"I'm not frightened. I'm not frightened of anything. The more I suffer, the more I love. Danger will only increase my love. It will sharpen it, forgive its vice. I will be the only angel you need. You will leave life even more beautiful than you ended it. Heaven will take you back and look at you and say: Only one thing can make a soul complete and that thing is love."
- Michael (David Kross)
At a glance:
The Reader unsuccessfully tries to hide its illogical, regret-laden, emotionless soft-porn script with the superficial trappings of an Academy Award aspiree: good acting, a central holocaust theme, and numerous snippets from classic literature
In Germany in 1953, a teenage boy (Michael, played by David Kross) meets an older woman (Hannah, played by Kate Winslet) who introduces him to the sensual pleasures of love. He reads classic books to her (first, after they make love, and, later, before) as per her instructions. When things get a little serious, she disappears. She reappears in his life quite unexpectedly when he attends a trial of former SS workers, of which she was one. During the war, she chose which prisoners would be killed at Auschwitz. Michael begins a quest to understand how a human being could act this way. When staring at her in the court room for long periods of time yields no answers, he visits Auschwitz instead.
While on trial, Hannah makes an important decision: rather than admitting that she cannot read or write, she takes responsibility for the deaths of 300 prisoners in a locked church. This is a woman who is highly embarrassed about her illiteracy, but doesn’t mind at all if everyone thinks she’s a heartless Nazi mass-murderer. Go figure.
Sad and somber, and admittedly with some quietly beautiful moments, The Reader touches all the right bases for Academy Award consideration (with old-age makeup and quotes from classic literature), but it sits in that area where it will be appreciated more by the Academy than by any actual moviegoer. It’s an actor’s movie, featuring good performances throughout, but enjoyment is lacking. Are we supposed to feel compassion for a woman who blindly followed orders that led to numerous murders, yet now feels no remorse? Within the story, character’s motivations for their actions are driven by only one objective: to regret them later. For example, Michael schedules an appointment to meet with Hannah and convince her that she should admit her illiteracy rather than take responsibility for 300 deaths – but at the last minute, he turns away. It creates another sad scene of Hannah waiting in the prisoner visitor area, but how do we rationalize his motivations for turning away at the last minute when, obviously, his motivations for getting to that point were so overwhelming? And why would his law teacher suggest he meet with her anyway? Wouldn’t it make more sense for his teacher to suggest that he go straight to the court to present his evidence?
Kate Winslet earned a Best Actress nomination for her role (which included enduring seven hours of old-age makeup to play the Hannah in her later years).
Other reviewers said:
"An airless vacuum labeled Serious Film."
-Amy Nicholson (I.E. Weekly)
"The Reader is the most undeserving of the five Academy Award nominees for Best Picture. A nice quality for a movie to have is if it has one or more characters to whom one can relate. In The Reader the two main characters are clods."
-Tony Macklin (Fayetteville Free Weekly)