The Reader

Photo from The Reader

Photo from The Reader

Death has the power to mark a film, and even to forever overshadow the film itself. Two of The Reader’s producers, Anthony Minghella, and Sydney Pollack died before the film’s completion. Sydney Pollack won two Oscars for directing, and one producing Out of Africa, while Anthony Minghella won a directing Oscar for The English Patient.

Minghella and Pollack are stars in their own right. To be honest, I have never much of a fan of either of the two director’s movies, instead I preferred Pollack for his amazing performances in Michael Clayton and in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. He was a master at playing a particular type of character.

The Reader is the joint final chapter in two cinematic legacies. This is director Stephen Daldry’s first movie in six years. The film seems like a renewal of Daldry’s artistic sensibilities. It is unlike any of his previous pieces of work. To his credit, the film achieves a level of sexual tension that is sustained throughout the entire movie; a difficult accomplishment.

[ad name=”Google Adsense-bottom”]However, The Reader is not a perfect film. The first half of the movie is tedious and far too long. The affair between Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) and the much younger Young Michael Berg (David Kross) never really develops. Watching the relationship is like being with a driver who keeps his car in first gear. There is ample opportunity to take the affair further and reveal something about the characters, but instead we seem stuck watching scene after scene of reading. We get the point. The movie wants to be the cinematic equivalent of the literary master works read in the film, but it never reaches its goal.

Eventually the film does pick up. The trial of Hanna, and Michael’s reactions to it are the film’s emotional centerpiece. Bruno Ganz, as Professor Rohl, emerges as the film’s best performance. Every time he appears on screen he is able to answer the film’s ethical questions while posing his own moral dilemmas.

I have mixed feelings about the later half of the film. It’s hard to sum it up without giving away some of the plot elements. If the movie is about guilt, then its subject matter is almost glazed over entirely. Neither character ever wants to accept their role in what they have done. Kate Winslet’s performance as Hanna is one of the showiest in her career but in my opinion she was much better in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road. In The Reader she is never able to completely flesh out her character. Her motivation feels false.

It is not until both the characters are older, and Hanna reenters Michael’s life, that the films’ relationships begin to get interesting. The emotions of both characters remain unspoken. This silence is what both works and doesn’t work about the film. The Reader ends up being about the character, while the larger context of The Holocaust feels forced. The film succeeds at grabbing the audience’ attention; however, the focus of the attention is perhaps less successful than the director would have liked.

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David Kirkeby, “The Reader.” Point Of View Reviews- Movie reviews by DW Kirkeby, and more, from ClassBrain's Movies in the Classroom. 6 March 2017, 13:33 UTC. . 20 Aug 2018 <>.
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1 Comment

  1. The Reader is off to a brilliant start with convincing characters, superb acting and looming tragedy, but seems to lose its sure footing as it heads toward a conclusion that feels partly carelessly planned and mainly lacking direction. It decreases the most potent revelations and resides on a powerful love that was successfully sustained only during the beginning. Once again the order of events are jumbled on the timeline and an unexpectedly long ending detracts from the impact of the most poignant moments, not least of which is an undying love story that overshadows the historical importance of the war crime trials that set up a heartbreaking reunion.

    In 1958 West Germany 15-year-old Michael Berg (David Kross) is escorted home by a mysterious woman after becoming ill. Diagnosed with scarlet fever and bedridden for three months, he eventually seeks out Hanna (Kate Winslet) to thank her for her aid. Soon the two begin an unlikely (and very graphic) affair that lasts the duration of the summer – Hanna is distant and uncompassionate, but Michael finds himself hopelessly in love (he insists on knowing her name by the third day they are together). Before each sexual tryst Michael reads to Hanna – starting with his school assignments; a German play, Homer’s Odyssey, Huckleberry Finn, The Lady with the Little Dog and eventually he even reads comic strips.

    One day Hanna vanishes, and Michael is left to return to school, study law, and carry on relationships with people his own age. In 1966, while attending a trial for German guard crimes against Jewish prisoners, he spies Hanna as one of the defendants. Years later, torn between remembering the great flame they shared and condemning her for her crimes, Michael is haunted by the trial and determined to sort out his feelings of guilt and love.

    It’s certainly a unique angle to show a sympathetic lead character toward Holocaust involvement. As author Bernhard Schlink wrote about his novel, on which the film is based, “The Reader is not a story about redemption or forgiveness. It is about how my generation of Germans came to terms with what the generation before us had done.” He challenges the viewer with transcending guilt, the ability to choose love and the complexity of monstrous actions undertaken by ordinary people. The film is splendidly emotional and comes very close to being phenomenal. The drawn out conclusion is a meditation on the power of love and its ability to overcome exceptionally trying junctures – and even to overcome time itself. Morally devastating but not emotionally involving enough to attain instant masterpiece status, The Reader still boasts outstanding performances, a beautiful score and a moving tale of complex affection.

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