The writer of screenplays (in the case of The Reader, Sir David Hare) has a compromised innocence of much the same order as Hanna. To be more candid than prudence might advise, I can imagine having been offered the tempting chalice of such an adaptation. It would have been the more delectable for asking so little, in terms of invention, in return for so much, in the way of cash and kudos. All that was required, and almost all that is supplied, is a cosmetic refiguration of prose and (minimal) chat into dialogue and stage directions. Old rope was never better rewarded, but a man may hang himself with it, all the same.
What then is different in the movie? At the very beginning, we are shown Ralph Fiennes, the mature Michael, looking pained and cryptic (as if that particular actor were capable of any other expression) in a luxurious apartment in which, to prove just how adult this movie is going to be, his naked, modern mistress, for whom he scarcely spares an interested look, walks briefly into shot before leaving for her office. Here is a sad, sad man, we are promised, whose memories - stirred by a Michael's point-of-view image of a passing train (doubling for the tram in which we will later see Hanna) - have blighted his present.
As expected, the film version of The Reader cleaves, for the most part, to the Schlink line, although Michael's hepatitis, in the novel, becomes scarlet fever in the movie (would it be too much to guess that audience research, or the producers' shrewd guess, indicated that hepatitis was either unknown to most punters, or taken to be a form of VD, whereas scarlet fever sounds nasty, but not lethal or immoral?). So closely does the first, long section track the text that not only are we treated to the naked Hanna (Kate Winslet strips pluckily, as promised on the poster, in the trailer, and by her brave repute) but also to a glimpse of young Michael's measurable, if limp, manhood (the novel takes a stiffer line). If that isn't explicitly popular art, Stephen Daldry and Sir David don't know what is. Synecdoche made flesh, what more could people want? The truth? That's a matter of opinion.
Actually, no, because now we come to the place of facts in fictions, and especially in those that fly the swastika. Let us have no nonsense here. No one ever expected Nazism and its history to tool up a profitable industry. For a longish period after the war, the charm of the SS went unrealised and unexploited. The sadistic appeal of the camps and the kit, cruelty and murder as merchandise, the voyeuristic erotics of barbarism, these things escaped the sadly straight survivors of the war as they sat on their 1940s utility furniture. The revelation of what the Nazis did came out first in the form of a rather cheap, certainly non-academic book by Lord Russell of Liverpool, The Scourge of the Swastika. The alert salaciousness of the modern mind will have no difficulty seeing why the book had an unforeseen success. It just happened to contain photographs of naked female concentration camp inmates parading past leering, jack-booted, enviably tailored guards of the kind which, a few decades later, Dirk Bogarde impersonated in Liliana Cavani's The Night Porter, a confection of politically-engaged "art" with the swastika'ed wardrobe that could be seen in Paris, during the 1960s, on the caches-sexe of the sugar-titted chorenes at the Crazy Horse Saloon in the Avenue Georges V.