The Book Thief (2013)

The Book Thief (2013) movie poster

director Brian Percival
viewed: 11/17/2013 at AMC Metreon 16, SF, CA

The kids and I have been on a little jag of watching movies that are adapted from books that we’ve read together:  Ender’s Game (2013), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939), and now The Book Thief, based on the novel by Markus Zuzak.  Along with watching a lot of movies with Felix and Clara, I’ve also had a long-running thing of reading to them before bedtime even though they are both old enough to read to themselves.  It’s still a thing.

Interestingly, I had been trying to tempt them to see Thor: The Dark World (2013), not because I was particularly keen on it but it was out there.  Neither of them showed much interest but they were interested in seeing The Book Thief which we read earlier this year, not aware but not surprised to hear an adaptation was in the works.  The kids had also spoken to other kids at their school who had seen the movie and said it was good.

For me, I thought the book was good, but not great.  It’s currently going through a surge in recommendations for kids of a certain age.  It’s about WWII from the perspective of non-Nazi Germans, those who were not aligned with the Nazis, but did not live in a culture in which they could say that.  It’s not just a fascist state, the majority of the culture are all fascists too.

It’s the story of a girl who goes to live with adoptive parents when her brother dies and her mother, a Communist, departs probably to eventually be captured and imprisoned.  She begins stealing and reading books, and finds a world of sympathy among the hard times in her kindly adoptive father and her coarse but loving adoptive mother, played in the film by Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson.  They take in a young Jew and hide him in their basement for years until the heat becomes too intense and he runs out on his own.

It’s an empathetic story, oddly enough, narrated by Death, as the novel is.  It’s actually one of the weakest conceits of the book and certainly, though reeled in considerably in the film, also one of the weakest conceits.

Actually, I was more interested in reading them Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl.  And in thinking through this story of Germans during WWII, I thought often of The Tin Drum by  Günter Grass and its filmic counterpart, Volker Schlöndorff’s 1979 film of the same name.  Both the book and the film of The Tin Drum are much more profound and interesting than either the book or the movie of The Book Thief but I guess it’s perhaps still a bit more adult than the kids would be ready for.

Overall, the film The Book Thief features good performances by Rush and Watson and it’s a better adaptation than that of Ender’s Game, but it’s not great cinema.  It’s well-done but it’s a lot more obvious and mushy, “Words are LIFE, Liesel,” says the hidden Jew, Max, to the titular heroine.

Beat me over the head, Max.  What’s one of the themes of this movie?

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