General ramblings

The Reader (2008)

Directed by Stephen Daldry, this is a story of a older woman (Kate Winslet as Hannah Schmitz) and a teenage boy (Ralph Fiennes as Michael Berg) who have a summer affair. The movie is set during post World War II in West Germany. The title of the movie reads, “How far would you go to protect a secret?” How dark a secret is it? Worth betting your entire life? Even at the cost of everything you own? These are some of the questions that have been addressed by the director and is based on the book The Reader by Bernhard Schlink.

Michael Berg, at the age of fifteen, gets into an illicit relationship with a stranger, Hannah Schmitz. It’s quite obvious from the very start that the affair carries little value to the lady. This is not a movie that’s just about a relationship between two people who wouldn’t come together under normal circumstances. It’s much more than that. Using this as a basis, the movie explores some of the atrocities that were carried out in Nazi Germany during World War II. There is some real footage of Auschwitz too. 

How a summer affair has a life time impact on a young boy and how it affects his marriage, his relationship with his daughter and his relationship with his family and siblings. Ralph Fiennes’ treatment of the character is commendable- his grief during his brief meeting Kate Winslet later on in life is real and touching. 

I loved the scene where Kate Winslet and David Kross (young Michael Berg) are in a bath tab and David is reading a passage from Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Also, the court proceedings where the “secret” that Kate Winslet is guarding is revealed.

This movie had a lot of impact on me because I visited the United States Holocaust Museum just yesterday. The grief of those affected by the biggest massacre in human history is deep and never ending. So many movies have been made on this subject. Yet there are so many stories that are still untold. 

The story doesn’t get too much into Holocaust-related atrocities either. It’s everything- a love story, a story of suffering, human psychology and longing.

Definitely worth a watch if you can don’t mind some nudity and movies that are not just about “and everyone lived happily ever after”.

Rating: 9/10

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19 thoughts on “The Reader (2008)

  1. Bipin- Yeah, I’ve seen it. Had read the book much much before the movie was announced. 🙂

    Sakhi- Great! Don’t miss it.

    Dinu- Oh really? What movies have you been watching?

    Nita- Now that’s a compliment! 🙂 This is an independent film, and in fact, hasn’t been released in the mainstream multiplexes here. i had to go to an “independent” multiplex here to watch it. Hope it is released in India!

  2. Dev says:

    Ruhi, Hollywood is now kind of obsessed with Holocaust with movies on WW2/Nazis/Holocoust coming out every now and then. It’s interesting to note that up until 1964, hardly any film explored that darkest chapter in human history, even though it was so fresh in minds of people at that time.
    I recently watched Pawnbroker, Sydney Lumet’s classic, which was a first major film exploring the effects of holocoust. The film was more about exploring the psychological effects of holocoust on one surviving Polish Jew who immigrated to New York rather than showing much of Nazi atrocities..
    Must say, the film was very good.. it was perhaps the best film I watched on Holocoust after Schindler’s list.. will highly recommend it to you..
    Thanks for the review on this one..I have too many films lying on my watch list right now, but will watch this one as soon as I get an opportunity. In any case, I like Kate Winslet so much that I can watch a film just for her.

  3. Dev, you are quite correct. Hollywood has made tons of movies that talk about Holocaust. Can’t blame them though. There are tons of materials out there that are still untold. Even though lots of documents and evidence were recovered by the allies in 1940s, so many of them weren’t even perused through carefully until 1970s!

    And this movie is not just about Holocaust. In fact, that’s just one angle.

    Thanks for the movie recommendation 🙂 Always open to those. I’ll check it out soon. so many movies were released past weekend and I need to watch them too.

  4. Did you say teenage Ralph Fiennes, I would surely like to see. He is quite an underrated actor, but its hard for me to imagine him as a teenage actor. 😉

    Schinder’s list was best movie I watched about holocaust.But I have read several novels about it.

  5. Ruhi:

    I daresay that if Hannah was Hans, and Michael was Michaela, this could very well have been just a story about paedophilia, which is mainly about power imbalances. The theme somehow also reminds me of The Woodsman, where Kevin Bacon is a paedophile trying to reform himself. For Michael Berg, the affair sounds like his own, very personal Holocaust.

    Living in Europe, WWII and the Holocaust are frequently recurrent themes in regular life. It will be interesting to see how the film is received here. The Holocaust though is being metamorphosed too. In Prague I saw several public installations and sculptures titled ‘Holokunst’ (Holocaust Art. lit. German).

    Some years ago, I did watch Daldry’s The Hours which was a darkly depressing but well-made film with three strong women leads. I am sure you have watched it already.

    Although many are hoping Kate Winslet gets lucky with an Oscar this year, I am not sure it would be for this film.

    Thanks for the review. The film joins my very long list of to-watch films.

  6. Kiran- You too have a wonderful year ahead 🙂

    Poonam- The teenage role has been enacted by David Kross, not Ralph Fiennes. Btw, you must be knowing that he is Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter movies. 😉

    Shefaly- Have you seen Little Children? One of the stories in the movie is about a pedophile too. And I agree- I would compare anything that has a life changing impact (for the worse) with Holocaust. It takes a lot to be able to face it and come in terms with it.

    I’m not sure if Europe will look at this movie keeping Holocaust in mind, because this dark subject is just one aspect of the movie. Really, it’s more about manipulation and never being able to get over a fixation. The circumstances become even more complex because of the older woman’s background, which Michael knew nothing about.

    I’ve seen The Hours- it has Nicole Kidman, Merryl Streep and Julianna Moore. It’s based on Virginia Woolf and how the novel Mrs. Dalloway affects the lives of three woman. Extremely dark and well synthesized. I’ve read the book on which the movie is based too. Even Mrs. Dalloway, in fact. The Hours is one of my all time favorite movies. 🙂

    Which movie would Kate Winslet receive an Oscar for? I’m waiting for Revolutionary Road to be released in a theater near my place. It has Kate Winslet and Leo Di Caprio in lead roles.

  7. Ruhi:

    Europe is sensitive about both the Holocaust and the issue of child abuse (remember that weirdo from Vienna who kept his daughter captive for over 20 years? There have been similar cases in Belgium and UK also). So this film’s box office performance will be interesting to watch. Besides both Winslet and Daldry are British and Daldry has admitted he is a bit worried about the possible reactions.

    I liked The Hours (when you make it to this side of the pond, come and see my library 🙂 A film about feminism and its interpretations with all female leads is a bold one indeed. So nothing new for Daldry then eh?

    Rev Road will be interesting. Its setting sounds similar to another Julianne Moore film – Far from Heaven which is around the period and circumstances that Betty Friedan wrote about in The Feminine Mystique. Besides that is Kate directed by Sam. So the rivalry really is – will it be Mendes or will it be Daldry? Worth watching.

  8. Shefaly-The subject is gripping and something that everyone will be interested in. Not sure what kinda reaction Daldry is waiting for. 🙂 It was truly engaging.

    RE: Mendes v. Daldry- maybe it’ll be both. Who said it’s a war for the audience? 😉

    Poonam- Ahh! 🙂 Sorry about the misinterpretation. And I’ve reduced my HP mania. Wasn’t too excited about the latest book. I didn’t even write a post here, see? 😉

  9. Kate is definitely going to win an Oscar soon. Its just a matter of time.
    And I don’t think its released in India yet. Will be watching it for sure.
    Happy New Year. 🙂

  10. Amrita says:

    I want to watch this movie but I just can’t… the Holocaust and cop dramas, they need to wait. Instead, I put on that episode of Kate on Extras with Ricky Gervais. Love.

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