‘The Reader’ offers profound truths about shame and justice

The drama "The Reader" is wonderfully acted and beautifully realized, writes Gazette film critic Dan

The Holocaust is over half a century behind us, never to be forgotten, yes, but it is time to move into more unexplored territory. The years behind provide distance to view truths from a different angle. In brief, now is the time to fill in the canvas with those character-driven narratives that help fill the gaps and afford cause for reflection about ideas that can transcend the Holocaust.

Based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Bernhard Schlink and on a screenplay by David Hare, “The Reader” takes us to Germany in 1958.

There, we meet 15-year-old student Michael Berg, played by David Kross, and a woman who helps nurse him back from a serious bout with TB. She is Hanna Schmitz, played beautifully by Kate Winslet. They become lovers.

’The Reader’

DIRECTED BY Stephen Daldry

SCREENPLAY BY David Hare, based on novel by Bernhard Schlink

STARRING Ralph Fiennes, David Kross and Kate Winslett


RUNNING TIME: 123 minutes

Hanna is rough around the edges, beautiful and unschooled; eventually, Michael will on go to law school. But as lovers, they have a beautiful thing going — both sexual and platonic.

He reads to her from the classics such as “The Odyssey” and Chekhov short stories. She loves his mind — and then eight years after it is over, Michael makes a stunning discovery while taking an honors seminar in law school. Hanna is on trial with other defendants for crimes at a concentration camp. She may share guilt, but she may not be as guilty as she seems to her interrogators. We and her former lover know a lot hinges on her ability to read.

At the trial, Michael the law student, cannot bring himself to tell the truths he knows. But later, after he has become a practicing attorney played by Ralph Fiennes, we will learn more. Will this woman go to prison because she is afraid to tell her jailers she cannot read?

“The Reader” trips over itself now and then, but it remains wonderfully acted and beautifully realized. And it has something profound to say about shame, confidence and justice.

I really liked this movie, and perhaps because I grew up with and around people who could not read or write, this experience got to me. Stay with it and I think it will get to you as well. Terrific performances from Winslet, young Mr. Kross, and Bruno Ganz.

Categories: Life and Arts

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