Kate Winslet stars as a former German SS concentration camp guard who later in life seduces a fifteen-year-old boy. The boy, played by David Kross, is captivated by Hannah’s beauty and eroticism. Young Michael Berg meets Hannah on his way home from school, on a return visit he sees her dressing and becomes obsessed with her. He later returns and their summer-long affair ensues.
The movie, like the book of the same title, is told in flashback. The man that Michael Berg becomes, played by Ralph Feinnes, tells the story of his meeting with Hannah and their subsequent love affair. The young Michael Berg falls in love with Hannah and is devastated when she abruptly leaves, which changes his life forever. He is forever jaded toward life and women, which one day destroys his own marriage to a woman who looks uncannily like the woman Hannah.
Hannah, as a prelude to their lovemaking, listens to the young Michael Berg read aloud to her from books that he’s studying in school. She listens rapturously, intent upon every word, crying and laughing. Their lovemaking, which always follows, is passionate and abandoned. Michael is so obsessed with Hannah and his love affair that he abandons his friends and family to spend his free time with her. He even pawns his prized stamp collection in order to pay for a two-day getaway for them where Hannah is mistaken for Michael’s mother. Hannah follows Michael’s every decision about the trip, questioning none of the plans. She even allows him to order her food from menus for her. At one point, Hannah hears a child’s choir and enters the church only to sit in the back pew and weep passionately. This scene only makes Michael love her more.
Hannah is a trolley tram ticket/money collector who finds out that because she’s such a good employee that she’s getting a promotion and will get to work in the office. This is where the relationship ends for Michael and Hannah. That evening, after one more night of lovemaking, Hannah packs her bags and her few belongings and leaves with no word to Michael. He realizes that she’s gone as he plays their last time together in his mind only to run to her apartment to see that it is true. Hannah has left him.
The next time that we see the young Michael Berg is when he is in law school in Berlin, Germany. In one of his classes, the group goes to the public courthouse to witness the trial of six women accused of murdering 300 Jewish women over the course of World War II. Hannah is one of the women on trial. Michael does not tell anyone that he knows Hannah, but watches helplessly as she implicates herself as the ringleader of the women guards. Hannah is sentenced to life in prison.
The grown man, Ralph Fiennes, marries and has a daughter, but the marriage and his relationship with his daughter suffers as a result of his jaded love affair with Hannah. Michael, as a grown divorced man, begins corresponding with Hannah in prison, sending her audio cassettes of him reading the same books that he read to her as a teenager.
I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t say much more. Only that I read the book about fifteen years ago as part of a teacher book club. It’s one of those books that haunts you and makes you question historical events as we know them. As a result of having read and devoured the book, I didn’t see the movie when it first came out. I only watched it on Amazon Prime just last night. But, I loved it.
My verdict? It is a depressingly sad film based on a sad story. The characters are excellent. Kate Winslet is breathtaking and beautiful as the haunted Hannah. David Kross plays a wonderful young Michael Berg. He is innocent yet deceptively erotic and sexy himself. What can I say about Ralph Fiennes? He is wonderful and deep and provocative in any role that he plays. This is a movie (and book) worth exploring.
This image is an original digital painting by Melissa Reese Etheridge.