The Reader: A Review

Kate Winslet is the female to beat at the Oscars this year, and she certainly does not disappoint in the new film by director Stephen Daldry, The Reader. Unfortunately, the film does not nearly rise to the heights of her performance. I left the film asking myself, “Now, what was that about? The Holocaust? (like every other film this month it seems) Sex with a minor? Complicity in society’s crimes?” I’m still not really sure, but the film is artfully done so that it appears that it is about something important. We’re just not sure what it is.

The film stars Kate Winslet as a beautiful woman in Germany in 1954 who happens to meet a young boy of 15, played by talented newcomer David Kross, after she committed war crimes as a member of the Stasi during the Nazi regime. They develop a very illicit, and I should point out graphic, sexual affair that involves him reading literature and poetry to her while she awakens his sexual awareness. The film is overly graphic, including frontal nudity, and seems to linger on this already uncomfortable relationship longer than necessary. While I understand that such relationships do happen in the real world, the graphic nature of the scenes were excessive and overwhelmed what could have been a powerful film about postwar Germany’s attempt to deal with its past. Instead, we are made to suffer through an hour of sexual scenes for a storyline that is completely unnecessary for the telling of this story.

Putting aside these prurient interests, the film concerns a young man who discovers that his former lover was also a murderer as a Nazi guard at a concentration camp. He has to confront his own knowledge of their shame, and whether he should share it with the judge. One is left to feel that she would be more humiliated by the public knowledge of her affair with the boy than by her complicity in the murder of hundreds of Jews. She finally is convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her crimes, and the grown up boy played by Ralph Fiennes must come to terms with her past evils, his affection for her, and for the loneliness she has brought to his own life by her deeds.

Not all is lost. In her death, we do see some attempt by Hannah Schmitz to redeem her acts when she gives her inheritance to the daughter of a Jew who survived one of her evil deeds. It was a small token of repentance for such a horrible deed, and in this act, we see the difficulty of those grandparents of modern Germans to pay for their sins and to receive the forgiveness of those who come after them.

The score, the cinematography and the acting by some of Hollywood’s finest is not to be overlooked in this film — they are first rate. But the lack of focus in this script as well as the graphic and unnecessary sex make this a film that is only above average. Every part is quality, but the combination of the parts doesn’t add up to much at all other than an artsy intellectual excuse for soft porn.


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