The Reader Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

What We Fear Is Not Important. The Question Is What We Do: The Essence Of The Film The Reader (2008). The Meaning Of The Film The Reader: Plot Analysis, Explanation Of The Ending, Actors And Roles, Similar Films.

Countries: Germany, USA

Genre: melodrama, drama

Director: Stephen Daldry

Cast: Ralph Fiennes, Kate Winslet, David Cross

The film adaptation of the novel by the German writer Bernhard Schlink “The Reader”, which took place in 2008, became a big event due to the fame of the book itself (one of the world’s bestsellers, translated into dozens of languages) and the excellent work of the actors, screenwriter and director. However, the meaning of the film “The Reader” has remained a mystery to many. Let’s figure out what thoughts the creators wanted to convey to the viewer.

Plot Summary

The plot of the film “The Reader” tells the story of a fifty-two-year-old lawyer Michael Berg, who became fixated on his past, became cold and withdrawn into himself. However, the content of the film is almost entirely a story about past events. We learn little about the real hero, except that he has an adult daughter, and he himself constantly changes women, without really revealing himself to any of them.

bike rideFrame from the film.

The memory of the hero brings him back more than 30 years ago, when, as a teenager, he met the tram conductor Hanna Schmitz. Michael suddenly fell ill with scarlet fever on the street, and she offered him help and brought him home. After some time, Michael recovers and comes to his savior to thank her. In the future, the hero appears more and more often at Hanna’s house – between them, despite the almost twenty-year age difference, a romance breaks out.

The hero becomes obsessed with this woman. Hannah seems to be just using Michael. They make love and read books. More precisely, Michael reads aloud to Hanna – she says that she admires his talent as a reader. But it seems that the fact is that the woman is simply illiterate and does not want to admit it.

The young man almost does not pay attention to his peers and peers. He wants to spend more and more time with Hanna, even taking her on a long bike ride. Michael is not shy about getting close to her, kissing Hannah in public at a street cafe while traveling.

Gradually it becomes clear that not everything is in order with Hannah: something is clearly eating her. She often provokes quarrels, and during the trip she tends to the church, where the children’s choir sings – a storm of emotions is on her face. After some time, Hanna is promoted and she, without saying goodbye to Michael, runs away from him, which makes him suffer.

love story of the main character and the young manFrame from the film.

Eight years pass – we are shown the grown-up Michael, a law student. Along with other students, he attends a show trial and sees Hannah there. She is the defendant. It turns out that Hannah worked as a warden in a Nazi concentration camp during the war. She is accused of letting 300 Jewish women who were in the church die a painful death: when a fire broke out, she did not open the door for them. The main evidence against Hanna was a report allegedly written by her hand.

Michael understands that the woman could not write this report because she is illiterate. But other details emerge: it turns out that there were many like Mikhel in the concentration camp. Hannah showed kindness to weak young men, asked them to read books aloud, but still sooner or later sent them to their deaths.

Michael hesitates to testify in favor of Hanna, or even talk to her. As a result, the woman is sentenced to life in prison, other guards receive short sentences as punishment.

Ten years later, Michael, having divorced his wife, decides to let Hanna know about himself. He makes audio recordings by dictating books he once read to Hannah and sends them to her in prison. Hanna listens with rapture to the tapes sent to her and begins to learn to read. She tries to correspond with Michael, but he does not answer letters.

After many years, despite a life sentence, a decision is made to release Hannah. The only one who can meet her at large, help with work and housing, is Michael. He decides to meet, behaves coldly, trying to see repentance for his deed – he expects an explanation from her. Hanna is worried about Michael’s attitude towards her.

concentration camp guardsFrame from the film.

Before the day of release, Hannah commits suicide. She bequeathed the money she earned to the former prisoner of the concentration camp who remained alive at the time of the trial – her victim Ilana Mather. Michael makes an attempt to transfer the money, but it turns out that Ilana died long ago, and her daughter does not accept them, since acceptance would mean forgiveness.

In the end, Michael visits Hanna’s grave with his daughter and tells his story.

This movie is not based on real events, although there must have been a lot of lawsuits like the one described in the film in Germany. The post-war history here is more of a backdrop for a personal drama. But in many ways it was thanks to her that The Reader had a great resonance.

There are many things that point to an inconvenient truth here. For example, a fellow student of Michael argues that the trial of Hannah does not make sense and is a farce. After all, the crimes of several people became known thanks to the book of the survivor. And there are thousands of those who worked for the Nazis and went unpunished for their crimes.

The meaning of the film

The movie The Reader, like the book, raises a lot of questions, but it doesn’t answer most of them, and certainly doesn’t provide detailed explanations. The viewer and the reader are allowed to watch the throwing characters, but a clear message behind all this is not easy to discern. Therefore, everyone sees something different here.

Some for explicit scenes evaluate the film as an erotic drama and consider the historical context to be nothing more than a publicity stunt. Others try in their reviews to make a detailed analysis of the motivation of the characters, to find depth in them. Still others put the totality of political, philosophical, legal and moral components in the first place. Someone is looking for hidden meanings and metaphors. The latter are definitely there – take at least the works of art that Michael reads.

meeting of loversFrame from the film.

First of all, it is worth noting that despite the liveliness of the characters and their ability to evoke sympathy from many viewers, there is practically no gray morality in The Reader. Neither the writer nor the filmmakers make excuses for Hannah Schmitz. Moreover, many episodes are designed to emphasize her selfishness. It manifests itself both in relationships with Michael and when answering questions in court (take, for example, her remark “And that I, in your opinion, should not have gone to work at Siemens?” As a reaction to accusations of working for the Nazis) .

Even at the moment of the last meeting with Michael, she does not regret anything. This is clear from the content of their conversation, the key phrase of which is: “The dead are still dead.” As the last straw, Michael throws her: “I don’t know what you learned …”, hoping for repentance. But in response, he hears only proud: “I learned a lot! .. I learned to read …”. And it seems that the same pride was the reason for accepting all the blame – Hanna simply did not want (Afraid? Embarrassed?) to show in court that she could not read.

However, what is really going on in the soul of the heroine of the film “The Reader” remains a mystery. With the words of the character, we are given to understand: this is not important. It is important that, like many fellow citizens who served Hitler, she simply behaved like everyone else – “kept order.” People burned alive because of it, only because “otherwise there would be chaos.” The horror of fascism lies not only and not so much in the atrocities inflicted, but in the tacit consent that “respectable citizens” gave to them.

The film emphasizes the phrase “What we fear is not important. The issue is what we do.” In the book, this idea is also heard in different variations. For example, Schlink writes: “If the truth of what is said lies in what is done, then there is no need to talk at all.”

Michael’s actions also speak in favor of this idea. Throughout his life, he constantly thinks about Hannah, worries and remains unhappy. He did not testify in court, and for decades after that he continued to doubt the correctness of his act. It doesn’t matter that he wanted to testify. It doesn’t matter that he always wanted to meet and talk to Hannah. None of this makes sense, what matters is what he did.

The meaning of the ending of the film “The Reader”, when Michael brings his daughter to the cemetery and begins to talk about everything, in a kind of catharsis for the hero. After years of silence, he finally decides to open up to a loved one. This does not cancel the past, but should give him relief. The meaning of the ending is also to leave the viewer in thought, without giving obvious clues.

Actors and roles

Speaking about the actors and roles in the film “The Reader” and their meaning, it makes sense to talk about only two characters and who played them Kate Winslet (Hannah), David Cross and Ralph Fiennes (young and adult Michael, respectively). The action rests on them, the rest perform the function of the environment. I think all three of them did a great job. And Kate Winslet, thanks to the film, even won the Oscar for Best Actress.

Similar films

As films similar to the drama “The Reader”, we can name the following:

  • Revolutionary Road. Another tragedy starring Kate Winslet, this time in a duet with Leonardo DiCaprio.
  • Life is beautiful (La vita è bella). A poignant 1997 Italian film about life in a concentration camp that has already become a recognized classic.
  • Diary of memory (The Notebook). A melodrama with touching love stories of a guy and a girl from different social strata.
  • Nocturnal Animals. The heroine reads a novel about a terrible tragedy that happened to one family, and understands that all the events described are related to herself.

Add a comment

  1. JB

    Interesting article. One error though. The photo of the two characters embracing in a kiss in a library is not from the movie The Reader to my knowledge. I hope this helps. Thank you again… JB