Sunday, May 03, 2009
Michael is a 15-year-old student in post-war Germany. On his way home from school he is struck by scarlet fever and vomits outside a shabby flophouse where he collapses on a bench. He is assisted by an older woman, a total stranger, and months later they begin an affair. In exchange for his sensual awakening, she asks him to read to her, which he does with gusto.
An affair between a 30-something woman and a 15-year old boy is morally questionable for everyone who is not the 15-year-old boy, but Hannah's crime of seduction seems small potatoes when she turns out to have a disturbing past. As an intellectual and young law student Michael must come to grips with his conflicted emotions. His experience with Hannah reflects modern Germany's struggle with guilt, denial, and memory.
I like The Reader because it elegantly unfurls serious moral questions while refusing to answer them. The viewer is left to her own devices as acts in the microcosm find their context in major crimes against humanity. Is there really such a thing as an unforgivable act? Can even the most heinous villains find redemption? Another remarkable performance by Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes is excellent, Lena Olin drops in and is as cool and lovely as ever, and David Kross will go on to do further great things I'm sure.
The Reader is right up there with The Lives of Others, which I also really admired.