Flixchatter Review: The Reader

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?

5 thoughts on “Flixchatter Review: The Reader

  1. Anna

    Well, I saw this awhile back and can still remember leaving the movie theater wondering what the ‘crux’ of the movie was. I was waiting for the ‘aha’ moment that never came, I guess.

    Sorry, I found it a bit sordid …. overall, again left me wondering how she won the award for her part in this…

  2. Anna Pravinata

    Ruth, I happen to love this movie. We just watched it last weekend. I think I am still wondering why Hanna did what she did (left 300 something people burnt inside the church) and I felt I wanted to kick Michael in the butt for not coming to terms with Hanna’s past sooner and embraced the love of his life when she was still alive. I also like the subtleties of interaction between the uneducated Germans (Hanna – illiterate, blue collar society) with the educated, rich Jews (Ms Mather struck me with a comment “illiteracy – which is not a very Jewish problem” at almost the end of the movie). Jadi mengingatkan gue pada kejadian Mei 98 di Indo, dimana sebagian besar demonstran adalah orang2 bayaran yg didatangkan dr kampung2; nggak mengerti apa2, pokoknya dikasih uang makan dan uang rokok dan dikasih tugas menghancurkan toko2 orang Cina.
    Well, anyway …. nice job, Ruth. I’ll be asking you for advise on what movies to watch.

    1. rtm

      Hi Anna, thanks for you comment. Yeah, I thought this flix offers a different take on the holocaust story, even though there’s not much redemptive value from Hanna’s point of view. I kept waiting for her to show remorse, and just like Michael, we’re left disappointed and perplexed by her behavior. It’s also interesting to see the other side of the Germans, my impression of them are that they’re all highly educated & intelligent, but a lot of them were exploited by the Nazis to do atrocious things back then, just like those demonstrators in Indo. Most of them probably had no idea what’s going on, either, nor had any personal vendetta against the Chinese. Obviously we all had a choice though, so I’m not saying what Hanna did was excusable. Still, there were a great deal of manipulation involved.

      You know what, as a movie fan, I actually don’t watch a lot of movies (I still haven’t seen Slumdog for crying out loud!), but I do read a great deal about them. So sometimes I feel like I have seen a bunch of flix! =)

      Thanks for checking my blog out, I’ll try to keep it fresh at least a few times a week!

  3. I missed this review before! I have been undecided about this movie, mostly because as much as I love Winslet, I don’t often choose to watch heavy drama. You’ve made me want to see it, though!

    1. This was from 2 years ago, even I almost forgot that I reviewed it, ahah. I’m usually not into heavy-duty drama either, but I’m glad I saw this one. Let me know what you think once you watch it.

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