The Reader – A movie and book review

June 29, 2009 at 5:15 pm 9 comments


Here’s another movie that I have seen before reading the book. After watching the Academy Awards earlier this year, I started making a list of must-see movies this summer and The Reader made my list. It received several nominations and won quite a few awards. And the plot of a teen-aged boy having an affair with an older woman and then she mysteriously disappears intrigued me.

I rented the movie a few weeks ago. The story begins in the late 1950s in Berlin and 15-year old Michael Berg (David Kross) starts an affair with Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet), a woman in her mid-30s. Whenever Michael goes to her apartment, she will ask him to read to her his literary books before they make love. And yes, you must have guessed by now, she’s nude in the movie. Sometimes I wonder if it’s really necessary to have these nude scenes. I’m pretty sure it’s not. A good director and good actors (and Kate is one, she won awards for her portrayal of Hanna in the movie, didn’t she?) can tell a romantic story by forgoing the nude scenes. It has been done. And I’ve read somewhere that the movie has been criticized for including child pornography. Well, David Kross was still a teenager when he did the movie, but I also read somewhere that they waited for him to turn 18 before shooting the nude scenes. But what really bothers me in the movie is how the character of Hanna refused to reveal her secret and would rather serve a lifetime sentence in prison. But of course, I knew better that there is more to the story than what was portrayed in the movie.


And that’s why I tried to get a copy of the book. I found one at another second-hand bookstore, The Book Fair, on Portage Avenue. And yes, I like the book better than the movie.

The book is an easy read even though the topic is quite heavy and emotional. This is another book that is beautifully written even in its simplicity. It was originally written in German by Bernhard Schlink and translated by Carol Brown Janeway. I think the translator did a very good job. So I wonder what made the book good, the author or the translator? Or maybe both. Anyway, it’s a very good novel.

After reading the first part of the book, I take back what I said earlier about the nude scenes. Yes, Michael talks about his physical relationship with Hanna, but I still think the nude scenes could have been limited and toned down a bit in the movie. Also, in the book, Michael explains to the reader how he is feeling at certain parts of the story. Yes, in the movie, I felt young Michael’s excitement as he starts his relationship with Hanna and later falls in love with her. And his pain when Hanna suddenly leaves and years later when he sees her again at the trial and he realizes that she committed a war crime. But I think the movie fails to let the audience understand (especially those who haven’t read the book) that Michael is in pain not just because Hanna, the woman he loved, committed a terrible crime, but that he’s also in pain because he feels guilty for falling in love with a woman who committed such crime even though she had committed the crime after their relationship was over.

Even in the later part of the movie, I didn’t feel the conflicts that Michael has within himself. I only understood them after reading the book. And Ralph Fiennes, who played the older Michael, is such a fine actor.

Could it be the director’s fault? Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I just got distracted by the nude scenes and that nagging question after watching Hanna get sentenced for life. Is her secret really that shameful at that time that she would rather go to prison for life than reveal her secret? And unfortunately, the book didn’t answer that question either. But the title of the book is The Reader and it’s not really about Hanna, right?

My most favourite part of the book is when Michael talked to the prison warden in person. It almost brought me to tears when she explained to him how proud and happy Hanna was when she overcame ‘her secret’ and how Michael has helped her in doing that. Somehow that part of the movie didn’t have the same impact on me. But I’m going to stop here now before I reveal the secret and spill any more spoilers. 🙂


Entry filed under: Books, movies, music, TV. Tags: , , , , .

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9 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Daphne  |  June 29, 2009 at 9:09 pm

    I watched this film without even reading the book.

    Actually I did get the feeling that the younger Michael was a conflicted character. He was in a lot of pain for hiding Hanna’s secret, from falling in love with a war criminal. He was basically a wreck whenever he attended the trials.

    David Kross did a much better job in showing his anguish than Ralph Fiennes which I found puzzling because Fiennes is usually more emotionally charged in his roles.

    The nudity didn’t bother me at all. Culturally Westerners are more comfortable in their own skin and in that manner the film was pretty realistic.

    Thanks btw for sharing some valuable insights from the book vis a vis the movie. =)

    • 2. niceheart  |  June 30, 2009 at 5:10 pm

      Hi Daphne,

      Thanks for the feedback. Yes, that’s what I was trying to say, that Kross did a better job in showing the conflicts of his character than Fiennes did. Sometimes I can be a bit slow in following characters in a movie 🙂 and that’s why I didn’t understand that he was also guilty for falling in love with a war criminal.

      Nudity doesn’t usually bother me, but I guess I was a bit shocked by the amount of nudity in this one. It was kind of hard to shake the images off my mind especially after seeing David’s manliness. 🙂 You don’t usually see frontal nudity in men in movies.

  • 3. Abaniko  |  July 16, 2009 at 9:33 am

    More often than not, the book is better than its movie version except probably for LOTR (my personal opinion).

    I think I have to see the “The Reader” myself.

  • 4. Kyels  |  July 17, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    It seems like a good movie and I think I am going to get the DVD. Well, time to catch up with some good movies!

    Musta po?

  • 5. TruBlue  |  July 19, 2009 at 10:23 pm

    I watched six movies every week and once in a while, there is nudity or love scenes which are really unnecessary in the movie, and for this reason I always question the director’s mentallity or the script writer.

    Not sure if I’ll watch “The Reader” since you’ve given me a hint. Cheers!

  • 6. bw  |  July 21, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Nudity seems to be a trademark for Kate Winslet movies that’s why I like to see her movies all the time 🙂 But as everyone says, there is no need for nudity if the script doesn’t require it.

  • 7. Bernadette Anne  |  July 29, 2009 at 4:47 am

    Hello Niceheart!

    I have neither read the book nor watched the movie. I have read good reviews about the film, but as a general rule, I tend to shy away from movie adaptations of novels as they, most of the time, leave out the good or meaty parts of the book.

    As to whether the nudity was called for or not, to tell you the truth, I have no problems with nudity. I think it is one of the most natual state, especially immediately before, during and after lovemaking. North Americans, among Western societies, seem to take more notice of nudity than Europeans. They seem to take it with more ease and less of a deal. I remember reading Harvey Keitel once say that he is often mistaken for a British because he is always taking his clothes off.

    As for Kate Winslet, she told Oprah that she may have to stop appearing in her birthday suit because she feels she can no longer get away with it what with her children beginning to ask why.

    Looking forward to reading more reviews from you!

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