A number of reviews dealing with “The Reader” began with a statement that today too many movies are being released dealing with the horrors of the Holocaust. These opinions were soon followed by the big news that Pope Benedict XVI had lifted the excommunications of Holocaust denier Richard Williamson and three other bishops, members of the renegade Society of St. Pius X. Catholics and non-Catholics, not to mention many Jews, were appalled “that a German, of all people, could rehabilitate a Holocaust denier.” Then another bishop was asked to leave Argentina but, that said, some critics still insisted there were just too many Holocaust movies.
Even Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke out and demanded that the pope “clarify his stance” toward Williamson and the church’s relationship with Judaism. And the pope reacted and finally followed a responsible course and threw the bums out!
So I thought a long time about reviewing “The Reader,” but hoped that Kate Winslet would win the Oscar for best actress and if she did, I would tell people to see the movie.
Meet Hanna, a 36-year-old conductor on a Heidelberg bus who takes pity on Michael, a 15-year-old student who falls ill with scarlet fever and collapses in the alley beside her apartment house. Shortly thereafter they begin a torrid affair, but before any thoughts of sex, Michael reads aloud to Hanna, usually from books he is studying in school. After several months of this more than attractive activity, suddenly Hanna receives a promotion from the bus company and--without warning--disappears from her apartment and from Michael’s existence.
The movie’s timeline jumps ahead some five years and follows Michael’s school career as he enters law school. Then as part of the curriculum, the law students attend ongoing trials of suspected Nazi war criminals and Michael sees Hanna in the courtroom as one of seven women defendants accused of allowing fifty-some victims to perish in a fire at a Nazi camp.
Eventually six of the women turn on Hanna and claim they were following her orders--and she refuses to testify in her own behalf.
Now comes the hard part as Michael realizes he knows that he has personal information that can act in Hanna’s defense but refuses to say anything.
At this point if refuse to divulge more of the plot but simply advise movie lovers to see this film and be amazed at Winslet’s acting ability, not to mention a film that never flags as the cinema years pass and Hanna approaches a pardon after 25 years of captivity and she finally learns the identity of the man who has been helping her behind the scenes.
Like an onion, “The Reader” is an adult film dealing with adult themes including many layers of guilt. It’s truly worth seeing, especially now that Winslet has won the Oscar for her stunning performance.