Even the Nazis had to get a little freaky from time-to-time.
When Michael Berg (David Kross) was younger, he fell for a woman, Hanna (Kate Winslet), who was nearly twice his age. She taught him everything that he needed to know about life, cooking, books, family, women, and most importantly, sex. But because he was so young and hardly knew anything that he wanted with the world, let alone who he was going to spend it with, the years went by and Michael began to get more and more interested elsewhere. For one, he took up with a new girlfriend of his own and started focusing on his career. Because of this, Hanna inexplicably got up, left and disappeared from Michael’s life, without a note or anything. Saddened by this, Michael does eventually move on with his life and grow up to be a dashing, handsome, but sadly, flawed middle-aged man (Ralph Fiennes). But Michael is brought back to Hanna through hearing of a trail she’s being put through for war crimes she committed under the Nazis. While Michael never knew about this secret past of Hanna’s, he knows that it doesn’t make her a bad person. At the same time, however, Michael doesn’t know if he can bring himself to relive his very lustful younger years.
The Reader is the kind of movie that makes you want to punch somebody in the face. Because, for as long as it is up on the screen, you assume that it’s going to be these sweet, saucy, sexy and lurid fantasies that came true for this one dude, all those years ago when he was hardly even 15. But what works about these scenes isn’t that they are just chock full of butt, boob, penis and vagina, but that there is a small layer of fine sensuality felt within it. Most people would have a problem watching a movie that makes the case for a boy who has just hit puberty, hanging around and having all sorts of steamy sex with this much-older women, but Stephen Daldry doesn’t.
And that, to me, makes me want to give the dude credit. Not to mention a solid bro-five, but that’s for later when were singing dicks out at the bar, joshing around and laughing about all the good times.
But yeah, anyway, the movie.
So yeah, what Daldry does best is that he shows that this relationship, while definitely controversial and frowned-upon for sure (and also illegal, but hey, who cares!), is just that – a relationship. In between all of the humping, the pelvic-thrusting, the orgasms, and smoldering hot baths, these two actually strike-up something of a nice chemistry between one another. While she teaches him in how to make love to a woman so that he’s not the only one who enjoys it (which always happens, sorry ladies), he, unbeknownst to him for awhile, teaches her how to read. Sure, you could make the argument that she’s teaching him more about the ways of life than he is to her, but still, the fact that this movie shows that there’s more going on than just bodily-fluids being swapped, helps us connect to these characters.
And then, it all changes up.
About half-way through, the movie goes from being a very explicit coming-of-ager, to being another Holocaust/WWII drama that likes to prey on the fears of those who are easily vulnerable to these types of movies and love to tear up. In a way, this makes the movie feel less interesting and lose its sense of focus, but there is an interesting spin put on that whole sub-genre of film. Rather than focusing on the plight of those affected by the Holocaust (like, for instance, the Jews that Hitler killed), the Reader asks us the age old question that we don’t see too often explored in movies: Can we have sympathy for those who were on the other side of the Holocaust?
It’s easy to have sympathy for those who were personally being persecuted and discriminated against, but is it that easy to have the same kind for those who were apart of the SS? Cause, after all, sometimes, those people were the same ones who were just taking orders from the higher-ups, in hopes that they’d be done with the war as soon as possible, so that they too could go back to their normal lives. And hell, had they decided not to go through any order handed down to them, then they too may have followed the same fate as their prisoners.
But that’s why there’s a boldness to the Reader that I enjoyed and couldn’t stop wrapping my head around.
For one, we never know quite for sure that Hanna was apart of the SS, until we do, and it makes us wonder as to whether or not we can push certain truths to the side, no matter how harsh they may be. After all, she’s a woman who was just doing what she was told to, by those much more powerful than her. And it’s not like she still acts or thinks the way she does today, right?
Cause after all, what we do see from Hanna, is that she’s a loving and caring woman. Sure, she can be a bit grumpy at times, but she’s got a reason to be. It should be noted that Winslet is great in this role as Hanna, even though I don’t believe it’s the role she should have won the Oscar for (Revolutionary Road would have been my one and only choice). But all that aside, Winslet is great in this role because she allows for us to see the sometimes broken-hearted woman that lies inside this rather rough and tough exterior that Hanna presents to the world around her. The role itself may have been written-out to be incredibly over-the-top and hammy (what with the over-extended German accents and all), but Winslet finds certain narrow paths to make it much more subtle and it works, especially when we get to the end of the movie and wonder whether or not this woman actually does deserve to be persecuted for these war crimes she’s being called upon.
Cause, honestly, does she?
Well, the movie brings these questions up, yet, doesn’t seem too interested on answering them. That’s fine, too, because it seems like they’re the kind of questions that deserved to be brought up in a manner that has people hitting themselves in the face, over and over again, trying to figure out what conclusion they can settle on. However, it does allow for the movie to end on a sour note that feels more interested in pushing its message across and lose the main focus of this story: Michael himself. Without him, we’d have no reason for this story to exist, but as soon as Ralph Fiennes shows up, it’s almost as if the character gets pushed to the side and all of a sudden, Lena Olin shows up, gets pissed-off and we’re left thinking, “What was the point?”
Sure, some kid got boned a lot, but other than that, did we really need that extra half-hour tacked-on at the end to remind us that, hey, the Holocaust was bad, guys? Probably not, but for some reason, Daldry included it anyway and makes me wonder just where the main focus was here. Did they use Michael’s sexual awakening as a manipulative path into talking about the Holocaust? Or, did Daldry legitimately want to talk about the Holocaust?
Eh, whatever. Too much questions.
Consensus: For awhile, the Reader is alluring, smart, and interesting coming-of-ager anchored by a wonderful performance from Winslet, but loses focus in the later-half and feels like it wants to tell a different story than it set out to do.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Movpins