The Reader

Continuing my quest to watch the Oscar winners, my next pick was The Reader, for which Kates Winslet won the Best Actress award. I've loved her work since I first saw her in Titanic, admire her choices (okay, most of them, maybe not so much The Holiday, but maybe it would've been better without Cameron Diaz) and the way she's utterly fearless in throwing herself into her role, giving it whatever it requires and deserves. That said, I'll admit that I was half wondering if her Oscar was given to her partly because she’d been nominated without winning so many times.

I was an idiot.

The Reader cuts back and forth between the present and the late 50s, tied together by the character of Michael and starts in post-World War II Germany when 15-year-old Michael (David Kross) meets Hanna (Winslet), a woman in her mid-30s. They have an affair and one of the unique aspects of the relationship is Michael reading to Hanna as a sort of foreplay. One day, Hanna disappears without a trace and her young lover is heartbroken. Years later, when he is a law student, his professor takes a small seminar class on law and ethics to a trial of a number of female concentration camp guards and discovers that one of them is Hanna. And that's as much as I'm going to divulge about what happens.

This distillation of the first part of the movie is also entirely too factual to adequately communicate how wonderful a movie it is. It captures the desolation and poverty of postwar Germany and the people living in it who are trying to rebuild the country and a national and personal identity within the knowledge of what happened under Hitler. It's about finding a connection with another human being amid devastation, about allowing love to shine a light into a harsh and lonely life. It is a movie about shame - personal, national - and repentance, about the damage done by actions and inactions, about love being challenged by justice and ideas of what justice really is. It is about love and compassion and struggling with the consequences of choices, both horrible and kind.

The three main actors shine in this movie (although everyone else is also wonderful). David Kross as the young Michael effortlessly portrays the awkward, trembling of an adolescent boy caught up in every adolescent boy’s dream and finding himself deeply in love, yet separate from his peers. His switch from portraying 15 to early 20s is done extremely well by changes in body language facial expressions and… I think he's going to do good things. Definitely someone to keep an eye on. Ralph Fiennes is as usual stunning in his subtle and quiet portrayal of the adult Michael, a man who has learned to not open up his heart completely, a deeply sad man, closing off himself to the bonds and risks of love, voluntarily sentencing himself to a cold and lonely life.

But it is Kate Winslet who leaves everyone in the dust with her portrayal of Hanna, aging from mid-30s to almost 70, managing to portray the truth of the character no matter what age she is. Hanna is a woman in hiding, from actions, from the consequences of those actions, living in shame, sentencing herself to a monotone life of just getting through, barely alive. Her reactions to being loved, being able to connect to another person are heartbreaking and during the scenes of the trial manages to make us see the horror of the camps through the eyes of someone who believed she had no choices. In the hands of a lesser actress, the questions and the grey areas portrayed in the script would have seemed merely conjecture and Hollywood manipulation, but Winslet pulls you into the story of this woman with a secret, the shame of which has inexorably determined the path of her life and through her performance, allows you to see Hanna as a real person.

In other words, go out there and get it. It's an amazing movie and if possible, Kate Winslet should've gotten two Oscars for it.

Before I collapse into the weekend, remember the braille scarf? Several knitters were kind enough to volunteer for the job and Michelle (whose e-mail arrived in my inbox first) has just finished it. It's gorgeous. Click. Admire. Leave gushing comments.