The Reader: The Best Movie of 2008
When asked the question, “What is the best movie you have seen in the last year and why?” a movie I reviewed a couple of months ago popped into my head. I would argue that this movie is perhaps the best movie I have seen in years. It is such a good movie that the people who know me were sick to death of hearing me bring it up for the weeks following my first viewing.
The Reader, the movie that Kate Winslet finally won a Best Actress Oscar for, is one of those movies that is too haunting to leave at the cinema. Try as you might to think of something else, you just can’t. While not an obsessive thought, it is certainly ever present.
Adapted from Bernhard Schlink’s novel, Der Vorleser, it is a story with many levels. On the top level, we meet Michael (Ralph Fiennes), a middle-aged divorcee and father who needs to make peace with his past. On the second level, we become voyeurs, watching the taboo romantic/sexual affair unfold between a fifteen year old Michael (David Kross) and Hanna (Kate Winslet), aged thirty-six. On the final level, Hanna is on trial for taking part in the Holocaust and Michael, now in his twenties and a law student, can only observe.
With the sexual aspect in mind, I feel like I need to explain my reasoning in liking this movie more so than if I had picked Dark Knight (Great movie too!). Though she has yet to see it and will probably never see it either, my mother, God love her, likes to call this movie “smut.” “Why did that terrible actress (Kate Winslet) win an award for that smut (The Reader)?” Based upon the commercials for the movie alone, I’m sure many people do think that this movie is soft porn. While sex does play a role in the story, it all, but disappears after the first thirty or so minutes. The story is not simply about a sexual relationship. More so, it is about our past coming back to haunt us. For the people who choose to center on what happens early in the film, you’re missing out on a great movie.
As I said previously, this movie is mainly about our past coming back to haunt us. You've had a great summer fling with a cute, fascinating person, but, when the summer ends, they mysteriously vanish. While you are worried at first that something may have happened to them or that you may have chased them away, you become so involved in our own life that we push them to the back of the closet of our mind. You know how they’ve changed you. You know that what you had together was special. However, its over, time to move on.
Suddenly, though, when you are older and are leading a responsible, content life, they appear out of nowhere. In the case of Michael, his old flame is on trial for war crimes, the same trial he, as a law student, is required to observe. For many of us, our old flame is just the person purchasing their groceries in the line next to ours. Like Michael, we are drawn back to them, but, at the same, want to run in the other direction, leaving our grocery cart behind. Still, we’ve spent time picking out our groceries. To leave now, would just mean we’d have to go shopping another night. And so, we remain in line, hoping to be noticed for the improved version we've become, but not acknowledged/spoken to. We can pass up this chance to be near our ex just as easily as Michael can leave the courtroom. It’s impossible. We could jump off of a bridge more easily.
I have always been someone who enjoys going to see movies that make me think and worry and wonder about my own life. As melodramatic as it may sound, for me, seeing The Reader was like watching one of my worst fears play out. All too often, we forget that being given something (a gift, time, attention, etc.) may one day mean we’ll have to give back. We spend a great day with someone and feel attached to them. One day, down the road, they get into a sticky situation and, remembering all that they once made you feel, you feel obligated to do your best to help them despite your current life circumstances/personal growth/new flame. The Reader is a great movie, in my opinion, because it challenges you to see life in a way you maybe never wanted to see it. It is uncomfortable, raw, and frustrating. Kate Winslet deserved every award she got.
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