The Reader



Bernhard Schlink created a noble and compelling illumination of one aspect of the horrific, barely imaginable realities of the second great war: the mindset of the good people of Germany who allowed Hitler and the Nazis to take power and do their evil, and the confusion of younger Germans who came of age afterward.

In The Reader (2008, rated R, 124 minutes) we have an abbreviated biography of Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). She is a personification of pathos: fiercely self-sufficient, but a puppet of the Nazi regime. She passionately savors literature, but she is illiterate. She is instinctively kind and generous, but she admits without remorse that, as a naive SS concentration camp guard, she allowed several hundred women to burn to death in a church.

Michael Berg (David Kross), an unworldly teenager, is the reader. Hanna entices him, and he reads good books to her. He is seared, tainted, and transformed by his consuming affair with her. At Hanna’s war crimes trial, Michael explores the ineffable mystery of who should share guilt for the war horrors: “…that some few would be convicted and punished while we of the second generation were silenced by revulsion, shame, and guilt—was that all there was to it now?”

A mature Michael (Ralph Fiennes) reflects on his irresolvable dilemma: “When I tried to understand [Hanna’s crime], I had the feeling I was failing to condemn it as it must be condemned. When I condemned it as it must be condemned, there was no room for understanding.”

Finally, he learns that his effort was too self-protective, too little, too late to do the right thing.

This movie is based on Der Vorleser (The Reader) written in German in 1995 by Bernhard Schlink.


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