“The Book Thief”: The Book is Always Better


No, I haven’t read the book.

Now before you throw both hands in the air, hear me out.

Not having read the book, I can give a more objective view on Brian Percival’s adaptation of The Book Thief onto the silver screen. That being said, the book is always better. Even without reading Markus Zusak’s bestselling words, I know that the book is better.

The opening scene is narrated by, who we can assume is, Death: voiced by a sultry, coy English accent (Roger Allam). The narrator’s identity is never mentioned explicitly, but there’s enough not so subtle, cutesy riddles to give it away within the first ten seconds. So, right away there’s a ton of foreshadowing. A bunch of people are going to be six feet under before the credits are rolling. That’s a fact. After all, the movie is set in Germany under the Third Reich. The synopsis should have taken care of that one all by itself.

What bothers me here is that, to have Death as a narrator, the film balances between a drama and a legend. When someone speaks in riddles and rhymes, it’s hard not to think that someone is reading you a story written by Dr. Seuss.

Speaking of anti-Semitism, there’s a lot of that in this movie. Well, actually, not as much as you would think. What is interesting about this film, however, is the perspective of Nazi Germany from the homefront. Rarely are American audiences presented with the scenes from the inside of: Hitler Youth programs, Nazi propaganda, air raids…etc. Not to mention, they’re all taking place from the eyes of a little girl — Liesel.

Yet, even with the appropriate setting for doom and gloom, the mood seemed inappropriately light. Hans (Geoffrey Rush), an inspiring, blue-collar German painter with outstanding morals, seemed to be overplayed as the comic relief. Sure, it was charming. Yes, I understand that this is a puff piece about a little girl and her cute charisma, but it just came off as a little cheesy. Cheesy, but could be seen as an attempt to maintain Liesel’s (Sophie Nelisse, a surprise and a treat) innocence. After all, the story is being told through her eyes. Rose-coloured eyes to match the innocence of a child. Even then, there were too many marital jokes, elbow nudges and side winks too take the whole thing seriously. Also, as a side note, the constant appearance of Hans’ accordion was moving. His ability to cut the tension by simply picking up the instrument was sometimes funny, heart- wrenching, or simply delightful. Only part of the large role music played in this film’s aesthetic.

The entire film was accented by an outstanding soundtrack composed by the extremely talented John Williams. There’s something to be said about classical music in a film like The Book Thief (2013). The urban landscape of Berlin in the 1940s blanketed by layers of snow set to strings and horns. It matched the mood of the film perfectly and never took anything away, only added, to the experience. The moment a musical score controls the audience’s emotions during the film is when it reaches perfection. John Williams’ compositions added so much to this film; it attained perfection.

Thomas Creery

Thomas Creery

I strive for strange, roll in weird, and study the eccentric. Keep on asking questions and you’re bound to find an answer; even though, it may not be the right one...for now. Favorite directors include: David Lynch, P.T. Anderson, and Quentin Tarantino.