Ok, it’s always a big deal when Kate Winslet gets naked. In the past month alone, there’s been a media frenzy about her Vanity Fair photoshoot along with an accompanying photoshop controversy. Winslet has long been a body image heroine to a lot of women, and she’s pretty fearless about showing up naked on screen (an observation that Halle Berry also recently made, touching off some more media commotion). In The Reader, Winslet plays Hanna, a former guard at Auschwitz, who becomes romantically involved with a young man in post-War Germany. The subject matter of the film alone has touched off a fair bit of speculation - a romantic drama about a concentration camp guard? - but there’s already a pretty furious debate brewing about her sex scenes, too.
A New York Post reviewer is calling the scenes “gratuitous” and Winslet’s character a “pedophile Nazi hottie.” The Daily Mail, on the other hand, defends her nudity as "integral to the story" (and they're quick to reassure you that Winslet did not use a body double, just in case you were wondering). A Fox News reviewer calls The Reader "sexy material," noting that, "In a dry season The Reader benefits not just a little from Winslet’s cougar-esque Hanna’s many naked tanglings.” And on Monday, art critic Charlie Finch criticized Winslet’s nudity and the film’s politics, telling Page Six, “What is especially repellent is the use of Kate Winslet’s nubile body to create sympathy for a repellent character, whose triumph over illiteracy somehow mitigates unspeakable crimes which are never actually depicted on-screen.”
So, what we’ve got here could be a shameless and exploitative grab at an Oscar, OR a brave and integral part of a multi-faceted character portrayal, OR a shameful and immoral choice, OR a smokin’ hot performance. And only a handful of reviews have actually hit the newstands and the Web. We’re definitely going to hear more about this.
How are we supposed to read and understand Kate Winslet’s performance in The Reader? It seems to me that there are a lot of ways that her body is reflecting the political dimensions and desires of the film, its critics and its viewers.
I think this is already evolving into a pretty fascinating dialogue.