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May 4, 2009 | by  | in Film |
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The Reader

As Salient’s resident expert on The Reader, I offered to do the movie review, and went to see it for a second time. I felt I needed to see it again just to get my head around it, to figure out how I feel about it. Like the book, the movie is a lot to take in, even more so in its compressed 123-minute format.

The Reader is about the protagonist, Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes), coming to terms with his past. We watch his 15-year-old self (played by David Kross) as he starts having an affair with the much older Hanna (Kate Winslet). Despite the intimacy of their relationship, the affair doesn’t last, and Hanna leaves Michael for mysterious reasons, leaving him emotionally scarred for the rest of his life. Begin the emo phase.

Having read the book many times, I of course got picky about all the little things the movie missed out, or what I think it got wrong. A lot of it can be attributed to the changes that were necessary for the adaptation, such as the extra framework that has been created to encompass the original story. This taken into account, I think that it is an excellent movie that has done the book justice. Although I think the movie missed the point a bit, but I won’t get into that.

Like the book, the movie also has moments that are very powerful and effective, moments that will shock and amaze you. While I feel that these moments aren’t as great in the movie as they are in the book, the movie still has some just as effective. The scene where Michael visits a Concentration Camp is especially moving.

The acting was great… most of the time. I cringed a few times when young Michael smiled to himself (pre-emo phase), and a scene with Hanna crying. This was just in the first part of the movie though, which did have a lot of awkwardness. But Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her role, so what do I know?

I don’t know what else to say about this movie. It is unlike any other movie I have ever seen.

Directed by Stephen Daldry
Written by David Hare (based on the book by Bernhard Schlink)
With Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, Jeanette Hain, David Kross

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About the Author ()

Mikey learned everything he knows about English Grammar in an MSN chat room when he was 13. Believing that people don't say "LOL" enough in everyday conversation, he has made it his mission to teach the world about grammerz one person at a time.

Comments (6)

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  1. emo says:

    I found the film pretty emotionally distant i.e. Hanna doesn’t seem to notice him watching her from the gallery in court and when they meet up again there is hardly hugs and tears. Seemed a bit prozac to me… OK but overall an overrated film…

  2. Mikey says:

    I agree about the emotionally distant thing. Michael creates a small niche for Hanna, to keep her at an arm’s length. This is shown particularly well in a shot where he puts her letters into a small drawer in the corner of his room, and never replies to them. But the film is about (among many other things) Michael getting over this, as shown by the last scenes.
    What do other people think about this film? I would especially be interested to hear from people who haven’t read the book, and I’d like to discuss.

  3. Christopher says:

    I found the emotional distance key in building tension and allowing the audience to maintain a grasp of the characters without being told what to think about them. Perhaps this, at times, bordered on not saying much at all about the state of Michael and Hanna … yet I am reminded of the emotional turmoil Michael went through when he saw Hanna again in court, for war crimes no less. Perhaps the subtlety of emotion is the films way of playing with the audiences heads over their hearts?

  4. emo says:

    Nah, still found it really flat emotionally, so wouldn’t put it up there highly as a classic or anything. Ralph Fiennes comes across better (and more emotional) in The English Patient (that was a polarising film itself), The Reader’s premise appears to be similar to that film (forbidden love, seperation, historical consequences i.e. WWII again etc…) but is way flatter… There seemed to be intellectual depth (hinting at making one to consider reading the book) to the film but nothing to really motivate me to watch it again in a hurry…

    Still OK film to watch but nothing to really write home about, I haven’t read the book so be interesting to hear what people who have seen both the film and read the book have to say…

  5. Ian Anderson says:

    Out of curiosity, how did it miss the point? Asking a newbie on both source & adaptation.

  6. Mikey says:

    I definitely recommend reading the book. In the book you really get to know Michael, as he is the first-person narrator, and his narrative brings in a lot of depth to the story. You can see my review of it here.

    As for how I think the movie missed the point:


    There is a scene near the end of the book/movie where Michael and Hanna meet again (in prison). For the book, this is one of the most important scenes, in my opinion—Hanna talks about her accountability. She says she didn’t feel accountable to anyone because no one understood her, but that the dead can always call you to account. She says she saw the faces of the dead every night she was in prison.
    In the movie, on the other hand, Michael asks her what she has learned. She says she has learned to read. There is no theme of accountability, and her character hasn’t developed in the way it has in the book, which I feel completely undermines the original story.

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