Hanna is controlling, has a no nonsense and tough attitude, and loves listening to classic literature narrations. They establish a ritual of Michael reading classic stories to Hanna and lovemaking. Hanna remains emotionally distant from Michael despite having a passionate physical affair with him; however Michael falls head over heels in love with Hanna. He even avoids his friends and family to be with her.
After few months, Hanna leaves the town without leaving any trace and without informing Michael. Michael gets devastated, gets badly hurt but moves on anyways.
The story takes an eight year leap here and we are shown Michael as a law student. As a part of a special seminar, he has to observe a trial of six women who were accused of letting 300 Jewish women die in a burning church when they were SS guards on the death march following the 1944 evacuation of Auschwitz camp. Michael gets the shock of his life when he sees Hanna as one of the six defendants.
Here, we come to know that the movie has a Holocaust angle. From an Indian context, there is not much awareness about Holocaust. Let me explain what it is: Holocaust is the term generally used to describe the deliberate mass murder of approximately six million European Jews during World War II, by Adolf Hitler. Hanna was a guard at Auschwitz concentration camp, so her “job” was to “select” certain people each day for killing in “Gas Chambers” built specially for the brutal murders.
Michael gets terribly disturbed by the situation, gets sad by Hanna’s tragedy but feels guilt and betrayal for having blindly loved and trusted a remorseless criminal.
During the trial, Hanna gullibly tells the truth by stating that Auschwitz was a concentration camp, unlike her fellow defendants.
And why did she take up this job? Because they were “recruiting”!!!
The other guards then accuse Hanna of planning the church fire and writing the report on it. The judge asks for her hand writing sample for verification of the allegation. Hanna gets greatly uncomfortable and finally admits having written the report without giving any writing sample.
Michael suddenly realizes from his past with Hanna that she had hidden something more to him than her Nazi past. She is an illiterate and is so embarrassed about admitting it that for her; the shame of being illiterate is bigger than the shame of having burned 300 women alive!! With Michael’s horror, this act leads her to the life imprisonment.
During Hanna’s imprisonment period, second and final phase of Michael and Hanna’s relationship is shown and like almost all the classics, this one also ends tragically.
Imagine this: A passionate and tragic story of a Nazi SS guard. The story should have been deeply moving but it fails to connect with you in anyways. Maybe because “The Reader” is Michael’s story and not Hanna’s; and Michael’s story (an affair with an older lady and his subsequent failed relationships with the women in his life) isn’t that moving.
Hanna’s character is extremely contradictory, and vague. During her affair with Michael, she comes across as a manipulative and controlling lady who has no qualms in seducing a "kid" and sleeping with him, but during the trial, she innocently tells the truth unlike the other defendants, why is that? How did she suddenly turn so gullible?
Why did she prefer life imprisonment rather than the confession of her illiteracy? Why did she consider illiteracy a bigger crime than mass murders? Why? Why? Why?
Unfortunately, above questions remain unanswered and as a result, you neither feel sympathy nor any hatred for Hanna. Not a hint of Hanna’s background is shown in the movie.
I wish “The Reader” was Hanna’s narration instead of Michael’s. The ending of the movie is equally weird, with Hanna deciding to give her money to the daughter of the camp survivor. On Hanna’s part, was that the act of Repent? Gratefulness? Generosity? Apology? God Knows!! Just way too many questions!
Avoid this movie if you are not comfortable watching nudity and sex. I suggest watching this one on a DVD instead of movie hall; because despite giving it an “A” certificate, a lot of sexually explicit scenes have been cut, which are vital for the story and which spoils the flow of narration. When will our censor guys grow up? (That Sick Indian Mentality!!)
Technically, the movie is brilliant. Intimate scenes between Kate and David Kross have been presented very aesthetically. Kate’s makeup as a 66 year old lady is unbelievably real. It’s an out and out Kate Winslet show. The lady has given her 100% for this courageous, complex role and quite deservingly won every prestigious award for this one.
To summarize, “The Reader” is a love story that doesn’t really portray love; it’s a Holocaust movie which doesn’t really deal with Holocaust. Because of its inexplicability, “The Reader” leaves you with a vague feeling.