The Reader (2008)

In many ways the Reader ended up being much more intriguing film than what I had initially expected it to be. The story is rather complex one, far more so than what the trailer would you have to believe. On one hand, it’s partly an endearing tale about a sensual secret summer affair with a teenage boy and an older woman. It’s also a complicated drama about the burden of the past, of guilt and culpability. And finally, it’s a rather sad and tragic story of love, the accumulated weight of the past still haunting you and what toll that has on a person. It’s incredibly complex in its undertones, even a bit livid in a way. It’s amusing, but sad. At times it’s appropriately sexy, but also horribly depressing and melancholic. Suffice to say, I enjoyed the evocative complexities immensely.

I have to confess, Kate Winslet for me personally has not been an actress I have ever put much thought to. I, like most of my generation, was certainly captivated by James Cameron’s Titanic, but to me at least, Kate’s role in the movie never particularly struck out to in any meaningful way, so I never developed any type of real interest in her as an actor and thus I’ve only ever seen a handful of things starring her in it. I do recall liking her in in that episode of Extras, where she played a more over the top, fictionalized and cynical version of herself, but it didn’t leave a permanent impression. That’s why it’s a bit of a surprise to see such a nuanced and great performance from her here. It really impressed me, Kate manages to add so much reserved, under the surface turmoil to her visage, it’s pretty amazing. You can practically read so much into Hanna’s character just by paying attention to her body language. Kate’s effort to humanize her character is superb and it uplifts the quality of the story considerably.

Ralph Fiennes as the older, middle aged  Michael was also very excellent. He produces a very teary eyed and moving portrayal of a man who, even after all those years, still finds his heart tied to Winslet’s character, Hanna. I very much liked the way the story handles it when they meet face to face for the first time in decades. It’s awkward, slightly reserved and still sort of touching, everything and more at the same time. It feels so real and sad, rather than the typical cliche ridden, sugarcoated reunion of lovers where they act like no time has past at all that you see far too often done in most movies. The dynamic between Michael and Hanna is so fundamentally different, and even when they clearly hold strong feelings for each other, it’s hard after all that time that has passed to just reconnect the same way when Michael was just a boy on the verge of adulthood and she was the older woman taking him under her sexual thrall. It’s quite brilliant storytelling that you get to witness in that scene.

As I wrap this up, it’s a bit odd how warmhearted the film ends up feeling, despite most of the enveloping story being so melancholic. The film is described as a romantic drama so that does make sense in a way, but given how the subject matter touches upon Nazi war crime trials and the fact that the entire story is encompassed in sentimental melancholy, having such a warm and fuzzy feelings regard the film tends to feel a bit inappropriate. But I suppose that only underlines the evocative complexities found in the story. In any case, I so enjoyed this. It was a real pleasure to the senses, you might even say.

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