Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Reader (2008)

According to IMDb, “The Reader opens in post-WWII Germany when teenager Michael Berg (David Kross) becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna (Kate Winslet), a stranger twice his age.” After he recovers from his sickness, Michael returns to thank Hanna for her kindness. Hanna changes clothes and catches Michael watching her; it seems as if this is exactly what she wanted him to do. Realizing he’s been caught, Michael immediately flees the scene, only to return on a later date. Upon his return, Michael is greeted with a chore: shoveling coal. It seems as if they both know the result of the task: Michael will need a bath. Hanna’s apartment, much like the character herself, has no illusion of privacy and she is able to sneak a peek at Michael as he bathes. They make love without mentioning the age difference or the nature of their relationship. None of it matters. The secret affair continues and Michael begins to read some of his schoolwork (The Odyssey, The Lady with the Little Dog, etc.) to Hanna. As they see more of each other, more books are read, their sexual affair continues, and their emotional bond strengthens. One day, Michael goes to visit Hanna, book in hand, only to find her apartment empty. He is heartbroken, and attempts to forget about her as he enrolls in law school. Upon observation of the Nazi war crime trials, Michael crosses paths with Hanna again; she is the defendant, accused of multiple war crimes.

Click to read spoilers
Hanna is convicted, and sentenced to life in prison. Years pass and Michael is now portrayed by Ralph Fiennes. He sends tapes of himself reading The Odyssey and other books to Hannah resulting in one of the most beautiful scenes of the movie: Michael is reading a passage from The Odyssey as the camera pans around the inside of his house showing myriad books. This turns into a montage sequence including Hanna listening to the hundreds of tapes that he sends to her.

The first half of the movie, with David Kross as Michael, plays out as a beautifully tender yet fiercely passionate love story interrupted by Hanna’s involvement with the SS. The second half, save for the scene mentioned in the spoiler alert above, is a rather convoluted mess. Nico Muhly’s nebulous, unmelodious score occasionally detracts from the film, adding to the film’s convolution. Ralph Fiennes was not great in this movie, but David Kross showed a lot of potential and Kate Winslet portrayed Hanna brilliantly. The film acts as not much more than a simple love story with a web of complications, but it is a compelling and beautiful love story, that is worth watching.

Grade: B

No comments: