When I first heard about The Reader being nominated for the Oscars, I was a bit excited about it but later dismissed the idea of having to watch it. Firstly, the film is two hours long and I won’t spend my free time for something very depressing; I wanted to be entertained or to feel good at the very least. Secondly, it’s a Kate Winslet starrer, hence, another ‘fleshy’ movie. And third, I simply could not find a copy.
If not for Kate Winslet winning an Oscar for her role in the film, I really wouldn’t have watched it and this review never written. Kate must have been very good to merit the Academy’s nod, edging out my favorite Meryl Streep. Curious as I am for Kate, I finally rolled the film two days ago and it is only now that I have come to absorb what it is all about. The Reader has a simple story but it’s laden with guilt that the viewers might find too strong and unfathomable. It has a lot of flashbacks which I hate for a dramatic movie.
It begins in the year 1995 with Michael Berg (Ralph Feinnes), seemingly haunted by his past, a secret and a guilt that are presented later in the movie. Michael is supposed to be saying his goodbyes to a woman whose obviously his lover but he’s quite absorbed with his reverie. I was just surprised that in a couple of minutes, it is already 1958 Germany where the 15-year old Michael (David Kross) is feeling ill while on his school bus. He took off to vomit and cried in an alley. Then a woman noticed him and helped her. It was the 36-year old Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a tram conductress. Hanna was obviously very helpful but was seemingly not in the moment.
Michael was diagnosed to have contracted the Scarlet fever and for three months, he stayed at home. When he was able to recover, he brought flowers to Hanna to thank her. The second time he went to the dingy place of Hanna, he found himself seduced by no less than the woman who once helped him. Since then, an affair developed where Michael ought to read a book first before he and Hanna make love. The affair developed into love until Hanna just left with no word at all.
Eight years later, Michael was already a law student. As part of his exposure, he and his classmates were brought to a trial involving Nazi war crimes at concentration camps. There he found Hanna to be one of the defendants. The trial went on and Michael was in every way feeling betrayed and guilty at the same time. Hanna was charged of authorizing the death of 300 Jews in an Auschwitz camp. As he witnessed the refusal of Hanna to read or write, he knew that she did not write that transcript which the judge is trying to establish to be hers. Hanna was illiterate, I assumed (this was later established in the last part of the movie). Despite the urge to help her, Michael was also afraid to face his own truth, his own secret, that is, his lustful love and affair with Hanna. The trial went on to convict Hanna for the crimes and court sentenced her to life imprisonment while her companions were given lesser ones.
The Reader has been tagged as a one of those Holocaust movies. But it is something more than that – it is about how far can you hold on to your secret and how far can you take to have that guilt-free conscience. This underlying theme or subject is what makes the film very relevant. On the technical side, some scenes do not correlate with the others which forces each viewer to watch it in full in order to piece those scenes together.
Kate was obviously very good in this movie. I thought she deserved the Oscar (Best Actress). But what bothers me, as in the other films of Kate, is too much exposure of her body such that a viewer can already forget what her character is. For almost one hour since the beginning of the movie, I could only remember the butt and breasts of Kate and Kross’s full front which I found to be, unexpectedly, exciting.
Obviously, the movie was tailored fit for the Oscars.
The film was an adaptation of the 1995 bestselling book of Bernhard Schlink with the same title.