reviewed by Agent Automatic | Friday, July 24th, 2009

The ReaderMirage Enterprises
124 min., dir. by Stephen Daldry, with Kate Winslet, Jeanette Hain, and Ralph Fiennes

As an Oscar contender, The Reader couldn’t have been more of a long-shot. It tells the tale of a young man (played by David Kross in his youth and Ralph Fiennes in middle age) who becomes involved with a mysterious older woman in post-war Germany. Many years after their romance has ended the young man discovers that his former lover, Hannah Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet, who won an Oscar for this role), has been avoiding prosecution for her role as a guard at Auschwitz. The Reader follows the usual trope of the Holocaust genre by illustrating how genocide dehumanizes the villains as well as the victims.

Perhaps most surprising about The Reader is that its first half undulates with a sexual intensity which few contemporary American filmmakers would willingly endeavor upon. Unfortunately The Reader’s pedantic conclusion undermines the subtleties which characterize this otherwise powerful film. It’s also of interest to note that Hannah’s life as a Nazi guard was begun as a byproduct of her illiteracy. Thus, The Reader advocates for literacy while examining what Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil” (in reference to Eichmann and the Nuremberg Trials). Curiously Arendt, who Schmitz appears to be named after, had a similarly romantic relationship with the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who was himself a notorious Nazi sympathizer.

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  • Whose tragedy it is, what should I say, Hanna’s? Or maybe the entire human, we are so narrow to forget or to forgive, how can we disdain Hanna? While how many Hanna it was in War World2? Countless! Why should she bear the entire fault for the history? And how could she bear that?
    Again, Hanna is just guard.
    And, what you would do?

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