The Reader Movie Poster Image

The Reader



Literary adaptation tackles sex, shame, and guilt.
  • Review Date: December 10, 2008
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 120 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Extensive discussion of the Holocaust; extensive discussion of German complicity and guilt during the Holocaust, as well as the nation's attempts to come to terms with the Nazi era in the post-war years. Discussions of morality versus legality.

Positive role models

Hannah is a difficult character to place into a positive or negative box. Regardless, her actions have consequences and she is forced to face them.


Some scuffling; a woman slaps a man. Depiction of a suicide. Discussion of prisoners burning to death while trapped inside a burning church, as well as the mass-murder mechanics of the Holocaust.


Extensive depictions of sexual activity, with frequent sex scenes and images of male and female full-frontal nudity. The film revolves around a sexual relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a woman twice his age. That said, she doesn't force him into anything (or vice versa) -- the two consensually embark on their highly volatile, charged erotic relationship.


Some strong language, including "Nazi" and "whore."


Some mention of brands like Siemens and BASF electronics, as well as books like Huckleberry Finn, Tintin, Lady Chatterly's Lover, and more.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Extensive smoking; characters also drink hard liquor and beer.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this mature drama revolves around the sexual relationship between a 15-year-old boy and a much older woman. There are extensive sex scenes, full-frontal nudity, and a real, raw sense of sensuality throughout the first half of the film. The woman is later revealed to be an ex-Nazi prison guard on trial for her actions during the war; this involves extensive discussion of Nazi Germany's crimes against Jews and other victims of the Holocaust. There's also lots of talk about heavy, complex topics like complicity, guilt, shame, forgiveness, and responsibility. It's worth noting that even with the story's powerful undercurrent of eroticism, the Bernhard Schlink book it's based on is a staple of German high school class reading.

What's the story?

Beginning in the mid-'90s, THE READER introduces successful lawyer Michael Berg (Ralph Fiennes) as he thinks back on the past and struggles with some heavy burden. The film then shifts to 1950s Germany, when young Michael (David Kross) meets and begins a passionate affair with the much older Hannah Schmitz (Kate Winslet). Their lovemaking is almost completely anonymous -- her only request is that he read to her before they make love, everything from classics to comic books. The affair ends, but years later, when Michael is in law school, he has the chance to observe the trial of a group of women who served as Nazi prison camp guards -- one of whom is Hannah. As the film flickers between the past and present, viewers learn how Michael reached out to Hannah in her imprisonment -- and what he could, and could not, forgive her for.

Is it any good?


The Reader is going to be a tough sell for audiences. It starts out focused on the erotic relationship between a 15-year-old and a woman twice his age before turning into a wordy, wrenching drama about guilt, shame, and responsibility. The film's central dramatic twist is also somewhat unsatisfying, and other films -- like Judgment at Nuremberg and The Night Porter -- have tackled the consequences of Naziism and the intertwining of sex and power in post-war Germany with much greater skill and vision.

At the same time, Winslet's performance is a marvel -- shifting from unsentimental sexuality to thawing affection to terrified guilt and beaten-down remorse throughout the film and spanning four decades in the portrait of a woman's life. If any one thing makes The Reader worth seeing, it's her work. Kross is also quite good as the young Michael, portraying both the callow joys and confidences of boyhood and the uncertain moral questions of the young man he grows to be. Director Stephen Daldry has previously adapted tough, serious literary works for the screen, and The Reader, like his earlier film The Hours, is perhaps a bit too polished and thoughtful when a bit more raw direct force would have made for a better film. (Fiennes, for example, is largely wasted -- a rarity in his body of work.) The Reader is a fine and admirable film, but the curious mix of white-hot sexuality and bitter-cold remorse makes for a curiously unsatisfying dramatic experience.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the controversy around the film's central relationship. Some commentators suggest that if the genders of the partners were reversed, their relationship would be seen as purely abusive and immoral. Do you agree?

  • What messages is the movie sending about sex and relationships?

  • Families can also discuss the film's central question: How can Germans put Nazi crimes and the Holocaust into perspective in the present?

  • How is this movie similar to and different from other movies that deal with those events/issues?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 10, 2008
DVD release date:April 14, 2009
Cast:David Kross, Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes
Director:Stephen Daldry
Studio:Weinstein Co.
Run time:120 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:some scenes of sexuality and nudity

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Teen, 14 years old Written byeastside01 April 13, 2009

Passionate film with often long drama.

The Reader is a very well made film by director Stephen Daldry. It tells the story of a young boy who is inexperienced with love and a women (Winslet) who is a very passionate towards him. Above i put nothing as an issue except a couple of scenes that are passionate not graphic. Some parents of adults may think this is a disgusting movie because of it's content but the movie is a well made film and when you are a teenager go out and rent this piece.
Adult Written bymandicruz88 November 30, 2009

Okay for adults and very mature teens

I think that this movie shows that if one engages at intense sexual activity, especially with an older adult, at a very young age, the results can be damaging for the rest of that young person's life. The movie shows how the main character never really got over his romance with the woman he went to see and read to. He was not even able to keep his relationship with his wife. In the end, he was alone and bitter.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Great messages
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 October 2, 2014

Sensual adaptation is a little dry

I chose to watch this movie for my First Year Seminar Holocaust class, mainly because of Kate Winslet's Oscar-winning turn in it. Suffice it to say I was a little surprised by the abundance of nudity in this picture, the likes of which definitely make it not for kids, even if there's no profanity or violence to go along with it. But Winslet is great as Hanna Schmitz, who becomes smitten with teenage German Michael Berg in post war Germany. Their affair is short but leaves a lifelong impact on both, especially Michael. While strictly on legal terms the relationship is pedophilloic, it is completely consensual, though the story would be way more disturbing if the gender roles were reversed, and that's the double standard to these things. Sometimes I found Michael a little hard to sympathize with; yes he's with this caring older woman but he has so many girls his age, and he's constantly leaving them to be with Hanna. That's only half the movie though, the other half sees Michael coming to grips with something Hanna does that gets her accused of heinous crimes, and something inside him still cares for her immensely. The acting and strong material the film's based on make it legitimate, though I certainly wouldn't put this in the Best Picture field over strong movies like "The Dark Knight" and "Gran Torino" in the Oscar year of 2008. It's not so much a history lesson as it is more a study of love, both physical and emotional, and how it leaves its marks on you forever.
What other families should know
Too much sex


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