By Sharlet Liebel ©2009
Numerous contradictions abound in the telling of the woman, who is neither heroine nor anti-heroine on the basis of her destiny. She lives in poverty and uneducated circumstances. She shows no passion yet is a helpful person. In early scenes of the movie she displays stoic determination for job earnings. This appearance is a contradiction in terms of her hidden agenda and personality.
In THE READER Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) appears to be a survivor, plain and hard working. While she works to provide herself with a dastardly existence, her demeanor is solemn and accepting of her fate as she lives in rooms above industrial warehouse businesses. Her personal hygiene is without blemish and she shows great appreciation for the educated young Michael (David Kross) she meets by chance. He stumbles off the train in her district and sits under the arches in the entrance to her abode during a rainstorm. Apparently ill, she brings rags and a bucket of cold water to clean his face and throws the water on the driveway over his vomit.
Her German ancestry is unimportant to her and she has no friends. She gets to work early, does her job as trolley cashier, returns home, eats a meager dinner, and washes and irons her clothes for the following day’s work.
One day, after the young man in his late teens returns to thank her for her kindness and to bring her flowers, she is matter-of-fact in receiving his gift. She prepares herself for work and dismisses him. He returns another time. She undresses in a closed-off area but notices the young man’s secret glances to view her nakedness. At no time, does she express feelings for him but makes a concession for improving their relationship in an exchange.
Quietly, she bathes him. To him it suggests a meaningful adventure. Since he is at least 15 years her junior, she is gentle with her advances as an introduction to his sexual education.
They get to know each other better as she receives his favors of reading to her each time they experience naked playtime. All the scenes are shown in modest behaviors and none of this is lewd or lascivious. They are pleased with their shared experiences. She teaches him about his sexuality and he shares the stories from his class work – fine arts and literature. One day she disappears without a trace – not even a goodbye.
Some years later at his law institute, Hanna reappears in the adult man’s life by chance. The experience is shocking to him. Michael (Ralph Fiennes) attends her trials where she is accused of war crimes. He discovers a secret she cleverly hid from him that can save her life from prosecution. Her omission of a simple fact is shameful to her. He can do nothing to prevent her destiny.
The trial is a riveting experience and must be viewed to fully comprehend the significance of war crime trials against Hannah. Her moral judgment and conviction are based on abominable circumstances of her job description.
The psychological impact to Michael is mental adaptation to the protagonist’s fate as he remembers their early friendship. The consequences of these trials haunt Michael. His touching loyalty is shown in surprising behaviors you must see to believe.
Based on the novel by Bernhard Schlink. Director: Stephen Daldry, Producers: Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin, Screenwriter: David Hare.