The Book Thief
The ability to read signifies the first step in growing up. By learning our ABC’s, a child or even an adult can now begin the journey that will turn their mind in to walking library. At first, they’ll hear tales of deep-sea monsters or magical people that use their gift to help others. Then they start to look at their day and turn it from something ordinary into something beautiful. Words carry much weight, and reading gives us a better idea on which words carry the most power. Just about any scenario can be crafted into a great story. We have journalists that bring town stories to life and authors that take us to other worlds.
As much as books have influenced us, they are in tough playing grounds. They have to compete against a millennium of visual mediums from television, video games and the Internet. You can’t blame us too much, as most of us are visual learners and reading was easier when it was simplified in the beginning. Once the challenge was given to us to try something without visual aide, most of us went to other mediums. I’m not saying that everyone thinks about this. In The Book Thief, one girl becomes so interested in words; she uses them as her only defense in Nazi Germany.
In April of 1938, a boy dies while ride a train with his mother and sister Liesel (played by Sophie Nélisse). This puts even more anxiety on Liesel as she is being put up for adoption. At least she already has a home to go to. She arrives into the care of her new foster parents Hans (played by Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa (played by Emily Watson) Her first day of school is a disaster as she is humiliated when she reveals she cannot read or write.
Hans finds that he’s connecting better with Liesel then Rosa. She he proceeds to teach her how to read. Once she finishes her first book (a gravedigger’s handbook), she then decides to read anything that she can get her hands on. It couldn’t come at a worse time as it is under Nazi rule. She hates that books are being burned and ends up taking one. As the years progress, she finds herself finding books wherever she can, even in the library of the mayor’s house. Things become more hard as the family even takes in a Jewish runaway who also likes reading.
The Book Thief sounds like a lot to take in because the “story” is actually the life of this German girl from 1938 through 1943. When I went in, I thought that I was going to get a movie about a girl struggling with her identity as a Nazi and such. The subject is touched upon, as she is seen singing Nazi songs, wearing a school uniform with the swastika, and attending a book burning. But none of this is happening because she wants to; it’s what she’s told to do like telling a child to brush their teeth. It’s actually done very well without becoming too brutal. Some people may have wanted something grittier, but then I remembered that this movie wasn’t supposed to be one. This is a family drama.
The focus of the movie is on Liesel. And she is a very interesting child. Like Hugo Cabret in Hugo, she’s strong and mature for her age, but she is still a child. There’s a good balance of that, something that’s rarely seen from children actors. I liked going through her relationships with her mom, foster parents, the Jewish runaway, and more.
The Book Thief is based off of a novel of the same name that I haven’t read. From what I heard, most people thought that the book would have been too difficult to transfer to cinema. I can see why; there’s enough material to make two movies. I could have used about a half hour cut, as some of the side stories go on a little too long. The movie wanted to respect the novel as much as possible, so they kept this weird idea of having Death as the voiceover narrator. Why! It adds nothing to a story that’s told fine without the voice talking about how many people it took from the war. It takes it’s focus away, but not to an extreme.
I’ll give this four burned books out of five. The Book Thief is not for those that want a meaty story about World War II. But it’s a good movie about someone learning to read and how a bad situation almost took that love away. This may be a good movie to introduce older children too if you want to give them something more educational.