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Perpetrator Studies Network


Daldry, Stephen, dir. The Reader

Based on the Bernhard Schlink’s acclaimed novel The Reader, the film illustrates the difficulty of confronting one’s own individual past as well as the collective past. The film explores this issue through the prism of post-war German culture, focusing on the relationship between Michael Berg, who, as a teenage boy, begins a secret love affair with an older woman, Hanna Schmitz. A central element of this love affair is that she asks him to read to her. The affair ends abruptly and without explanation with the disappearance of Hanna. Years later, as a law student, Michael encounters Hanna again at a war-crime trial, where she is accused of crimes against humanity as a former concentration camp guard. Michael finally realizes that Hanna is illiterate, and the remainder of the film explores the wider issue of culpability, guilt, forgiveness, and the conflict between generations and the guilt/moral responsibility they carry or lack. Like the novel, it was generally well received, but also criticized for trivializing the Holocaust by focusing even more than the novel on the love story.

Daldry, Stephen, dir. The Reader. Alliance Films, 2009.