Being a truly awesome person (aka: total dork), I like to read the books that are made into movies, then compare and contrast them, and usually bemoan the fact that the book was so much better than the movie. In most cases, it’s preferable to read the book first, otherwise you have a preconceived notion of who the characters are, what the story will be, etc., that you got from the movie. Circumstances being what they were, I wound up seeing the movie The Reader before reading the book (do as I say children, not as I do).
Despite the mixed reviews from the critics, I really enjoyed The Reader. Of all the movies up for Best Picture this year, The Reader was the one that really stuck with me a long time after seeing it. It’s filled with so many ambiguities and shades of grey, and a main character that, by all accounts, you should reprehend, but somehow I wound up feeling almost sympathetic toward. I found myself actually feeling relieved that I wasn’t a jury member at Kate Winslet’s character’s, Hanna Schmitz, trial, because I couldn’t come up with a clear verdict of “guilty” or “not guilty.” Then I remembered it was a fictitious movie, got over myself, and had some pie.
Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader is a decent read, though the text doesn’t flow as smoothly as it could, probably due to the fact it’s translated from German. But it’s a quick book to get through, and the movie, for once, stayed very faithful to the text. The one main difference I felt between the two mediums is that Hanna doesn’t seem as sympathetic a character in the book as she does in the movie. Since I had seen the movie first, I inevitably pictured Kate Winslet every time Hanna appeared on the page, but she still came across as much colder and more severe in the book.
The key moment of difference, for me, was during Hanna’s trial for her crimes during WWII. In both the movie and the book, she does a terrible job of defending herself and refuses to reveal evidence that may clear her of some accusations. But while the movie portrayed her as being confused and flustered by the proceedings, the book made her seem more stubborn and insubordinate than anything else. So when the final verdict is read in the movie and the book, I had a severely different reaction to each.
If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend reading The Reader before checking out the movie. Then after seeing the movie, you can ponder the ramifications of feeling sympathetic toward a Nazi war criminal while enjoying some delicious pie.