Arts movie review

Through the eyes of Death and a child

A historical drama about a German family harboring a Jew during WWII

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In The Book Thief, Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) sneaks into a neighbor’s well-stocked library to pursue her love of reading.
Jules Heath, Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
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Liesel (Sophie Nélisse, center), her friend Rudy (Nico Liersch), and her foster mother Rosa (Emily Watson) await news in a bomb shelter in The Book Thief..
Jules Heath, Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation


The Book Thief

Directed by Brian Percival

Starring Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, and Emily Watson

Rated PG-13

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You know you are in for an interesting movie when it is narrated by Death himself. Death first sees our main character Liesel on a train, when he comes to take the soul of her sick and dying younger brother. He is intrigued by her for some reason he cannot place, and follows her life story as it progresses.

After that tragic train ride and a hasty funeral, Liesel finally arrives at the home of her new foster parents, the Hubermanns. They take in young Liesel because her mother can no longer care for her — it is Germany during the Third Reich, and we discover that her mother was a communist. Though the story is set in such a dark time and place, the movie is surprisingly light at times. Liesel develops a close relationship with her new father Hans, played by Geoffrey Rush, who teaches her to read, and lets her write the new words she has learned on the walls in their basement. Leisel’s first friend in town is a young boy with quite a sense of humor, named Rudy. Rudy develops a crush on Liesel, and this leads to several adorable scenes where he tries to win a kiss from her.

Both Liesel and Rudy attend school wearing military-like uniforms with swastika insignia, learning to praise the Führer without question. We see that Liesel doesn’t really understand what is happening in Germany until one day when a Jewish teenager, Max, seeks refuge in her new home. Max stays hidden in the family’s basement, and Liesel spends many hours reading to him and bringing him news from the outside. Their friendship is heartwarming, and adds a relatable dose of emotion to the story.

The movie definitely has its moments of suspense, as would be expected for a story about a family in mid-WWII Germany harboring a Jewish man in their basement. It also has several heartbreaking and tear-jerking scenes, but I have to say I left the theater with a sense of hope. I came to the same conclusion that Death did, that humans are horrible but beautiful creatures, always with a trick up their sleeves and the capacity for kindness and love.

Overall, The Book Thief is definitely worth seeing. The movie is by no means a Nazi-focused film, rather a narrative of a child trying to make sense of life during a horrific time. The casting, the plot, the characters and their interactions — all are amazing. You won’t be disappointed, though perhaps a little teary eyed, so I would recommend tissues.