The Reader is a movie released in 2008, directed by Stephen Daldry. It is an adaptation of the homonymous work of Bernhard Schlink. Featuring a brilliant Kate Winslet, alongside Ralph Fiennes and David Kross, it reflects on some of the themes of our recent history.
It is true that the Holocaust has inspired countless films and novels and that, to this day, much remains to be said about it, but The Reader does not bring us back to the Holocaust itself, but many years later, when some of the protagonists have been tried and convicted. In addition, the story of the film goes far beyond the drama and the Second World War and focuses on two characters, on the story they lived and, especially, on the past of one of them. between them.
The film tells us a past story, like a memory rekindled by its protagonistMichael Berg, a man who, in his youth, met a strange woman, Hanna, with whom he developed a special romantic relationship.
The Reader begins by telling the story of an adult, Michaelwho remembers this woman and her encounters during her youth; a woman whose name he did not even know when their relationship began. Dark, slow and mysterious, like Hanna herself, the film will take a surprising twist to the plot, which will lead us to a story very different from the original story.
Due to the intrigue we talked about, we will have to spoil you throughout the article, so it is not advisable to continue reading if you have not seen the movie. The Reader does not follow a linear narrative, but is more of an oscillation of jumps in the past and back to the present: Michael does not seem to accept his past, but he can not cope, as Hanna did in the past.
Thus, the film inspires a reflection: nWe all have a past, we all have a story behind us that very few know, our life is a sea of secrets, experiences, sensations and people who have left their mark … It does not matter how much we try to forget it, to get away from it … it's impossible for us, because this past is part of who we are today. The Reader offers a journey into the story of Michael and Hanna, a discovery of the deepest secrets of these characters.
The relationship between Michael and Hanna
Hanna and Michael met by chance in the 1950s as a teenager and she was twice her age. Without even knowing their respective names, they begin a strange relationship, based on sexual encounters and a complete lack of conversation. Michael was a teenager who was still discovering his body and had never been with a woman, Hanna was the one who set the standards in his sexual relations.
Hanna continued to set the standards and, at those meetings, added a condition, Michael had to read for her. He was a student and interested in literature, so he kept class or library books. Hanna listened carefully to the stories that Michael read, but she never caught a book and read it herself. Complicity ran between the two, but they hardly knew each other, they never spoke of their past, or of their present; they had a totally clandestine relationship: a setting in which they shared books and sheets.
Hanna is portrayed as a very reserved woman with a strong character. The relationship is strange for us, even beyond the age difference between the two. It's like we can understand Michael, but not Hanna, of whom we know almost nothing but his name.
The film begins with the sexual awakening of a teenager, transmits this first desire of youth, the discovery of the body, the first call of love … But it will eventually unmask the two main characters and question some questions about their past.
The Reader, shame
It will be many years before the life of Michael and Hanna cross again, and by then Michael will no longer be that naive teenager who does not ask questionsbut a young law student. From that moment, the film will move to a much more serious scenario, where the whole truth will be revealed. We then go to trial to convict some of the women who worked as "guardians" during the Holocaust. While Michael goes there with classmates and university professors, Hanna attends as a defendant.
Unlike other defendants, Hanna does not seem to be trying to defend herself, she does not seem to understand the seriousness of the problem she is facing. From then on, Michael's mind will be haunted by various questions.Does he really know the woman sitting on the dock? Is it possible that she feels no remorse? And most importantly, Michael finally realizes Hanna's big secret: she is illiterate, and her shame is so great that she does not even want to tell the truth to avoid prison. Hanna has built an image of herself, an armor very different from hers.
The other defendants will do their best not to go to jail, to blame someone else and, involving Hanna in writing a manuscript, all eyes will be turned to her to designate her as the main culprit. What nobody knows is that Hanna could not write the manuscript because of her illiteracy, but under the pressure of doing a writing test, she decides to confess as an author.
How is it possible that Hanna feels such a shame about her illiteracy, but not about her past as a camp guard during the Holocaust? Hanna does not deny her involvement in Nazism, but she is unable to recognize her illiteracy even when she can avoid prison thanks to him.
At the same time, Michael will try to understand Hanna and find out who she is. The depth of these scenes brings innumerable emotions to the screen, and we identify all of Hanna's feelings as she confronts her greatest fear and Michael's sadness when he discovers that long before appealing to him, Hanna used Jewish girls to read to her.
Today, we do not hesitate to try and condemn all those who have been involved in such crimes, but we seem to forget the flip side, a much more attractive side to some parts of the population.
Hanna was illiterate, lived alone and probably knew that she could never access certain jobs; Nazism was a promise of prosperity, of work and, for Hanna, being able to work as a tutor was also a promise of status. But not only the illiterates were seduced by the ideas of Nazism, but also some thinkers like Heidegger (who retracted later) or poets like Ezra Pound, whose deep admiration for Mussolini led him to collaborate in propaganda and to settle in Italy.
The exercise proposed by The Reader reminds us deeply the philosopher Hannah Arendt, who said that many Nazis were normal people, victims of their time and circumstances. In the film, Hanna argues that it was her job and therefore her duty.
She claims that she was content to obey orders and do her duty, without questioning the substance of her actions. The Reader presents a complex subject, difficult to treat, and proposes a reflection on the past of these characters, on how it affects the present and who they are today. But at the same time, it proposes a reflection on the nature of one of the most heinous crimes of humanity.
"Societies want to be governed by what is called morality, but in reality they are governed by what is called the law."