This may make me sound really stupid, but it always takes me aback when I realize that the atrocities of the Holocaust and Hitler’s regime took place during the 1900’s. Seeing dates that took place in the late 30’s and early 40’s splash onto the screen while watching this film made my stomach curl a little more because it made these events feel so recent, and in my mind they aren’t. I guess that is the horror of real life, the realization that these things do happen and happen in the lifetimes of those we know, love and hold dear. It isn’t that I didn’t know they took place so recently, because I did, but it isn’t a reality that I acknowledge enough for it to not be shocking.
Am I making sense?
Anyways, that was the first thing that struck me about ‘The Book Thief’. These events, while harrowing in their historical relevance, are still relevant today because they are much closer to home than we often realize.
Sadly, the second thing I noticed was not as endearing.
For me, ‘The Book Thief’ works so well except for one central element that took away from and actually worked against the film in some very key areas. I mean, did anyone else know that this movie was narrated by death? Can anyone explain to me WHY this movie is narrated by death? I can’t be the only one who found it unnecessary and gimmicky and completely disjointed from the film, and in the film’s heartbreaking climax it actually became a major emotional deterrent. I hate that it is the one element of the film I remember most. I sticks out like such a sore thumb that it literally ruins some of the key parts of the film and lessens the impact the story would have had.
I understand wanted something to make your film standout from the rest, but usually you want that ‘something’ to be something…good.
The story told is that of young Liesel. In the beginning of the story we meet her on a train with her mother and sickly brother, who within seconds dies, leaving Liesel alone in the world. The reason for this is that Liesel and her brother were on their way to being placed in foster care. Their mother was a communist fleeing the country for her life. Liesel winds up in the care of the Hubermanns. Hans is a kind man, lazy and childish and endearing. Rosa, his wife, is hardened. She is stern and blunt and instantly looks at Liesel as a burden. Hitler’s rule is becoming very prominent, and war is eminent, and the small street that Liesel becomes a part of is drastically altered due to this fact, especially when a Jew named Max shows up on the Hubermann doorstep.
Weaving the political aspects of the story with the universal concept of childhood and the love of literature (and the ability to make a difference through your ‘words’) takes a little getting used to, especially since it doesn’t all seem to gel as fluidly (or as relatively) as they would want it to. Still, it does make an impact, and the actors do everything they can to sell this film to us. Young Sophie Nelisse is a real find, but the film belongs to both Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson, who display such organic emotions throughout the course of the film.
I wish that the film had stripped itself of the narration altogether. It didn’t add anything to the film, and in the harrowing climax it becomes an emotional dampener, especially during a specific scene between Liesel and her friend, Rudy.
I would have loved a little more fluidity between plot points. It does feel a little like three different films being interwoven, with little connective tissue. Still, it has some very strong aspects (that score is sensational, and the cinematography is crisp and captivating) and the relevance of the core story is one that we should (and will) never forget.
I give this a C+. I'm glad that Oscar recognized the score (although, there were MANY deserving scores that got the shaft) but I'm also glad that Oscar didn't embrace this wholly as I really don't think the elements come together as they should have here. It has a lot going for it, but they weren't pieced together effectively.