Movie Review: “The Book Thief” – Nelisse and Rush Steal the Show

Written by Rebecca Mirabelli January 29, 2014


There are two things I love most when featured in movies: literature and Geoffrey Rush. Naturally, as a movie that encompasses both, I was very eager to watch “The Book Thief”. I felt encouraged to watch the film strictly because of Rush given his history playing characters that have some affiliation to the arts. Spanning the time period of World War II, “The Book Thief” focuses on Liesel’s (Sophie Nelisse) adoption into the Hubermann family, comprised of Hans (Rush) and Rosa (Emily Watson). “The Book Thief” also focalizes war’s effects on the Hubermanns– harbouring a Jewish fugitive, conscription, and fearing discrimination. However, during the turmoil of Nazi Germany, Hans teaches Liesel to read and thus begins her love of writing and book collecting.

For the Love of Reading…

Based on the international bestseller of the same name by Markus Zusak, “The Book Thief” touches on similar themes as “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” by demonstrating how anti-Semitism and WWII could be understood through a child’s perspective. Some of the most disturbing aspects of the film were watching children mimic and endorse anti-Semitism. The film also explores themes like familial and friendly bonds, the importance of commitment, and acts of bravery. Liesel’s relationships are central to the film: to her friend Rudy, her adopted father, and to Max, the Jewish fugitive harboured in her basement. Max catalyzes Liesel’s creativity by giving her a notebook for writing. The dialogue between Max and Liesel tells the audience we are meant to see a similarity between the two, particularly because their mothers are Jewish and Communist, respectively. By understanding Liesel’s questionably non-‘pure’ background, it forces the viewer to confront the visual and non-visual markers of xenophobic difference punishable by death.

Film Review The Book Thief

Two novels Liesel takes an interest in are “The Gravedigger’s Handbook” which she steals from a gravedigger at her younger brother’s funeral in the beginning of the film, and “The Invisible Man” by H.G. Wells, which she steals from the iconic Nazi book burning. I find the selection of these two novels very suitable for the film’s plot development. Firstly, Max is an invisible man to the German military by hiding in the Hubermann’s basement. Similarly, Liesel’s first understanding of death is introduced through “The Gravedigger’s Handbook”, which identifies the “morals” and “tact” to be used in burying a body. As Liesel becomes more acquainted with death because of the war, she learns her morals are grossly unaligned with the Hitler regime.

The Thief and her Adopted Father Steal Hearts

A captivating story, with a typically outstanding performance by Geoffrey Rush. With a consistent accent, Rush melts hearts with his believable affection towards his adopted daughter; his compassion really shines through this character. Running just over 2 hours in length, “The Book Thief” felt dry at moments, and outrageously ominous with the expectation something terrible is looming just around every corner. Nelisse is a wonderful young actress, demonstrating her talent in handling controversial and heavy adult themes in her acting.

“The Book Thief” covers a somewhat tired subject of Nazi Germany in that it has been visited countless times by film. “The Book Thief” differs, however, in its narration by Death, and its ability to focus primarily on Liesel and her attempts to learn, grow, and expand her literary hunger all the while coping with the horrors occurring around her. Inspiring, heart wrenching, and stomach-clenching; I watched “The Book Thief” with a heavy heart, moved to almost-tears by Rush and Nelisse’s performance, knowing somewhere along the line the proverbial bomb was going to drop. This is not a film to watch if you’re hoping for a happy ending.


My Rating: 7/10




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