“Read to me first, kid. Then we make love.” This very line, it has been said, is the only thing that moviegoers should take with them when leaving the theater after seeing “The Reader.” Director Stephen Daldry made this film not as “yet another Holocaust-movie,” not because he needed a powerful Oscar contender, and definitely not because he was looking for an excuse to present in graphic images the love affair between a woman in her mid-30s and a 15-year-old boy. Daldry made “The Reader” because he wanted viewers to look deep down into their soul and see how far they would go to hide their most shameful sins.
Laden with guilt and with an atmosphere heavy with unspoken truths that can change lives, “The Reader” presents itself as broken-down by long flashbacks and, at first sight, seemingly unrelated occurrences. Just like in life, it does not start off by explaining the whys and the hows, simply by presenting them as they happen, only to allow the viewers to later piece the story together. Albeit a bit taxing at first, soon enough “The Reader” unveils the story of a love that should not have happened in the first place, and the consequences of the choices each character makes. Again, just like in life, these are often more than our burdened soul can take.
The story begins with an enigmatic Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes), as he coldly says his good-bye to a woman who is supposedly his lover. Without even letting the viewer take in the first minutes of the film, the action shifts to ‘50s Germany, where a young Michael (played by newcomer David Kross) gets off a tram to vomit and cry in an alley. A woman comes to ask him what’s wrong with him, and then, to take him home to his concerned parents. She is Hanna Schmitz, a 36-year-old woman so impenetrable and distant that she almost strikes one as not even remotely human. Months later, she seduces the 15-year-old