“A small fact: You’re going to die…does that worry you?” A recurring theme in our own lives, but even more prevalent in the film The Book Thief. Directed by Brian Percival of Downton Abbey fame, it’s a period-piece set in a time where death was relevant and hatred was just common justice. Of course, that would be none other than Nazi-Germany during World War II at the height of Adolf Hitler’s reign as Fuhrer. During a year filled with, but a few, incredible films, The Book Thief will move those of all ages.
Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a young girl, is transported via train across Europe on the way to her new adoptive home in Nazi-Germany during World War II. She’s plagued by her little brother’s death that occurred during the voyage. There, she is welcomed by an overbearing mother, Rosa (Emily Watson) and a lively soul of a father, Hans (Geoffrey Rush). With doubts of staying in a place where her classmates ridicule her for her illiteracy, Liesel befriends her outgoing neighbor Rudy Steiner (Niko Liersch). Amidst her acclimating to this community fueled with Nazi pride, Liesel finds solace in reading with the help of her father’s teaching and an unexpected friend who allows her access to their library of books. Their entire world is flipped upside down when a ghost from Hans’ past shows up at their door. His name is Max (Ben Shnetzer), a Jew avoiding impending Nazi persecution. The story unfolds through the eyes of Liesel, as her and her family struggle to keep many secrets in a time when secrets were all they had.
There are plenty of iconic World War II films that have been made to date. A handful of them are quite impressive. The Book Thief avoids falling into a typical war drama. Good reason too. Even though there is an abundance of hate, violence, and tragedy taking place in this community on Heaven Street, there is a message drawn into the plot that serves as a great reminder of the importance of words. The audience is sure to gain a new perspective from the life of this little girl. You’re never too young or old to learn about words after all.
Although, the performances given by the incredibly talented cast give life to the characters, it’s truly the writing that proves to be the film’s strong suit. I’m basing that statement off of the original novel, by the same name, written by Marcus Zusak. The story provides an arena for these characters to thrive under pressures from the evils of the world. When I mention story, I’m not referring to plot or the series of events that occur. No, I’m referring to the story of the interactions, conflicts, and resolutions that result because of the events. It’s with this solid story that the audience will feel a sense of attachment to many of the characters in the film as they are faced with trials of morality amongst a morally-distorted government. Liesel and company have depth. That attribute of a character is what drives unforgettable stories.
The narrator plays a primary character that is easily overlooked in the film. It’s unknown until a later reveal explains the connection. However, it’s this character that balances out the environment the film is set in and the characters involved. It’s apparent early on that the narrator is involved in these characters’ lives, but not to which extent. The urge of this discovery also entices the audience to stay tuned.
The Book Thief is in a class of its own. One could provide all of the analysis that they wish to fully examine the film to its core. In the end, the film, as a whole, is a timeless classic. There is nothing revolutionary about the technology used to make the film, or exceptionally artistic in cinematic respects that beget comparisons with the likes of Schindler’s List and The Pianist. The Book Thief serves as a diverse perspective on a time that wasn’t so beautiful, yet the viewer will find beauty across the duration of the film. It shall stand firm against the ranks of this year’s award contenders, and possibly vie for one of the top honors.
Do yourself and your family of all ages a favor, and take them to see The Book Thief. It’s a learning tool, as well as a glimpse into the past. You won’t regret the adventure.
The Book Thief opens today in Philly theaters.