The publication of Bernhard Schlink’s novel The Reader
(1995) sparked conversation and controversy about sexuality, female perpetrators and the complexity of guilt regarding the Holocaust. The screen adaptation of the book (Daldry 2008) amplified these discussions on an international scale. Fictional Holocaust films have a history of being met with skepticism or even reject on the one hand and great acclaim on the other hand. As this paper will outline, the focus has often been on male perpetrators and female victims. The portrayal of female perpetration reveals dichotomous stereotypes, often neglecting the complexity of the subject matter. This paper focuses on the ways in which sexualization is used specifically to portray female perpetrators in The Reader
, as a fictional Holocaust film. An assessment of Hanna’s relationship to Michael and her autonomous sexuality and her later inferior, victimized portrayal as an ambiguous perpetrator is the focus of my paper. Hanna’s sexuality is structurally separated from her role as a perpetrator. Hanna’s perpetration is, through the dichotomous motif of sexuality throughout the film, characterized by a feminization. However, this feminization entails a relativization of Hanna’s culpability, revealing a pejorative of her depiction as a perpetrator. Consequently, I argue that Hanna’s sexualized female body is constructed as a central part of the revelation of her perpetration.
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