Michael first met Hanna when he became ill walking home, when she aided him. After a prolonged illness he returned to express his gratitude. At that visit, he became enamored with her, and caught a glimpse of her changing clothes. He became obsessed with her and fantasized about returning to visit her. He doesn't explicitly quote Jesus' admonition that if you look with lust on a woman you have committed adultery, but he refers to it in a classic justification for premeditated sin. When struggling with whether to visit Hanna again, he asks,
Did my moral upbringing somehow turn against itself? If looking at someone with desire was as bad as satisfying the desire, if having an active fantasy was as bad as the act you were fantasizing--then why not the satisfaction and the act itself? As the days went on, I discovered that I couldn't stop thinking sinful thoughts. In which case I also wanted the sin itself.Granted, lust and the act of adultery are both sins, but there is certainly a qualitative difference between imagining the act and actually doing it. Still, many Christians can relate to his quandary.
In a later passage, as he observes Hanna's trial, he reflects on his generation's rejection of his parents' generation's moral authority. Every generation has a sense of rebellion against their parents, but in their case, they see the manifest moral failure of the Germans during World War 2 and the years leading up to it. Whether they were active participants, passive approvers, or silent observers, Michael considers the atrocities of that era to reflect a lack of morality for all of their generation, so who can blame young people for wanting to distance themselves from the culture and mores of the previous generation?
As I mentioned in the movie review, the age gap between Michael and Hanna is unnerving, but is essential to the story. If such a thing can be looked past, once you do look past it, The Reader is a terrific read and brings up questions of moral culpability and ethical decision making in very interesting ways.