Holocaust themed films have remained crucial viewing for many years. Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice, and The Pianist have all shown the horror of the holocaust in ways the history books can’t explain. The Reader strives to be among them, but through the eyes of someone not a victim to the crimes on humanity.
The Reader, based on the book by Bernhard Schlink, is a story of secrets. Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) is a train operator who begins an affair with a 15 year old boy named Michael (David Kross). He lies to his family and friends about his whereabouts, and he heads straight to her apartment from school. They make love, and she has him read to her. He reads everything to her, from poetry to Homer’s Odyssey. Then one day following a heated argument, she leaves without a trace. Years go by and Michael heads to law school, where he is one of the top students of his class. He is so highly regarded that he, and a few other students, get to sit in on a trial to observe. To his shock, Hanna is on trial for war crimes, because she was a camp guard during the holocaust. He is conflicted since he knows a secret that could save Hanna from a life sentence, but she is too ashamed to admit to. The story is told through Micheal’s eyes when he is fully grown, played by Ralph Fiennes (In Bruges), reflecting on his life.
Winslet (Titanic) gives a good performance, in a very boring film. Directed by Stephen Daldry (The Hours), the movie moves at a very slow pace. It is a struggle to stay awake at times. The Reader is at it’s best during the trial of Hanna. The courtroom tension is fantastic, since you wish to know more about what happened at the camps Hanna was guarding. Instead, the film focuses on the relationship between Hanna and Michael, which is really bland. It’s hard to connect with or feel compassion for Hanna. She uses Michael for sex, then throws him away, and never shows any guilt for anything in her life. Even when she is old, and withering away, I didn’t feel sorry for her. The same can be said for Michael, who is haunted by the secret he holds.
The film feels like it was made to win awards. Holocaust movies seem to be bait for Oscars, and with its five nominations, it worked. But I would really like to know what the voters saw in the movie to nominate it. Others like Gran Torino and The Dark Knight were much better at showing internal moral struggles than The Reader. Winslet deserves an Oscar, but not for this movie. She has been fantastic in more deserving films.
While some movies would rather educate and enlighten than entertain, The Reader does neither. Other holocaust themed films have been far better at both. What The Reader is good at is showing the length in which people will go to hold a secret captive. I wish this movie was kept as a secret, and I were still in the dark.