The Book Thief – A movie review

From the moment that the Tween and I first saw the advertisement for this movie on television we decided that we wanted to see it. Rated PG, I knew that it would be okay for us to watch as a family. Yesterday afternoon, we headed off to the theatre (with a quick stop at Spotlight beforehand so I could get that ecru cotton I needed 😉 ) and then we settled into our seats with a large box of popcorn and a bottle of water between us.

Having never read the book, I had no idea what to expect. Now that I have seen the movie, I wish to read the book. 🙂

I had prior knowledge that the movie (and the book) were narrated by Death. Having this knowledge allowed me to make sense of a lot of the movie as although there are references throughout that would lead the viewer to possibly identify Death as the narrator, they were subtle. I had to tell the Tween afterwards who the narrator was when she asked me. As I was already quite upset on the day that I watched this, the tears flowed freely throughout the movie. I cried at the obvious sad parts and also at the ignorance and ‘sheeple’ mentality that prevailed at this time in history.

For those that are unaware, the story follows Leisel (Emily Watson) a young girl given up for adoption by a mother who is running from Hitler. Leisel (grieving the loss of her mother and brother) suddenly finds herself thrust into the home of Rosa and Hans (Sophie Nelisse and Geoffrey Rush). It takes a little time for Leisel to warm to Rosa (and vice versa) however her new Papa (Hans) instantly makes her comfortable in her new home and teaches her to read from the book she found laying in the snow prior to arriving in his home. Leisel develops a love for books – something that is forbidden in the reign of Nazi Germany.

I found the movie an interesting commentary on life and the fear that some have as to the power of knowledge contained within books. I was scared as I watched young children sing songs about hating others as part of their schooling and watched the mob mentality reign supreme the night that the books were burned. Whilst the movie offered some social commentary and fleeting acknowledgements to what else was occurring (e.g. the invasion of Russia and the rounding up of the Jews) at the time of the war, the movie was mostly themed around childhood friendships, loss of innocence, keeping secrets and family values. It also showed how in the time of war, those who are bullies find themselves elevated in their sense of power and belief in their own importance.

Both of Leisel’s friends – Rudy (a young blonde haired, blue eyed German boy) and Max (a raven haired, dark eyed Jewish man) teach her about life. They teach her that it’s okay to trust and be yourself. They teach her that the written word is something to be revered and not frightened of. I loved that Leisel transformed the walls of the basement (with encouragement from her Papa) into a dictionary of new words that she had learned through reading books.

Leisel becomes the ‘book thief’ although she asserts that she doesn’t steal – she only borrows 😉

The characters in the movie grow in your heart and I developed an affection and affinity with them. I admired Rosa for her strength of character and deep seated love for her family. I admired Hans (and not just because it’s Geoffrey Rush) for his warmth of heart, his spirit and values. I love Rudy for his boyish charm and cheeky sense of humour and although Max was brooding, he was warm and grounded and I truly loved how he turned something questionable (a copy of Mein Kampf) into a thing of promise for Leisel. Leisel herself is warm, inquisitive and has a strength of character that is admirable.

There were many parts of the movie that the Tween did not understand however when I asked her afterwards what particular part it was so I could help her, she could not recall exactly what they were. Maybe in reading the book, she may find the answers to those questions.

There was also a part of me watching the film and thinking “I’d love to have pillow shams like those” or “Those boots are really cool”. Does that make me strange? 😉

44 thoughts on “The Book Thief – A movie review

  1. Having been in Germany shortly after WWII and experiencing the Germans as “normal,” likable people I have forever since realized how important it is to be alert as individuals. It is much easier than we want to believe to fall into a culture of fear, anger, hatred, and violence. It doesn’t make for a peaceful life, but I wouldn’t give up my alertness for anything — i love people and country too much!


    1. I honestly believe that the German people probably are normal and likeable however they lived under a regime that they either had to ‘sink or swim’. It’s a scary thing to watch happening.
      And – you don’t look old enough to have lived there just after the war 🙂


  2. I saw ‘The Book Thief’ on the weekend and though I enjoyed it, as always with adaptations from excellent books, it wasn’t as good as the novel! Yet still worth seeing… But read the book, you won’t be disappointed. 🙂
    I’m not surprised that Tween didn’t understand some of it – the whole concept of the Holocaust and the incremental dehumanising of Jews (and other undesirables) in Nazi Germany – defies belief.
    When I teach ‘The Boy in Striped Pyjamas’ to Year 7 in English, I have to give them a 2 week history lesson first, as they know nor understand nothing about the historical context.


    1. My daughter has read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (and seen the movie). She has also read ummmm trying to think of what they were called….. a series by Morris Glietzmann about a young Jewish boy in Nazi Germany. My mother read one of them and found it upsetting and was surprised that Nada had not only read the series but that her teacher had encouraged it. I want her to read The Diary of Anne Frank.
      I think it is important for our young people to know the events of our past.


      1. Absolutely. The Diary of Anne Frank is still my favourite ‘Holocaust book’. It’s so exquisitely sad, and it’s real, not fictionalised facts (also a literary masterpiece!) My son read it quite young and was profoundly affected.

        The kids (Year 7) find The Boy (both book and film) traumatising and are outraged at the ending.

        But I think it’s so important to keep this generation of children informed about what humans are capable of. 🙂


          1. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is by Irish author, John Boyne and is a fictionalised story about the relationship between two boys – a German and a Jew.
            The books your daughter probably read are Glietzmann’s series on the Holocaust (Once, Then, After, Now). 🙂
            It’s really difficult for students to learn about this awful period in history.
            I’ve had Year 10 students in my class sobbing after viewing Gallipoli and Year 12 crying during The Fiftieth Gate (an HSC text on Holocaust survivors); and as I mentioned earlier, Year 7 were distraught when Bruno and Shmuel went off to their deaths in the gas chamber, hand in hand.
            Harrowing but necessary I feel.

            (BTW I know I sound a cruel teacher in saying all this … 😦 )


            1. No. I believe it is important for students to learn.
              I loved the movie Gallipoli.
              “What are your legs”?
              “Steel springs”
              “What are they going to do”?
              “Hurl me down the track”
              Yes, the ending to that brought me to tears also.


  3. Thanks for the review, it’s a challenge to find a good movie that is a PG and one that’s also interesting and educational, not just about American high school girls being mean or an animation by the big studios. I have a 9 year old boy and a 14 year old girl and struggle to find something decent or original for us all to watch together.


  4. I saw the movie and loved it. I also thought you did a good review. I haven’t read the book and surely it’s better than the movie, as books usually are and I am astonished at how young the author is to have written such an important book.


  5. I’m a reader and don’t often get to the movies. I can attest that the book is one of the best i’ve read!
    So many good movies are made from amazing books!


  6. The book is one of my favourites, definitely recommend reading it! Didn’t have the guts to watch the movie as I don’t want disappointments compared to the book, but your review made me want to watch it right away! Cheers!


  7. We watched this the other day. It was such a terrific, sad and depressing movie all mixed into one. I walked away telling everyone to watch it, while my husband insisted that no one did because it had such a sad plot. What I liked most about the movie, was that when there is a film produced in regard to WWII and the Holocaust, it normally focuses on the Jews and other killed in the concentration camps. This movie instead, gave us a good look at the other side. People on the German side hurt and lost loved ones too, so their side shouldn’t be ignored. But how often do we think of their side? For most people, probably not often.


  8. I absolutely loved this movie! After several attempts, H and I finally saw it. H said it was a movie he would sit through again, which surprised me coming from him, since those first tries of viewing on my part were overruled by yet another movie he wanted to see! Now, I’ve bought the book and intend to see if its as good as the movie. Usually I do that the other way around.


  9. I’ve seen the previews but will have to wait until it’s on DVD because Hubby can’t sit in those seats at the theater very long without his back hurting. I may not wait and buy the book. I have found in the past that most movie versions of a book don’t follow the book that closely. For instance, the book, Flowers in the Attic is so much better than either of the movies made from it. The same thing happened with The Exorcist. The movie missed the real meaning of the book all together.


  10. OK, two things. If you’re strange, so am I (probably not good). I told my daughters afterwards that I actually got decorating ideas from Rosa’s house. They looked at me like I had rocks in my head. But I loved the tasteful, restrained use of lace. Second thing, I almost embarrassed myself in the theatre and howled, you know, that last scene with Rudi and Liesel. But at least my daughters were with me on that one! 🙂


    1. Oh yes, that scene was devastating. The tears were rolling down my face. And then when Papa came home….. or when Max came into the shop….. there were myriad times.
      I loved how their house was functional yet she still managed to retain some feminine touches.


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