Saturday, 8 September 2012
The Reader (2008)
Stepehn Daldry's drama spans 40 years and asks a lot of questions about how much a person can change over time, but avoids a lot of obvious questions that you ask as the true past of a main character comes to light.
Starting in a post-war Germany, The Reader is the story of a schoolboy (played by David Kross when he is young, and Raplh Fiennes as he ages) who falls in love with an older woman (Kate Winslet) who acts as a good samaritan when she sees him becoming ill on his way home. Throughout the development of their relationship (the age gap being one of those things that is never acknowledged) over the next two hours, a truly horrendous crime in one person's past is revealed, people becoming rightfully estranged and questions of shame (about the wrong things) are explored.
Once the film gets going, after the rather uninteresting and repetitive first act, it comes into its own and Winslet shines especially bright as the tough but tortured Hanna Schmitz in a number of powerful scenes during the distant Michael's twenties. Despite my accusations of avoiding the tough questions there exists, across the later 2/3s of the film an overarching theme of guilt and what it means as a whole for a country recovering from something as awful as WWII. The disconnect in age between Michael and Hanna works to demonstrate the differences between those who did what they had to do and then live with the consequences, and those who can see the consequences but not the situations that brought them about.
The Reader is an emotionally charged journey through a number of decades, with two great performances of people aging and trying to deal with, and make the best of, what they've done earlier in their lives. The ending feels like a bit of a cheap get out from dealing with some of the later realities that these people might face, but it's understandable that having it play out otherwise might make the film too long and distract from the real message that was strived for here.