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THE READER opens in post-war Germany when teenager Michael Berg becomes ill and is helped home by Hanna, a stranger twice his age. Michael recovers from scarlet fever and seeks out Hanna to thank her. The two are quickly drawn into a passionate but secretive affair. Michael discovers that Hanna loves being read to and their physical relationship deepens. Hanna is enthralled as Michael reads to her from "The Odyssey," "Huck Finn" and "The Lady with the Little Dog." Despite their intense bond, Hanna mysteriously disappears one day and Michael is left confused and heartbroken. Eight years later, while Michael is a law student observing the Nazi war crime trials, he is stunned to find Hanna back in his life - this time as a defendant in the courtroom. As Hanna's past is revealed, Michael uncovers a deep secret that will impact both of their lives. THE READER is a story about truth and reconciliation, about how one generation comes to terms with the crimes of another. Written by
The Weinstein Company
The Latin lines Michael quotes to Hanna are "Quo, quo scelesti ruitis? Aut cur dexteris / aptantur enses conditi?" These are the opening lines of Horace's 7th Epode, a short poem where he expresses outrage at the fact that his countrymen are still engaged in civil war. "Villains, where are you rushing to? Why are your hands / Grasping those swords that were sheathed?" (translation A.S. Kline). The Greek lines he quotes are the opening stanza of Sappho's 16th fragment: (transliterated) "Oi men ippeon stroton, oi de pesdon, / oi de naon phais' epi gan melainan / emmenai kalliston, ego de ken' ot- / to tis eratai". "Some say a host of horsemen, others of infantry, and others of ships, is the most beautiful thing on the dark earth: but I say, it is what you love." (translation Denys Page). See more »
When Michael is making the tapes, we see a notebook where he lists his recordings between 4 August 77 and 10 October 77. One of the entries is: Heinrich Böll, Women in a River Landscape. This novel was first published in 1985, so Michael couldn't have possibly read it in 1977. (Someone probably confused this title with another novel of Böll's, "Group Portrait With Lady", about the life of a woman born in 1922, which came out in 1970 and was very well received and popular at the time.) See more »
We don't know. We think we do but we don't. We make decisions or sometimes decisions are made for us but we think we've made them. Then suddenly, there we are. We can't be certain how we got there or where we will be when everything settles but we do know that we are alive. Some experiences are life altering and we can run from them or embrace them. Staying to see them through though can bring incredible bliss but also tormented turmoil. We just never know. One such experience was had by a young Michael Berg (David Kross) and is chronicled in Stephen Daldry's THE READER. How could he know that when he pulled into an alley to be sick that he would meet the woman who would shape his entire life? How could he know that getting close to her would pull him the furthest he's ever been from himself?
Of course, when you're a sixteen-year-old boy and a woman who looks like Kate Winslet disrobes in front of you in the privacy of her bathroom, how much thought really goes into the decision that has presented itself? However little it is, it is certainly less than is warranted. This is especially true in West Germany of 1958. This is a Germany that is uncertain how to proceed, how to be its new self in the eyes of the world and the eyes of its very own future generations. Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz, a compassionate woman but also abrasive and stern. Winslet strikes the perfect balance between directness and desire in Schmitz, making her complexities part of her appeal. She is a good fifteen years older than the young Berg and she knows much better than he of her country's history. What he knows, he has read in books, been taught in school. What she knows, she lived first hand. So when the two come together, naked in each other's arms, the meeting is as redemptive as it is passionate. Berg is just happy to be in love and having sex but Schmitz is washing herself clean with the youthful vigor of Germany's tomorrow.
The summer ends and so does the affair, as one would expect. Just when it would seem that the two would never meet again, life steps in to ensure that past decisions, perhaps made in haste, can come to see their consequences. Berg has grown some and is a college man, studying to be a lawyer, when he catches sight of Hanna Schmitz again. Their latest chance encounter is far less exciting though as he sees her on a class outing to a courthouse. Schmitz is on trial for crimes against humanity for her time as an officer in the Nazi party during the Second World War. Berg's memory of his first love would now become a question of his own morality. How could he love someone who was now accused of such atrocities? How could he be so intimate with someone he apparently never truly knew? And yet, now that he knows her past, does he really know how her past came to be? After all, what is the face of evil? Is it Hanna Schmitz or is it something incredibly bigger than her?
Ralph Fiennes is the future of Germany. He plays Berg as an adult. His life is orderly, very clean, crisp and cold. He made decisions that made him the man he is and he can never say whether they were the right ones or not. What he can see is that we all make decisions that either hurt or harm other people and that the atrocities committed by his past generations are not as far outside the realm of understanding as he might have originally thought. More importantly, redemption is not that far either.
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