Okay so this review unfortunately contains spoilers. I simply don’t know how to critique it without giving away major points and for this I am sorry. I just have a lot of unanswered questions and I have to shell them out for you guys. Official recommendation, watch the movie and see if you share the same frustrations that I did and check back in after the viewing. Good Luck.
Okay, glad you came back for the review because I have a lot to say. So this is an Academy Award-winning film that was nominated for Best Picture and earned Kate Winslet a Best Actress win. For Winslet I can understand the win, she did a great job with what she had and she played a complicated character. However there are a lot of issues I have with this film regardless of interesting performances.
The main plot follows a sexual affair involving an older woman (Winslet) and a much younger boy (David Kross) for a summer before she mysteriously disappears. Years later they encounter each other again under very different circumstances: he is a law student and she is on trial as a war criminal.
I like the first half of the film even though the gratuitous nudity often feels uncomfortable because you keep remembering that he is supposed to be fifteen and she is twice his age. Still it is an interesting look at class dynamic. He is intellectually superior while she is sexually superior and there is the unison in they teach other and learn from one another. Still it is hard to bypass the weird age difference even though the age of consent in Germany is currently 14 and most of Europe is cool with it by 16.
It’s the second half that I have the most complaints about. So the turn in the plot is that Hannah (Kate Winslet) is being charged with war crimes after leaving her job, which lest I remind you is collecting fares on a trolley, to be a Holocaust death camp guard. So I don’t understand how that was a logical promotion at all.
Also the Holocaust subplot comes out of nowhere. I mean once you realize the location and the general time period you generally expect the Holocaust to happen. It’s the same issue I had with Remember Me; the tragedy seems inserted into the plot to add another layer of complication. And arguably it is the best point of the film. The film’s investigation into the complex relationship the younger generation has with the atrocities of their parents’ generation is intriguing and well fleshed out.
Now, the second issue I have with the plot is that this woman chooses to go to jail for the rest of her life for murdering 300 people because she can’t tell a room of strangers that she can’t read. Yes. That is right. And then in a twist of irony right before she gets out of jail, she hangs herself on a pile of books…and gives her small amount of money to a survivor of her mass murder which later goes to promote Jewish literacy of some kind. They don’t explain that at all. I don’t understand the motivation. I mean you could assume she felt guilty for her part in the murders but taking responsibility for the whole thing because she can’t admit she’s illiterate seems a bit much. And she gets weirdly aggressive in defending letting 300 people burn in a fire that you don’t really care that she goes to jail. I’m sure you’re supposed to but she learns to read in jail so I guess it’s great she committed those war crimes. That is my biggest problem. When faced with life in jail instead of four and a half years like all of her constituents just tell them you can’t read. I don’t see the struggle.
The film overall is well shot and does investigate an intriguing angle on the effect of war and tragedy on the generation that follows the event. That part of the movie was beautiful and David Kross has a lot of heart and plays a complex and interesting role. Ralph Fiennes’ older version of the same character is a bland imitation of the young lad he started off as. He’s so boring, but he’s not horrible. The cinematography is nice to watch and the first half of film, however disturbing is at least a straightforward exhibition of the confusion of your first love, and the lasting impression they have on you. It sure takes a turn, and I think the Holocaust angle is a little bit of a cop out that I guess couldn’t be avoided based on the time period. Oscar deserving? I don’t think so. There have been brilliant Holocaust films. This one doesn’t make the canon.
Amy’s Recommendation: 6/10