Oscar Reviews: The Reader

Andrew Huff (’10)/Eastside Staff

Oscar Nominations (5):

– Best Picture (Sidney Pollack, Anthony Minghella, Redmond Morris)
– Actress (Kate Winslet)
– Director (Stephen Daldry)
– Adapted Screenplay (David Hare)
– Cinematography (Roger Deakins, Chris Menges)

The pages of a melancholy, tragic 47-year-long story unfold in Berlin, Germany, the city that invigorated Michael Berg with love and then became the place of great sorrow. Introduced as a boy of fifteen in 1958, Michael meets a woman of few words, Hannah Schmitz, played by Kate Winslet.

Older, stern-looking Schmitz teaches Michael the world of romance and sex, only part of a complicated, unusual relationship fueled by literature. Lasting only a single summer, the affair, as Michael calls it, leaves a lifelong mark on him.

As he grew closer to Hannah, Michael never suspected the dark past of the woman lying next to him, nor the shameful secret she divulged to no one. Winslet portrays Hannah with a subtle, yet recognizable sense of preoccupation, as if something were always on her mind.

Though only witnessed in a few scenes, Hannah’s secret gives Winslet the opportunity to show dents in Hannah’s internal armor.

Moving throughout various periods of Michael’s life, the film shifts to when Michael, as a law student, witnesses in the 1960’s the trial of several women, Nazi guards, accused of killing hundreds of women on the death march from Auschwitz.

With a heavy heart, Michael and the audience watch as a painfully honest Hannah takes to the stand, admitting before a panel of judges her role in the crime.

David Kross exceptionally captures Michael’s balancing game between being a student observing justice, and a man seeing the image of his former love tarnish as she exudes no visible remorse.

The scenes involving the court proceedings provoke great emotion, as Michael travels to a concentration camp, where no dialogue is uttered, yet the expressions on Kross’s face speak volumes. Emotional tension reappears as the audience hears testimony from a mother and daughter, survivors of the camps where Schmitz and others became harbingers of death.

David Kross exudes the mentality of a heartbroken young man, whose life is forever changed by Hannah.

The film shifts again after the trial, as an older Michael maintains his role as the reader for Hannah, who slowly withers away in jail. Winslet never falters as her character ages decades, finally overcoming the barrier which she felt too ashamed to reveal to the world.

Only in confinement does she find a form of inner liberation.

Winslet invokes sympathy for her stumbling block, but anger for her once ruthless actions. With each expression she gives, coupled with powerful dialogue, Winslet adds another chapter to her character.

A pivotal scene occurs as Hannah and Michael meet after nearly twenty years apart, she seeking connection, he wanting answers. Hannah’s position on the past and redemption leave Michael with few words, a response that leads to tragedy.

With one chapter of his life ending, Michael tries to piece back together what he can the only way he knows how, by removing the title of “secret” from his past.