Movie: The Reader (2008, English, US-Germany)

The Reader is a romantic drama (with some element of suspense) spread over many years (1958 to 1995). The story is linked to the WW-II atrocities committed by Nazis and the attempts of Germans to come to terms with their own implicit role in those atrocities.

Here is a quote from the movie:

“The question is `How could you let it happen?’ And better -`Why didn’t you kill yourself when you found out?’ Thousands! That’s how many. There were thousands of camps. Everyone knew”.

– Dieter, a law student emotionally asking his professor in The Reader

The movie won critical acclaim and a lot of awards, including the best actress for Kate Winslet  at the Academy Awards.

The Reader DVD Cover Image

Directed by Stephen Daldry
Released in December 2008
Genre Romance; Drama
  • Kate Winslet, as Hanna Schmitz, a tram conductor and ex-soldier in WW-II
  • David Kross as Michael Berg from the age of 15 to 23 (schoolboy to law school student)
  • Ralph Fiennes as Michael Berg, the adult.
Music by Nico Muhly
Produced by Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Donna Gigliotti, Redmond Morris
Language English
Length 2 hours 4 mins

The DVDs is available at,, and Flipkart.

The Plot

In the year 1958 in a German city, a 15-year-old schoolboy, Michael Berg (David Kross) is helped by tram conductor Hanna Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet), when he suddenly takes ill on his way back from school.

This accidental meeting becomes a clandestine, torrid affair between the teenage boy and the woman in her mid-thirties. Michael is obsessed with Hanna and Hanna seems to enjoy his company, especially when he reads to her from his books (these range from classics by Homer and Chekov to Tintin comics).

Suddenly, Hanna is promoted to an office job in the tram company and leaves the town without informing Michael (it is not clear as to why she had to leave so abruptly, nor why she did not inform Michael – we are left to make our own interpretations). The teenager is completely distraught, but all his attempts to trace Hanna are futile.

A few years later, as a law student visiting the courts as part of his studies, Michael finds that Hanna (along with others) is accused in a case of war crimes. She had been a guard in SS concentration camps and had played a role in sending Jews to their death. To mitigate her role in the crime (and get a lesser sentence), Hanna is asked to provide a sample of her handwriting, to prove that she did not write an incriminating ‘report’. Hanna refuses to provide the handwriting sample and admits to a larger role in the war crime. While others who are accused are handed out smaller sentences, Hanna is sentenced to imprisonment for life. Michael is aware that Hanna has admitted to the larger role in the crime to hide another aspect of herself that she considers very shameful. Michael considers using this information to get Hanna’s sentence reduced, but backs out at the last moment – we don’t know whether he is ashamed go public about his affair with Hanna or he respects Hanna’s decision to keep some aspect of herself as a secret (this is left to the viewer’s interpretation).

The rest of the movie is about Hanna’s stay in the prison till the end; Michael’s inability to emotionally move away from Hanna (he has a failed marriage and a young daughter); and Hanna overcoming the handicap about which she was so ashamed (with some arm’s-length help from Michael).

Most of the movie is shown in flashback from 1995 – based on the adult Michael’s point of view.

My View of the Film

The movie seems to be designed for film festivals and to get awards. It has an arty feel. The recreation of the era is authentic and there is soft focus feel to most of the movie – especially the scenes between the teenager and Hanna in her apartment.

Kate Winslet, effortlessly plays Hanna (from her 30s to her 70s), a complicated and a difficult woman with a disturbing past. She deserves her Academy Award for the Best Actress. The youngster David Kross is also brilliant. Ralph Fiennes (as the adult Michael) has a relatively small but difficult role, and is adequate (though he looks constipated most of the time).

There is ample nudity and many sex scenes, but they all seem to flow with the script.

All in all, a movie worth watching!

I saw the movie on a DVD without the commercial interruptions, and I think that is a good way to watch this movie – though the breaks may not reduce the enjoyment significantly.

The movie is just over 2 hours and a few minutes – it does not drag.

The DVDs is available at,, and Flipkart

Here is a trailer:

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Your comments are welcome!

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