My friend Marina is a movie aficionado and podcaster and invited me to a special press screening for The Book Thief last week. After seeing the movie, we recorded a special podcast for Row Three: After the Credits (Episode 140: The Book Thief Spoiler Special).
I read the novel by Markus Zusak a number of years ago (March 2008) so the story was not really fresh in my mind, but I had loved the book and when I saw the trailer a few months ago I was very excited.
You can listen to Marina and I chat about the movie (and book) but be warned: There Are Spoilers! I’m also going to summarize my feelings here (some of which are repeated in the podcast), and there will also be spoilers below.
The adaptation was greatly simplified from the book with a number of characters and subplots removed (such as the illiterate neighbour Liesel reads to and Hans & Rosa’s grown children). But overall the screenplay was a great adaptation from the source material. There were some scenes that I remembered once they began, and they played out on screen exactly as I remembered. The theme of the power of words from the book carried over well to the film.
One of my favourite things about the book is that it was narrated by Death, and I was really happy to see that maintained to a degree. The novel’s Death is a lot lighter and more humorous, but they really focused on this small town during Nazi Germany, and the people coping with this tumultuous time.
Sophie Nélisse as young Liesel is amazing and truly shines in the role. Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush were great as Rosa and Hans, and even young Rudy played by Nico Liersch. The movie is getting early Oscar buzz, and I really hope Sophie gets an Oscar nod for the role, and maybe Adapted Screenplay.
Some of the film has been toned down for the benefit of English audiences, and 21st century audiences. Liesel and Rudy were part of Hitler Youth which was mandatory, but in the film, aside from wearing the uniforms, this isn’t addressed. And in the book Hans teaches Liesel how to roll a cigarette, and that becomes a bonding moment between them: she always rolls his cigarettes. But in the film you don’t have anyone smoking on screen.
And then, something that Zusak did in the novel is that everyone speaks English but occasionally has the odd nein or danke thrown in to remind you it’s Germany. This didn’t stand out as problematic in the novel (from what I recall) but in the film, with the German accents, I felt this was unnecessary.
Overall, I really loved the movie. Yes, I cried—I fully expected to. I was a weepy mess—but it wasn’t always the sad moments, some of it was from tender scenes, where there was such a humanity to the characters. I highly recommend seeing the film and reading the book.