The Reader – 2008

One connection. That’s all it takes to change how a person responds to affection. Something clears a path for one heart to merge with another, often without rhyme or reason, forming a bond that never replicates. And that’s fine, so long as the lovebirds stay together. Problem is when they don’t. Like many, I’ve learned love comes and goes. When it goes, we have to adjust. Because any happiness found in recreating a lost love is short-lived. Futile. It’s best to focus on the now, find a new reason to feel love. Then water that new seed. Give it sun.

I don’t remember seeing a preview for The Reader or how I found this movie. But I remember buying the soundtrack almost immediately. It became one of my favourite albums to listen to when editing photos. Last weekend, I saw the movie again on Netflix and felt like I was seeing it for the first time. The good ones usually have that effect.


Years from now, the faces you’ll remember from this movie are Michael Berg (played by Ralph Fiennes), Young Michael Berg (played by David Kross), and Hanna Schmitz (played by Kate Winslet). They take us back to 1958 in Germany. It’s pouring rain outside, Michael’s on his way to school and starts feeling unwell. Coming home from work, Hanna finds him vomiting in a corner. It didn’t matter that they were strangers, she cleans him up, flushes the vomit down the pavement with a bucket of water and walks him back home.

Allow me paint another picture. Think of sitting in the train. You just left a buffet and your stomach is rumbling from something you ate. You run out the subway at the next stop to find a washroom. But before you make it to a Tim Hortons, Starbucks, or some nearby mall, your ass gives in to the implosion. A stranger passing by cleans you up, washes the ground, and helps you feel the least shame in this very shameful moment. Got the picture? Good. Lets move on.

Michael is bedridden for months from what turns out to be a serious illness. As soon as he recovers, he goes looking for Hanna, to thank her. She comes home from work to find him there, shy, boyish, unsure. The story continues, and we see how two strangers get to know each other in a way many will disapprove. She’s in her mid-thirties, he’s fifteen.

Notice I didn’t say he is “only” fifteen. Call me nasty but I think back to when I was that age. Sex was at the forefront of my thoughts. Getting it from an older woman would have meant more to me than front row tickets to see Kriss Kross. I wasn’t a popular kid in school and got little to no action. With all the heat and curiosity about girls, a one-on-one learning session with someone like Hanna would have been welcomed. Now thinking as an adult, the fine print of that fantasy will have to read – No Future Psychological Side Effects 🙂

So Hanna and Michaels’ secret goes on a while. After every passionate encounter, naked in bed, he reads to her. It starts with a novel he’s studying for school, and grows to other books. She loves hearing words leaping off pages to form stories. Her face lights up with laughter when a story’s funny, tears trickle down her cheeks when it goes sad. The readings become as vital to their relationship as the sex. Michael is happy, why wouldn’t he be? Dude’s getting two for the price of one, a double education. No way any laddie knocks this arrangement. Not only is he improving his reading, but also his understanding of the female anatomy.

Later on, something happens that jolts Hanna into seeing the futility of their affair. She packs her things and moves away without notice. Michaels’ heart is broken, deeply. Many years pass without a word from her. He never gets over it, the unanswered questions that haunt him. But as faith would have it, their paths cross again. Under different circumstances, revealing some truths that explain her actions.

Their short affair left an indelible mark on Michael. It altered his ability to commit to a woman. Did Hanna love him, or was she a serial offender? Preying on the likes of him to fill a void deep within her. Or could it be their connection’s mutual. Perhaps he touched her as deep as she did him, and they both created a hole in each other that couldn’t be filled by another.

I don’t think this is a movie you set out to see, it’s one you stumble on and in the end say wow, that was interesting. What makes it work is…’s simply a darn good story that unravels at a well thought out pace. I like scripts that create long silences. The characters use short lines, and rely on facial expressions to fill the white space. It heightens drama, making every moment seem a bit longer than it really is. The actors have to be extremely good at communicating a mood or thought with no speech. Our cast does not fall short in this regard. Everyone delivers a solid performance but I have to say, Kate Winslet is on immortal status after this.

Some things I feel have to be kept close. The Reader is on Netflix so yes, I can watch it anytime I want. But that’s not close enough for me. It’s now on my Blu-ray price tracker. When it hits $9.99, I’ll order one.

Is this 124mins of my life I wish I could take back? No.
Will I see it again? Yes.
Is it worth owning? Yes, I plan to get it on Blu-ray.
What about the soundtrack? Incredible. I listen to it on repeat.
Should there be sequel? No.
Who will like this movie? Anyone who likes unpredictable drama, and perhaps experienced a sexual relationship with someone much older.
Is it a Classic? No. But it’s undoubtedly a great work of art.