bad word to describe it. I just think the movie would have been better as a trial film, than a relationship portrait. That’s the great thing about movies, we’ve seen the same movie, but got two completely different views about it. Thanks again for reading and replying to my review!

  3. I like this review, it made me chuckle in places.

    I personally, throughout most of the film, just could not like or empathise with Hanna and Michael and for that reason I really didn’t enjoy it. The only time I felt a slight bit of empathy for Hanna was when she was old in prison and even then I think it was just because she was a bit frail.

    This was obviously a contreversial subject matter the makers of this film chose to tackle, but I don’t think they did it well and for that reason I totally agree with you when you say that this film was made with awards in mind…not good!

  4. I agree they didn’t do well on the Holocaust part of the theme, but I do like the love story which is unconventional though not necessarily original. Winslet’s brows kept on irritating me as much as her character did, by the way. lol.

    It’s somehow chilly and would not hit your emotions like The Pianist but those other Holocaust movies have a different thrust. I see a rather creative depiction of love and its boundlessness. One should not expect the same from The Reader as it is mostly a Love Story and not a historical film.

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