Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Archive: 'The Reader'

Movie Review
The Reader (2008)

Kate Winslet's astounding Oscar-worthy performance is what makes "The Reader" the experience that it is. She plays Hanna Schmitz, a 30-year-old woman who has an affair with a 15-year-old boy named Michael (David Kross) in the 1950s in Germany. She finds Michael sick on the cold, wet streets one day and decides to care for him back at her apartment. The encounter turns to that of a sexual kind, and many similar encounters continue days after. Hanna doesn't necessarily show any genuine outward love towards Michael as she repeatedly refers to him simply as "kid." Michael doesn't mind, however, as he's enthralled with the feeling of sexuality. It's all that they are in those times together, anyway, just the two of them naked together. To comment on the fact that this relationship is blatantly wrong would be to undermine the rest of the film. There's still a lot to be confronted with on the moral compass.

Director Stephen Daldry and screenwriter David Hare, who worked on the Best Picture nominee "The Hours" together, create a story that is told in distinct halves and held together by a delicate string of flashbacks. Many other movies about Nazis and the Holocaust were released this holiday season such as "Valkyrie," "Defiance," and "Good," but it would appear that this one is the most affectionately personal. This movie merely uses the context of Nazis as a backdrop to observe an inner conflict that is of all human nature. Most of all, the movie addresses guilt. Legal guilt, yes, but more importantly, moral. There's focus on not so much Hanna's guilt, which doesn't fully arise due to an explained ignorance of her situation, but more so the guilt held by the now adult Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes). Eight years after Hanna disappeared from her apartment, Michael as a law student witnessed her on trial as a convicted Nazi prison guard. Upon the discovery of a certain secret regarding Hanna, Michael decides to withhold it. While the secret doesn't forgive Hanna's guilt, it could've radically changed both of their lives.

Michael and Hanna's encounters involved not only sex but also books. "Reading first," she would always tell him as she loved being read to by Michael. As an adult, Michael lives a divorced life in isolation. He begins recording himself reading books and then mails them to Hanna in jail. This act of kindness continues the juggling act Michael still faces with his own conscious. Michael visits with a Jewish woman living in New York (Lena Olin) near the film's end, and it's a scene that exemplifies the feeling of German guilt. The woman sits facing Michael absolutely outraged and expects that Michael wants understanding for Hanna. That, however, isn't the case as he is merely searching for closure for himself.

It's strange to me to see how this movie has been receiving more negative reviews from critics; however, there is one aspect of the movie they agree on, and that is the quality of Kate Winslet here. The emotional impact of "The Reader" comes right back around to her, and she is who the movie solely relies on. That's, however, not to disregard the fine nuances brought by Fiennes. But, without such a performance by Winslet, this story would have no personal effect and no point in being brought to the screen. It's her provocation of this woman, Hanna, which creates such a fascinating movie.

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