(No longer in theaters)
Anthony Minghella, Sydney Pollack, Scott Rudin
The Weinstein Co./MGM
Dec 10, 2008
In The Reader, Kate Winslet plays Hanna Schmitz, a glum, buttoned-down German with a dark secret, which we know has significance because the protagonist, Michael (David Kross when young, Ralph Fiennes when middle-aged), has a teacher who lectures, “The notion of secrecy is central to Western literature.” The Reader comes with its own reader’s guide. Michael loses his virginity to Hanna anyway, although he should probably have guessed that it wouldn’t end well when, in the course of peeling off her stockings, she gives him a hard stare and asks, “Haff you always been weak?” Nazi ideals die hard. Michael’s face signals hurt, there are sad piano chords, he turns away, then Hanna’s face reveals that she knows she has been cruel. The director, Stephen Daldry, has radar for the obvious, which he imparts to his actors. Hanna insists that Michael read to her before their couplings, but the pall is so heavy that neither the reading nor the sex looks like much fun. In the movie’s second half, Michael tries to understand how not-bad people can do very bad things and whether learning to read can make a difference. It appears that the filmmakers have taken Hannah Arendt’s notion of the “banality of evil” way too literally.