In the jargon of dramatic arts, a tragedy is simply defined as, "a plot in which the protagonist, because of some inherent flaw in his/her character dies." (Not all tragedies require physical death, of course, but it's more the rule than the exception. Just think of Romeo and Juliet and its modern equivalent West Side Story.)
I would definitely consider The Reader to be a tragedy. In fact, I think it could be classified as a double tragedy. It certainly reveals how an "inherent flaw" and secrecy can spiral out of control and affect many people, thus multiplying the tragedy.
Lyn and I went to the movie knowing very little about what to expect. (Actually, Lyn was more informed about the content than I was. ) I truly knew nothing about it, except that it was a love story of some sort taking place in Nazi Germany.
I certainly wasn't expecting scene after scene of nude lovemaking. After the film, I commented to Lyn that the costume designer didn't have much responsibility during the first hour of the movie, if you know what I mean! In fact, it might have been appropriate for them to have given God partial credit for costume design, because Kate Winslet and David Kross were in their birthday suits a good portion of that hour! (By the way, the very young-looking Kross was born July 4, 1990, but definitely looked like the 15-year old he portrayed. Winslet, was born in 1975.)
One may ask if all that bedroom business was necessary to the story, or were the screenwriter and director just pushing the envelope to see how far they could go sexually in mainstream cinema? As it was happening, I certainly asked that question. But as the story develops, you begin to realize how important it was to establish the emotional and psychological hold this older woman had on the boy for the rest of his life. That doesn't make it "right" or "moral," of course. But it certainly makes it understandable, and that is the point of it.
Perhaps the best "gift" of the film is the opportunity to hear snippets of great classic literature being read aloud. It inspires you to go blow the dust off some of the old books in your local library--the ones that haven't been checked out by anyone for years. Or maybe pick up some of the 99-cent books on the sales table at Barnes & Noble. It was neat to hear words so artfully strung together by some of the world's most creative minds. They were as important to the film as the musical score. (For instance, I didn't realize Chekhov wrote things other than stage plays. I'd never heard of his brilliance as a short-story writer, and certainly never heard of "The Woman And Her Little Dog.")
Kate Winslet was really amazing in this film. Although you never really "liked" her character, Hanna Schmitz, you certainly grew into feeling compassion for her. Ralph Fiennes played the "grown up" Michael Berg. Although his part was brief, I thought he was wonderful. If his part were a little longer, he might have gotten the nod for best supporting actor. Since the young David Kross is a German actor, we may or may not see him in future American films, but he is truly a fine artist.
If you see the film, you should constantly ask yourself, "Just who IS the reader?" You'll find yourself vacillating between answers--even after the film is over.
A word of caution. If you embarrass easily, don't go with your mom. Or your kids. Or your minister. Or your small group. Or your Sunday School class. (However, if you're thinking "What Would Jesus Do?" regarding whether or not to see the film, I honestly think He would go. Not that He'd need to, of course. He deals with these stories in real life all the time! But I still think He'd go.)