Kate Winslet Is Unforgettable in a Somber, Thought-Provoking Drama
Kate Winslet won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in The Reader (2008), and the film was nominated for four additional Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Daldry), Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins and Chris Menges) and Best Adapted Screenplay (David Hare). The movie is a faithful adaptation of law professor and judge Bernhard Schlink's 1995 German novel, which in English translation was an Oprah's Book Club selection.
The film takes place almost entirely in Germany, but the dialog is in English. The time frame is 1958 to 1995. The protagonist is Michael Berg, played as a young man by German actor David Kross, but as an older man by British actor Ralph Fiennes. The earlier part of the movie, which has considerable nudity, chronicles a love affair between 15-year-old Michael and 36-year-old tram operator Hanna Schmitz (Winslet). The film's later part tells what happens to Michael and Hanna after she is put on trial for Holocaust-related crimes.
Michael's story can be read as being about the generation of Germans who grew up after World War II coming to terms with the Holocaust. However, the film is ambiguous and open to interpretation.
The Reader is not a movie everyone will like or even admire. For one thing, its combination of eroticism and verbal descriptions of a Holocaust atrocity makes many viewers queasy. For another, its frank depiction of a sexual relationship between a minor and an adult is uncomfortable for some viewers. The film offers no easy answers, but it is worth watching because it is thought-provoking.
DVD Bonus Materials
The Reader DVD contains 11 deleted scenes that run a total of 42 minutes, and including at least some of this material in the finished film would probably have improved it. For example, the scene "German Guilt" strengthens the theme of post-war Germans struggling to come to terms with what their parents and teachers did. Also, some of the deleted scenes add interesting details. For instance, when Michael visits a Nazi-era concentration camp, it is Stutthof, which is in Poland not far from Gdansk.
The DVD also provides five featurettes with a total runtime of almost an hour. Perhaps the most interesting is the seven-minute "Coming to Grips With the Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch," in which Broch, who was born in Germany but lived most of her adult life elsewhere, talks about confronting her own feelings about the Holocaust. We also learn about the filmmakers' attempts at authenticity: Görlitz, a German town near the Polish border, stood in for 1958 Neustadt, and the 1966 trial in the movie was patterned after the 1963 Auschwitz trial in Frankfurt.
Additional extras include an intelligent 23-minute making-of, in which we learn that Anthony Minghella and Sydney Pollack started to produce this movie, but both died before it was completed. There's also a 13-minute featurette showing six people spending hours to make 33-year-old Kate Winslet look like a woman in her late 60s. Finally, there are the 10-minute "Conversation With David Kross & Stephen Daltry" and a four-minute featurette on 20-something Nico Muhly making his debut as a film composer.
Below I have listed all the details for the DVD containing The Reader.
Release Date: April 14, 2009
Feature Film Runtime: 2 hours 4 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Some Scenes of Sexuality and Nudity
Widescreen (1.85:1), Color
English Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
English Captions for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Deleted Scenes (11 scenes, total runtime = 42 min.)
Adapting a Timeless Masterpiece: Making The Reader (23 min.)
A Conversation With David Kross & Stephen Daldry (10 min.)
Kate Winslet on the Art of Aging Hanna Schmitz (13 min.)
A New Voice: A Look at Composer Nico Muhly (4 min.)
Coming to Grips With the Past: Production Designer Brigitte Broch (7 min.)