MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo By 20th Century Fox
On Blu-ray and DVD, Redbox, Video on Demand, Amazon Instant Video, iTunes, Google Play and other streaming services.
Directed by Brian Percival. Starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Every once in a while a film of significance slips through the cracks, cursed by poor distribution, early negative reviews and difficult subject matter.
The Book Thief is one of those pictures. Based on a 2005 prize winning (and hugely popular) Young Adult novel by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief defies easy categorizations. Since the movie takes place in a German village during the 1930s and includes scenes of Jewish persecution (including 1938’s Kristallnacht in which thousands of Jewish businesses and synagogues were set on fire by German SA members and civilians) it has been described as a Holocaust film for younger viewers.
But that is not precisely what it is.
The main plot is a classic children’s story about Liesel (Sophie Nélisse), a 12-year-old girl forced to move away from her family of birth to be raised by foster parents. Once she is situated in her new home, she must learn how to stick up for herself as she warms the hearts of her new stepparents, including a kind father (Rush) and a brutish mother (Watkins). She will make a new best friend (Nico Liersch) and help her parents hide and protect a fugitive (Ben Schnetzer).
It is only a storybook setting by outward appearances since the tale takes place during the time of Adolph Hitler’s rise to power. As the Third Reich becomes more invasive of all parts of daily life, it becomes harder to live with hope. The Book Thief provides a sympathetic view of how the tragedy of war affected average citizens of Germany and Austria.
I forgot to mention that the movie has a narrator: It is Death (Roger Allam).
Rather than create a dystopian future (The Hunger Games, Ender’s Game, Divergent), writer Marcus Zusak traveled back in time to show us a world gone mad.
But all is not lost. The Book Thief is also a meditation on the power of words and literature to save a person’s soul. As Christians who believe in Holy Scripture’s ability to change lives, this film has much to offer.
The acting is wonderful; the cinematography is stunning; and the musical score by John Williams is elegiac in tone.
I highly recommend this film (as well as the novel) as a discussion starter for youth and adult viewers. Parents should watch the film first before making a decision for family viewing with older children (14 and up). No one should have to handle more sadness than they can bear. I found this movie deeply moving.
Five halos: A child’s-eye view of prejudice and war, tragedy and hope.
Three pitchforks: Sensitively presented scenes of violence and death; anti-Semitism; the horrors of war; and, yes, some books are stolen.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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