The Reader (Movie 2008)

Stars: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, and David Kross 

Last night I streamed free on Amazon Prime, The Reader. It was a movie that I had not seen at the theater when it was released in 2008. I really like Kate Winslet, so I thought I would watch it to see why she won an Oscar for her performance in this movie.
First off, I will admit I did not read any reviews or synopsis of the movie beforehand. I hit play in total ignorance. Yes, it’s a bit shocking that a woman, who was probably in her early 30’s, had an affair with a 15-year old boy. However, had I turned it off, like so many other one-star reviewers, claiming it was nothing more than a sickly and vile movie about pedophilia, I would have missed an intriguing story that turned out to be quite a surprise.
I will give a few insights as to the story, without spoiling the ending. It starts out with Ralph Fiennes, who plays the adult version of Michael Berg reminiscing about the past. Set in 1958 post-WWII Germany, it tells the story of a teenager who is helped by Hanna Schmidt, a young woman, when he becomes ill with Scarlet Fever. After his recovery, he returns to thank her, but to his surprise she seduces him and an affair ensues.
Hanna is a woman that at first you really know nothing about, other than she enjoys two things with Michael – sex and the fact that he reads books to her during his visits. Strange as it seems,they fall in love until one day she mysteriously disappears without a word and breaks his heart.
Fast forward to Michael’s days at university as he studies to be a lawyer. His professor takes the class to sit in on the the war crime trials. To his surprise, Hanna is a defendant, along with a group of other women, for her participation as a guard at a Nazi concentration camp. Day after day he attends the hearings, listening to the crimes she committed during the war and then realizes something about Hanna that no one else knows. The fact could lessen her sentence, but Michael cannot reconcile the horrors of her actions in helping to kill the Jews. What he knows, he keeps silent, and her sentence is life in prison compared to a paltry four years for the other women involved in the same crimes.
The movie is one of conscience as the younger generation deals with the guilt of the older generation and the crimes committed to humanity in WWII. Michael takes a sobering visit to Auschwitz to see for himself where she worked as a guard. Hurt and brooding for the woman he once loved, he makes the choice not to help her avoid her punishment regardless of the secret she has held from everyone, which Hanna refuses to admit to even at her trial. Her shame regarding that one fact is greater than the shame of being a guard during the war and her participation as a murderer.
In the end, the story reverts to Michael as an adult and the guilt and feelings he has wrestled with throughout his life regarding Hanna. The movie is an interesting and thought-provoking story that reaches far more than the risque first half of an older woman having sex with an under-aged boy. David Kross looks very young in the part, but the sexually explicit scenes were not filmed until he turned 18 years of age.
If you’re looking for a sobering movie regarding love, morality, secrets, and consequences of one’s actions, this is a good flick. It touches the lives of those who participated and those families who were victims.  Kate’s achievement in winning an Oscar, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and many other awards for her portrayal of Hanna are well deserved.

Interesting post note on this subject, I did a Google search wondering how long the war crime trials lasted due to the timing in this story.  To my surprise, I stumbled across an article in the Independent from September 2013 regarding Germany’s continued prosecution.  Here is a link to a story about former guards at concentration camps, stating that arrest warrants would be issued for, “40 men and six women suspected of having worked as guards at Auschwitz.” Some of these men and women are now in their 90’s, but the trials continue. Here is the link to the article:

Nazi murder trial: Germany in one last push to bring remaining war criminals to justice before they die.

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