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The Reader, set in post-WWII Germany, follows teenager Michael Berg as he engages in a passionate but secretive affair with an older woman named Hanna. Eight years after Hanna s disappearance, Michael is stunned to discover her again as she stands on trial for Nazi war crimes. The Reader is a haunting story about truth and reconciliation and how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another. Kate Winslet won and Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her performance.
What is the nature of guilt--and how can the human spirit survive when confronted with deep and horrifying truths? The Reader, a hushed and haunting meditation on these knotty questions, is sorrowful and shocking, yet leavened by a deep love story that is its heart. In postwar Germany, young schoolboy Michael (German actor David Cross) meets and begins a tender romance with the older, mysterious Hanna (Kate Winslet, whose performance is a revelation). The two make love hungrily in Hanna's shabby apartment, yet their true intimacy comes as Michael reads aloud to Hanna in bed, from his school assignments, textbooks, even comic books. Hanna delights in the readings, and Michael delights in Hanna.
Years later, the two cross paths again, and Michael (played as an adult by Ralph Fiennes) learns, slowly, horrifyingly, of acts that Hanna may have been involved in during the war. There is a war crimes trial, and the accused at one point asks the panel of prosecutors: "Well, what would you have done?" It is that question--as one German professor says later: "How can the next generation of Germans come to terms with the Holocaust?"--that is both heartbreaking and unanswerable. Winslet plays every shade of gray in her portrayal of Hanna, and Fiennes is riveting as the man who must rewrite history--his own and his country's--as he learns daily, hourly, of deeds that defy categorization, and morality. "No matter how much washing and scrubbing," one character says matter of factly, "some sins don't wash away." The Reader (with nods to similar films like Sophie's Choice and The English Patient dares to present that unnerving premise, without offering an easy solution. --A.T. Hurley
Stills from The Reader (Click for larger image)
Adapting A Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader
A Conversation With David Kross & Stephen Daldry
Kate Winslet On The Art of Aging Hanna Schmitz
A New Voice: A Look At Composer Nico Muhly
Coming To Grips With The Past: Pro
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note*: the German Law-professor brilliantly portrayed by Bruno Ganz states in this film (to his young Law students) that part of the difficulty of prosecuting concentration-camp prison guards was that they claimed to only be following the pervading Nazi-Laws of the day.
But "The Reader" (both Book and film) feels different & unique when compared to other movies ruminating on WWII devastation and the Holocaust, working more on the micro level of human-relationships creating remnants of lingering emotional impact over decades (with significant historical-forces often intervening for ill or sometimes good).
Two key characters are 'Hannah Schmitz' (with extraordinary Oscar winning performance by Kate Winslet) and 'Michael Berg' (brilliantly portrayed by Ralph Fiennes in later years, and David Kross early on). Michael is a teenager in 1950's Berlin, meeting Hannah by chance and beginning a brief summer-affair, Michael knows almost nothing about Hanna or her past (she is nearly 20 years older) except that she loves having Michael constantly 'read' to her, from Classic novels or any school-books that Michael happens to have in possession at the time. Hannah abruptly disappears one day and Michael does not see her again for many years.
The moral focal-point of this story begins to take shape years later, in 1966 when Michal is now a Law-student on an excursion to witness a mid-1960's trial (in German court) of WWII concentration-camp guards who are accused of burning-alive 300 Jewish prisoners (the prison guards locked them in an old-church as it was set-ablaze). The catalyst for the trial had been a book and testimony written/given by a Jewish-survivor named Ilana Mather (and her mother). Michael recognizes one of the prison-guard defendants as Hannah Schmitz (Michael initially cannot believe his eyes, and appears deeply-traumatized thru the rest of the trial).
There are also a number of deeply thought-provoking scenes during Hannah's trial and Illana Mather's testimony and especially the side discussions of the young German Law students, free-flowing discussions lead by their inquisitive Professor Rohl (played by the masterful-actor Bruno Ganz). It was the scenes with the young Law-students that really gave you the sense of the significantly changed attitudes among Germany's younger (post-WWII) generations and how they sincerely wrestled with the moral failings of the past and were courageously attempting to come to terms with (and actually 'uncover') the crimes of the past..... even when that uncovering could be extremely painful/traumatizing.
Don't want to give away any more specifics of this story (for those who have not seen it....... although this is a good opportunity on AMAZON Prime)but two more comments are that: some of the most moving scenes take place in the (near) current-Day in 1995, when Michael (now played by Ralph Fiennes) finally meets face-to-face with Hannah again (after she has spent decades in prison) = there is so much that needs to be said at that point (but cannot be fully-expressed)......... and the penultimate scene between Michael when he travels to NYC to visit the survivor Ilana Mather (Lena Olin)...... their (initially-tense) discussion about Hannah is full of emotional-complexity and both dialog and acting in this scene (by Ralph Fiennes and Lena Olin) are performed at the highest levels of artistry (and subtlety)........ incredibly-moving indeed.
Some people say that being not able to read was more serious than admitting a crime for the lady. She sacrificed her freedom for hiding the truth that she was not able to read and write. The reason the young man struggled was not because he was ashamed of having an abnormal relation with the lady, but to protect the lady's will. He said "how long will a secret keep?"(do not remember clearly)
what the law professor said were also interesting. Could we use today's law or regulations to determine a crime in the past? I personally do not agree. The lady is kind and nice, but she was willing to be a guardian, and only think about how to keep order instead of the safety of the people in the Church when there was a big fire. How could that happen? What changed her to think like that? Very interesting to think about questions like that.
Director Stephen Daldry intermingled that story with stunning lanscapes and images of the time that add to the visual entertainment. Through Hanna Schmitz's last act, director Stephen wanted to show that beyond any suffering inflicted by us on our fellow human beings due to ignorance or lies we are told, we remain beings who are also capable of guilt and who seek by any mean necessary to correct our wrongs whenever and whichever way we can.