Actually, actor David Kross was probably 17 or 18 when he did his nude scenes with Kate Winslet, but nevertheless, there it is, the character’s 15-year old dick, implausibly limp and in soft focus, yes, but also as concrete evidence as to why an older woman might appreciate it whatever its age. Once you see a couple of ’em, you realize there really isn’t much difference between a 15-year old dick and a 20-year old one, or a 35-year old one for that matter. A difference in coiffure, perhaps.
It’s worth noting that if this movie, any Hollywood movie, had depicted homosexual intergenerational sex, or more specifically, sex between an older man and a younger boy, that’s all it would have been about. It would have been an issue. It would have celebrated the transgression, all while preparing us for the shame and the guilt, and then the revenge-reel that was sure to come.
But The Reader is about a more subtle morality. Vengeance does come to Hannah Schmitz, but it’s self-delivered, and not because she can’t forgive herself for her role in exterminating the Jews — she sees her sense of guilt as irrelevant — but because finally she doesn’t believe that anyone else will forgive her.
That seems to be the beginning of the lesson this movie wants to teach, this movie that is not a Holocaust movie. The film’s crushing, emotional turning point comes when Michael realizes just what Hannah is accused of, when he realizes the true costs of being human and of loving someone so imperfect.
Fiennes, the weakest link in this production, plays the older Michael Berg with all the self-pity at his disposal. Something not true of Kate Winslet. The court viewed Hannah’s attitude for her behavior and actions as evidence of defiance and unrepentance, but, no, she just is. Responsible for her own life, in other words, however fucked-up, fearful and tragic. And all of it occasioned by an apparent non-sequitur: Her illiteracy, which she keeps secret.
Winslet played her just like that, with a moral fineness and fearlessness all the other performances couldn’t touch. And that’s why she deserved the Oscar.