There’s not much you can do when you’re stuck on 20+ hours flight, except well, catch up on movies you might not have seen. That’s what I did on I flew to Indonesia recently. I happened to catch Last Chance Harvey on the outbound flight (which I’ll review soon) and The Reader on the flight back to the US.
Kate Winslet won an Oscar playing the role of Hanna Schmidt, and I can see why. Her superb performance is both appalling and heart-wrenching at times, creating sympathy in an otherwise utterly detestable character.
The story centers on a secretive affair between 15-year-old Michael and 36-year-old Hanna after she helped him when he was sick with scarlet fever. They would consummate their trysts after Michael’s done with school, but their connection seems to transcend beyond the physical aspect. Michael would often read a book to Hanna, who soon dictated that her young lover would have to read something to her before they make love.
Though the affair only lasted one Summer, it leaves a lasting impression on Michael, who was devastated when Hanna suddenly disappeared without so much as a note. Eight years later, their paths unwittingly crossed again when Michael was a law student observing a Nazi crime trial. He was dumbfounded to find that Hanna was accused of terrible crimes as a Nazi prison guard and was labeled the ringleader by her fellow defendants.
This is no typical WWII drama. I mean, we obviously know Hanna is guilty of her heinous crime, and her seemingly guilt-free attitude makes me think she deserves her punishment, but yet I can’t completely despise her. The last half hour of the movie showed the now grown-up Michael (played expertly by Ralph Fiennes) struggling to come to terms with Hanna’s past. Now divorced, he was still haunted by his long lost love (it’s clear that he never quite loved anyone except Hanna). As Hanna is serving her sentence, we also learn that she’s illiterate all along, and how Michael’s gifts of taped-readings of the books he used to read for her helped her learn how to read and write.
There’s touching moments as Michael visited Hanna in prison and he promised to find a place for her when her term is over. Lena Olin also gave a notable performance as the daughter of the surviving concentration camp’s prisoner.
This isn’t an ‘entertaining’ film per se, but it’s a good one to see as it reveals a lot about humanity and riveting issues about love and forgiveness.
What are your thoughts of The Reader? Do you think Winslet deserve her Best Actress Oscar for her performance?