The opening scene of The Reader was in an International Court trying war criminals, and Ralph Fiennes played the older version of the male lead, Michael Berg, a defence lawyer. This was directed by Steven Daldry, starring more than one well-known British actors, including Kate Winslet, as a former SS guards Hanna Schmitz. The actress’ fine performance won her rave reviews as well as an Academy Award.
The story was narrated in the voice of the main character, Michael Berg. Back in 1958 in Heidelberg, Germany, the 15-year-old school boy Michael met a 36-year-old tram conductress Hanna Schmitz. despite their age differences she seduced him and they embarked on a passionate affair. They developed a ritual in her house which involved Michael reading aloud to her, from Greek tragedy The Odysseyto Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Dog”. Then one day he found his lover gone without a trace. His memory of Hanna lingered and haunted him.
Time frame shifted to some years later, when Michael was a student of law observing a trial of Nazi war criminals, and Hanna among the defendants, with other former SS guards from Auschwitz, now facing accusations of killing hundreds of prisoners at the notorious death camp.
The same titled novel was written by a German author Bernhard Schlink. Both original and translated versions won critical claim and sold millions of copies. I stumbled upon the book in a charity shop in the late1990s when it was first published, and I can still recall how much I have enjoyed it, the first modern German fiction I came across. The writing is beautifully crafted, with very memorable lines, calling vivid images to my mind, long after I’ve done reading.
In my view, historical subjects like Holocaust should be brought to print and to our screens, time and again, so our future generations can be reminded of what had happened and what lessons can be learnt from our past.
I have no hesitation in recommending both the wonderful film and the fabulous book that it was based on. Films and books are two different art forms. Although they may arrive at the same destination, they explore the story through very different routes. For me, I prefer to read the book first before watching the film adaptation, as I find it easy to let my imagination fly when visualising the words with images and scenes. I am glad that in this case I have read the book, long before the film was made.
How about you? Would reading a book put you off watching the film, or vice versa?
PS: Quite by chance I come upon this review among my old files, written after my cinema visit when the film was released in 2008. If you have not seen the film, I suggest that you go and get a DVD now. Better still, read the book first Enjoy!