The Reader

All I knew going into The Reader was that 1) it was nominated for Best Picture, 2) Kate Winslet was also nominated for Best Actress for her performance, and 3) it involved Nazis and/or the Holocaust in some way. The critics reviews were mixed, so I had planned on skipping it unless it got a Best Picture nomination (I have a tradition of seeing all of those before the ceremony, going back 13 years). If you don’t want to know anything more than that, I’ll just say now that I give it a strong 3 stars out of 4 stars.

Winslet plays Hanna, a German trolley toll-taker who sees Michael when he is quite ill, and helps him get home safely. When months later he goes back to thank her, they quickly end up in a sexual relationship. Did I mention that Hanna is 30-something and Michael is 15?

Again, if you don’t want to know too much, you should stop reading here. What follows includes most definite spoilers.

Eventually we find out that Hanna doesn’t know how to read. We suspect this relatively early, when she insists on having Michael read to her before they have sex, but it’s not confirmed until substantially later.

After a while, Hanna disappears. Years later, Michael is coincidentally on a field trip with his law school class when Hanna is being tried for crimes against humanity committed during the time when she was a German prison guard. Admitting that she cannot read would reduce the charges against her, but she does not. Michael also stays silent, at least in any way that would affect the case.

The film is controversial because Hanna seems like a real person who is at least sometimes nice, and Holocaust guards are not supposed to be depicted that way. I do not fault the film for this.

But there is another angle that does have some merit. Specifically, would an illiterate person like Hanna really be able to become a guard, especially one with some level of authority over other guards? Perhaps not.

Winslet does give a very good performance, and not only because she’s often naked in the earlier parts of the film. I’m not convinced that she deserves to win the Oscar®, but combined with her earlier nominations, perhaps this is her year.

Seen 1/25/2009.

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