Rotten Tomatoes: 46%. IMBD: 7.6/10. Odd discrepancy, maybe. Of course, the focus of Rotten Tomatoes is more movie critics–I read just a couple and, for the most part, they were disappointing: “Death as a tooth fairy“, “not a little dull“, “no real feeling for the catastrophe“. The blurb on the site reads, “A bit too safe in its handling of its Nazi Germany setting …” And it was–too “safe”. As I wrote about in my review (link), the novel had twelve-year-old children shouting “Heil, Hitler” and burning books and marching in Hitler Youth parades. In today’s politically correct climate, I couldn’t see any of that translating to the screen; and, quite frankly, it just might have been too inflamatory for a world that still hasn’t worked through our issues of otherness and hatred and oppression.
But I couldn’t help but wonder if the reviewers had read the book. I suppose that should be beside the point because the film should be able to stand on it’s own–and, according to many reviewers, it didn’t. My husband hadn’t read the book, but when I filled in some blanks for him, the movie worked. It was certainly beautiful–all in shades of brown and gray and taupe with a sky almost always pale, rarely blue. Geoffrey Rush was a perfect Papa and Sophie Nelisse played up the contrast between Liesel’s angelic side with her feisty approach to life’s disappointments. Rosa Huberman was perhaps a bit too soft–the reader waited nearly half the book for Mama to become sympathetic.
I was not disappointed in the movie, but it couldn’t even begin to touch the poignancy of the book. In Markus Zuzak’s Book Thief, Death was most definitely not a tooth fairy, but a character in his own right, one who dawdled and bantered, laughed and cried. And Zuzak didn’t give us Nazi Lite. He showed us life under the Third Reich through the eyes of a German citizen–sometimes burdensome, often constricting, but overall pretty routine after a while. And isn’t that, really, the horror of Nazi Germany? Or any evil empire, for that matter? It becomes unexceptional. And when we accept evil as commonplace, we’ve begun to lose our humanity.
So read the book. Then enjoy the movie.