In Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, the past relentlessly informs the present. Set against the landscape of postwar Germany, the harrowing novel deals with the aftermath of the Holocaust and the generation who came of age in its shadow. More specifically, it tells a story of a discreet affair between a young boy and former Nazi prison guard.
David Hare, who adapted the screenplay, employs a series of flashbacks in order to tell the fragmented story. “The Reader” opens in “the present” where the young boy, Michael Berg, is no longer young, but played by a depressive, though invariably compelling, Ralph Fiennes. The story begins in Ralph Fiennes’ present, rather than the young boy’s beginning. This accomplishes three things: It sets the stage for flashbacks, provides the viewer with the perspective the characters are deprived of, and reveals how the young boy ends up. This eventually affirms what we might have expected all along: He is yet another victim.
Directed by Stephen Daldry from a screenplay adapted by David Hare, the film stars Kate Winslet, Ralph Fiennes, David Kross, and Bruno Ganz. It was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Bernhard Schlink’s original text was also widely successful and became the first German novel to top The New York Times bestseller list.