The Reader is Holocaust Erotica
It is good and right to admire Kate Winslet's acting. She is one of only a few greats in her generation, and her portrayal of a German woman in The Reader is perfect (especially physically: her every move is loud), not to mention that she, once again, proves herself to be an accent wizard. But back to larger questions: It is right, but not particularly good, to admire her physical beauty, most especially the exceeding darkness of her nipples, which, if you did not note in Titanic, you will receive reminder after reminder of in The Reader—a film (based on a novel by Bernhard Schlink) intended to explore moral nuance during and after the Holocaust.
When one is not eyeing Winslet's nipples, one is meant to note her pale, wrinkled face—even during the scenes when she is young, sh e (playing a lonely tram conductor) looks exhausted—and her frumpy, frizzy hairstyle. The veneer is of a serious role in a serious film about a serious subject, and this movie is already being talked about as Winslet's first-Oscar vehicle. Yet the movie's most lasting quality is that it is hot. The Reader is an erotic movie about the Holocaust.
I do not mean to be a spoilsport. Sex scenes are fun, and sex scenes with Kate Winslet as an older woman seducing the pretty, unknown young German actor David Kross, as if he were being inducted into the glamorous world of moviemaking itself, are especially so. But nothing as fun or even as complex goes on beyond these passionate clutchings. She leaves him. Later she is put on trial, at which point as a law student he learns of the horrible things she did during the war. Over the years she is in prison, he grants her a certain measure of forgiveness, but only a certain measure. After her death, in the climactic scene, he goes to visit a survivor of the camps (Lena Olin), seeking... what? Not only does the character not know, the movie doesn't either.
The movie does know one thing: It wants Oscars. If it receives more than one, that will be bad and wrong.