Home » Years » 2013 » The Book Thief ••••

The Book Thief ••••

The-Book-Thief_posterStarring: Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Director: Brian Percival
Screenplay: Markus Zusak, Michael Petroni
Drama/War, Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 131 minutes
Release Date: November 27, 2013


Scott, we’re caught red-handed. It’s time to review The Book Thief.

(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)

Indeed. The lead character certainly stole my heart.

It’s 1938 and in Nazi Germany it’s not safe to be anyone who is not in the Party. 12-year-old Liesel Meminger’s (Sophie Nélisse) communist mother has arranged for kindly Hans Huberman (Geoffrey Rush) and not-so-kindly Rosa Huberman (Emily Watson) to look after her daughter. Liesel isn’t in town long before she meets a very cute young boy named Rudy (Nico Liersch). Liesel has a secret. At her brother’s burial, she stole a book from a grave digger. Hans asks her about the book and learns she cannot read. He then determines to teach her and covers the basement walls with chalkboards where she can write her dictionary words and become a proper reader.

The Hubermans hide a Jew in their basement, a young man named Max (Ben Schnetzer) who is the son of a man who saved Hans’ life during World War I. Liesel and Max become great friends. There are times when Max almost gets caught by the Nazis and when he almost dies from illness. Liesel has a job delivering laundry to the mayor and is invited into the mayor’s huge library, where she is dazzled by the abundance of books. The war slowly heats up and the movie shows us how Liesel and her family attempt to survive soon-to-be bombed out Germany.

Scott, Liesel is just adorable as a young girl coming of age in one of the most depressing times in human history. She is burdened with many secrets: her mother, her stolen book, her illiteracy, and the man in the basement. She soldiers on demonstrating more maturity than many adults in such a situation.

As a hero, we witness her growth from a shy, timid girl into a young woman of unusual courage. She finds a way to gain access to many books so that she can read to Max while he is sick. Rudy calls her a thief, but she insists she is only borrowing the books.

You’re right, Greg, this is a great hero story about a girl who is forced by abhorrent circumstances to grow up too fast. The Book Thief is exactly the kind of movie that I was pining away for last summer when we were subjected to one mindless action flic after another. The Book Thief could be accused of being slow and plodding, but I enjoyed the deliberate pacing of events which allowed us to truly get to know and love the characters.

This is one of those movies that teaches us some important life lessons. We learn the dangers of nationalism, the senselessness of racism, and the horrors of warfare. We also learn the importance of telling people that you love them while they’re still around, or in Liesel’s case, kissing people you love while they’re still alive.

True enough. There’s a scene where the Nazi party is having a book burning event. It’s hard to imagine such books as H. G. Wells’ “The Invisible Man” seen as a danger to society. I was struck by how easily we have access to books in our culture. With the abundance of libraries, bookstores, and online outlets, we often take books for granted. And I was given pause by the rise in the popularity of eBooks and wondered if this weren’t a modern book burning? If all the print books are gone, how easy would it be to control what we can and cannot read?

Still, the point of The Book Thief lies elsewhere. It’s a story of a young girl who grows up loving books and loving the people around her in a time when love seems like a four letter word. As a writing coach I was warmed as I watched Liesel overcome her illiteracy and become both a strong young woman and a strong reader and writer. I give The Book Thief 4 out of 5 Reels and Liesel 4 out of 5 Heroes.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4

The supreme importance of books and literacy is a major take-home message of The Book Thief. Her passion for reading is what cements her relationship with her father and with Max.  The wisdom that she gleans from the books is a symbol of freedom of thought that is independent from the Nazi oppression all around her. Her thievery of books is the necessary rebelliousness from that oppression and from so many of the dark forces all around her that she cannot control.

This is a wonderful gem of a movie, Greg. Sophie Nélisse shines in her role as Liesel and I’m sure we’ll see much more of her in the movies. I highly recommend The Book Thief and also give it 4 Reels out of 5. It was a joy watching Liesel come of age and evolve into a brave young woman. I give her 4 Heroes out of 5 as well.

Movie: reel-4 Heroes: superman-4

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