The Reader (2008)


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

Director: Stephen Daldry

Summary: Nearly a decade after his affair with an older woman came to a mysterious end, a law student re-encounters his former lover as she defends herself in a post-WWII German war-crime trial

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Winslet)*, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography

Eh, this is a movie with a kernel of something good in the middle of a lot of mediocrity and fundamental issues. The Reader (mostly) does one thing well, which is playing with the idea of “the banality of evil”, that some of the most heinous acts in human history were committed by normal (non-psychopathic) people whose mindset was that they were “just doing their jobs”, no matter how hideous they might be, which makes it far more frightening. There’s also the fact that there was so much mutual culpability with the Holocaust as well-everybody knew about it, but they simply looked the other way. How does a country move forward after something like that, how do they reconcile with themselves? How does any country when faced with the ugliest parts of its history? It’s always easier to shift blame onto a few individuals and hold them up as symbols for everything bad than to truly come to terms with the real issues of human nature, and the movie explores that pretty well. While it’s no Judgment at Nuremberg (especially since it really makes out Winslet’s character to be a victim really which is one of many issues with the movie), it at least gives the viewer some food for thought. The other positive is the lead performance. The producers thought “we need a great actress in her late 30s-early 40s who has no issues whatsoever with being constantly nude. Who could we possibly get?…”; Winslet was of course their first choice and she finally won an Oscar for it. While this is not one of her best performances, I think she does really well portraying her character as an old woman in the later parts of the film.

The film has two other big issues for me, both on a writing level. First, it lacks any real emotional resonance and I had zero attachment to any of the characters or their relationships, which is a huge problem in a movie that’s centrally focused on the relationship between two of its characters. Second, the film shockingly glosses over and frankly downplays how disturbing the pedophilic relationship between the leads is. We get plenty of sex/post-sex scenes that are presented in the same kind of way you would expect from any steamy romance movie, something that does not sit well when the romantic partners are 15 and late 30s. Overall, I am really surprised this was nominated instead of vastly superior movies like WALL-E, The Wrestler or The Dark Knight, except that it was made by the Weinstein Company, so there’s your answer I guess.

Rating: C- (barely)

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