Stephen Daldry's The Reader is an interesting film to watch. In short, it's about the relationship of a young boy (Michael) and a woman (Hanna played by Kate Winslet), much older to him, who was a Nazi guard. The film travels a great distance in time—we witness the trial of Hanna, her lifetime imprisonment and the growth of the boy into a man (Ralph Fiennes) and are intrigued by the complex and bizarre relationship they share.
Hanna, in her 40s initiates Michael, a teenager into his first sexual experience. We find it very odd. But we don't have a clue as to why this happens but later of course we realize why this happened. We find Hanna as a cold, slightly masculine woman, who is more physical than intellectual. As their physical encounters become frequent, we are again introduced wonderfully to a new information—Hanna is illiterate. And we find Michael reading out books to her—The Odyssey
, The Lady with the Little Dog
, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
. At once their relationship become more than physical. It's a quantum leap. Michael becomes the reader.
Gradually, we get to that fulcrum on which rests the film. Hanna, we find, to our horror, was a Nazi guard. She is being tried. Coincidentally, Michael is also present there as a law student. It's one of the beautiful moments in the film—where Hanna seems helpless and also defends her act, where she had got 300 Jews into a church and got it locked from outside trying to protect them. But the church got bombed and all the Jews died. When she's cornered by the jury, she screams trying to make them understand, "It was my job . . .".
At the end of the trial she's accused of writing a letter, which she did not. She protested. The Judge asked her to produce a sample of her handwriting. But Hanna can't write. She sits like a stone and agrees to all the false charges which were thrown at her because in order to prove them wrong she needed to say that she was illiterate and this was a disgrace which she never wanted to accept. This shocks the viewers. And also what shocks them is the silence of Michael. He knew what the truth was, but he didn't say out loud. Why?
Later on when she starts sending Hanna recorded tapes to the jail, not for once does he go to visit her. Why?
Later in the film when Michael goes and meets Hanna finally, after so many years, he looked like a piece of rock, without any emotion, doing things out of a sense of duty—perfunctorily. Why?
The precise reason is the instinct of self preservation. How could one associate oneself with a Nazi convict?
The director underscores this. Hanna joined Nazi Party and became a part of all the torture they had done because—she was doing her job which would fetch her salary, which would help her preserve herself. If that's cruel then no less cruel is Michael's not telling the truth to the judge, not going to meet Hanna in jail, his avoiding Hanna like pleague.
Yes Michael sent her tapes. That's the only way he was trying to purge himself of his guilt.
At the end of the film, we find Hanna—punished for her crimes and Michael wriggling on with life under the cover of gentility, unpunished. That creates the real explosion.