The Reader Review
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In 1958, at the age of 15, Michael Berg (David Kross) came down with scarlet fever. He was on his way home from school, when he suddenly felt sick—and a woman (Kate Winslet) helped him find his way home.

Three months later, after Michael recovers, he returns to the woman’s apartment to thank her for her kindness—and Michael and Hanna then begin an affair that lasts throughout the summer. Every day, Michael leaves his friends and races off to Hanna’s apartment. Then, one day, she just disappears.

Eight years later, Michael sees Hanna again. Now a student in law school, Michael attends a war crimes trial and finds that Hanna is one of the defendants—a former concentration camp guard who’s standing trial for her actions. Michael watches as the woman he once loved as she accepts responsibility instead of admitting a shameful secret—and it continues to haunt him years later.

Perhaps you’ve already heard about the controversy over The Reader—some have said that the abundance of sex and nudity in the film tends to trivializes the Holocaust. But I’m not going to get into that. Sure, there’s a ton of sex and nudity in the first 45 minutes or so of the movie. And, sure, it all seems pretty pointless. But, well, it’s Kate Winslet. Kate just seems to enjoy walking around naked in her movies. I’ve gotten used to it. In fact, I almost expect it.

So what really bothered me about The Reader wasn’t the pointless nudity. It was the fact that the whole thing felt cold and distant.

Right from the beginning of the film, there’s just not much to care about. The relationship between Michael and Hanna isn’t really developed—nor are the characters. Despite the amount of screen time that the relationship is given, very little happens—and the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. He reads some books to her, they have sex in various positions, and then she goes away. Perhaps I was supposed to feel as if there were some real emotional connection there, but I didn’t feel a thing—except maybe boredom.

It’s that lack of connection early on—along with the slow, sleepy pace—that makes the rest of the film feel so dry and lifeless. I can imagine that discovering, years later, that your first love was responsible for hundreds of deaths would be pretty horrifying—but the film doesn’t make its audience feel it. Though the story seems to suggest that the whole thing is absolutely devastating for Michael, it doesn’t come through in Kross’ performance (nor in that of Ralph Fiennes, who plays an older Michael).

The Reader could have been a powerful film—but its underdeveloped story falls flat. In the end, it’s not really the nudity that seems to trivialize the Holocaust. Instead, it’s the lack of depth and emotion that makes the film seem completely apathetic. For a powerful Holocaust film with an unforgettable perspective, see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas instead.

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