When I heard that Markus Zusak‘s infamous work The Book Thief would be made into a movie I was intrigued and skeptical. Usually, movies based on popular books are mediocre, like The Tale of Despareaux 2008, or unbearable to watch (like Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief). There are of course exceptions like Life of Pi 2012, and the first two Harry Potter movies made subsequently in 2001 and 2002, however these movies are anomalies. Why is this? I believe that it is because the conversion process from book to film is extremely difficult. Film makers are faced with the wearisome task of changing a story that uses words as an artistic medium to a story that uses sight and sound (music, dialogue, background) as a mode of expression. It comes down to whether the film creators are able to capture what readers imagined and experienced when they read the book.
The question, “What does it mean to be human?, formed the basis of this story. The purpose of this film, as it was in the book, was to capture the meaning of human existence during a time when the absolutes and truths that people had lived with since even before their time twisted into ideas and philosophies they couldn’t recognize or understand. I found, when I read the book at least, it curious and thought-provoking that the story centered on characters in the heart of Nazi Germany, where people disassociate such humane characteristics as kindness, love, and morality. Perspective forced me to look beyond what I already knew about Nazi Germany into the very depth of such an evil entity, and that was where I came to know beautifully flawed human beings whose deaths and sorrow struck me at my very core. Did the movie capture this idea? Yes and no. There were moments, like when Rosa sat crying on the bed when Hans left to fight holding his accordion that I felt that beauty and heart stopping realness from the book. Yet those moments seemed fleeting and often times they couldn’t grasp that authenticity, though they tried. Never in the movie did I feel that I looked into the heart and soul of any of the characters.
I liked the feel of this movie. The darker colors and the way they transitioned from scene to scene fit the mood of Nazi Germany and the environment Leisel grew up in. Of course there were times where I think they could have done better. One scene in particular that comes to my mind is when Liesel ran through the crowd of Jews looking for Max. The slow motion and overall execution seemed too much. I thought it took away from the simplicity and tenderness of such a moment. Though it wasn’t perfect, I still felt that the shooting of this film was excellent.
I liked the actors and actresses, however I saw them as characters, not people. Never did I feel I was given the opportunity to really know them. All I could do was see their outer shell and sometimes maybe look through a tear in their defenses and see some of the pain hidden there. What could have changed this? I think they should have shown their flaws more profoundly. Why? Because human beings are flawed. They make mistakes. Children especially have so much to learn as they develop and change into adults. How do they get there? By making mistakes. That isn’t to say that I didn’t appreciate the beauty and kindness of the characters. No that wasn’t it. Here was the difference. When their deaths came in the book I felt as though a part of me had been ripped out; as though I had lost my most precious friends or family members. I wept for them because they were so alive. I had come to know them so intimately that when they were gone it broke my heart to know that they could no longer play the accordion, steal food and books, paint themselves black, mourn the loss of their sons, and wish to kiss the girl they had loved for years. With the movie it was different. When they died, I felt as though I was saying goodbye to a neighbor or maybe an acquaintance. I cried of course but it wasn’t the same. I didn’t know them well enough.
The music captured the mood of this movie very well but I was left wanting more. John Williams is an excellent composer. Some of the films he has written for include masterpieces like Star Wars, the Indiana Jones series, the Harry Potter films and Lincoln and other well known classic films like E.T. and Jurassic Park. Did he deliver in this film also? Almost. I didn’t particularly notice the music unless the attention shifted from the characters to a scenery or event. Essentially, the score was beautiful but not a masterpiece.
PERSONAL ENJOYMENT: 3/5
I did not hate this movie. However, I did not love it either. If I was to recommend either the book or the movie I would instantly choose the book. The book shows why living is such a beautiful thing. It personifies life and it uses death as a modem between what is thought to be truth and what actually is truth. The movie didn’t master this idea but I think more will read the book because it was made.
OVERALL SCORE: 3.5/5
Rudy Steiner: Are you coming?
Liesel Meminger: Where are you going to?
Rudy Steiner: Isn’t it obvious? I’m running away.
Liesel Meminger: Have you thought this through?
Rudy Steiner: Ya. I don’t want to die. There – all thought through.