Friday, 10 June 2016

''The Reader'' (2008 film)- Review

Directed by: Stephen Daldry
Released: 2008
Country: United States, Germany

Starring: Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, Lena Olin

Genre: Romantic, drama

Rating: 4 out of 5


I was fifteen. I was coming home from school. I was feeling ill. And a woman helped me. 

These are the very last words spoken by the male protagonist, Michael, in the film. And this is how the events of the film actually initiate. In a narrative that shifts between decades, the story initiates in 1958, when a 15-year-old boy, Michael, feels sick when he is coming back home from school. Hanna, then a woman in her mid-thirties, helps him go back to his home. After spending several months in bed, recovering from scarlet fever, Michael goes to Hanna's small apartment, meaning to thank her. However, he soon becomes smitten by Hanna, falling in love with her, and the two of them, in spite of their huge age gap, start an affair. Hanna loves it when Michael reads to her, and again and again, shown through several touching scenes, Michael reads to her. Months pass in this way, but when Hanna is promoted in her job, she leaves without telling Michael.

Several years later, Michael, now studying law at Heidelberg, attends court sessions as part of a seminar. He has to observe a case in which six former female guards at Auschwitz- one of the the most notorious Nazi concentration camps- are being tried. They have been convicted after the recent publication of a book by a Holocaust survivor, where the author linked some deadly incidents with these six guards. Michael is shocked to learn that one of these six guards is none but Hanna herself. He is horrified to learn that Hanna once worked for the SS. Charges have been brought against her, but very soon, Michael learns that Hanna has been protecting a secret- a secret of which she is deeply ashamed- but a secret which might help reduce her sentence and punishment. 

Kate Winslet and David Kross, with their pitch-perfect performances, make the chemistry between Michael and Hanna strong and powerful. I thought David Kross was the one who delivered the most powerful performance in this film, among the three major actors. Just observe his expressions: a teenager smitten by a woman way older than he is yet genuinely in love, or the way he expresses his pain when an angry Hanna tells her that he is not important enough for her, or the scene when he breaks into tears in the court, his horror and shock knowing what Hanna has done, yet his love for her- a powerful feeling that has stood the test of time and continued to exist- is still as strong as it was.

Kate Winslet was excellent as well. She makes the character of Hanna so realistic with her powerful performance. I really admired Winslet's performance in the prison scenes. I won't describe it in detail as I won't like to include spoilers, but yes, her performance in those scenes was simply excellent. Ralph Fiennes, as the older Michael, makes the character more complete, more realistic. All three of them, Winslet, Kross and Fiennes, deliver excellent performances.

I am not sure if I really loved this film. I was deeply moved, yes. The film touched me: it was an emotional journey, almost an emotional roller-coaster. But the subject matter itself is so problematic, and so is the character of Hanna. Hanna has done such things in the past that are impossible to be forgotten and forgiven. Once you think deeply and analyze the character, its quite impossible to fully sympathize with the character. But at the end of the day, ''The Reader'' is a film about two people, two people who love each other and one of them going to many lengths to keep the other happy in the face of adversities- and the way he does it, and about how a teenage love- perhaps a strong teenage infatuation- survived the test of time. A deeply moving and emotionally intense film, at the end of the day.

4 out of 5

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