The Book Thief
Run Time: 131 minutes
Director: Brian Percival
Overall, this film does an excellent job of engaging with a narrative, that of a German girl living in Germany during WWII, that is rarely considered in the discourse regarding Hitler’s occupation. Also, the film does a fantastic job of challenging gender roles regarding masculinity and femininity and engages with issues of race and ethnicity. However, while the film does provide some contextual information regarding the atrocities of WWII, it should not be considered as an educational film on the Holocaust. Providing some appropriate contextual information to the audience regarding the treatment of Jewish people and other marginalized identities in Europe and the Holocaust is strongly suggested as the film seems to presuppose that the audience (given its PG-13 rating) already has some knowledge regarding the Holocaust.
Liesel, a young girl living in Germany during WWII, develops a love of reading as her foster parents hide a Jewish refugee in their home.
- Demeaning language-Much of the demeaning language is spoken in German—“lazy/filthy pig,” “dumb,” “hell,” “stupid girl,” “pain in the neck,” “brats,” communists are described as “dirty” and “filthy”
- Threatening language- “the end of the Jews,” “drop dead”
- Although the movie is not overly gory, most of the violence is directly related to anti-Semitism.
- Nazi imagery (flags) is present throughout the film
- Burning of books
- Punching, throwing, stomping, kicking, slapping, tripping,
- Schoolyard fight, some blood
- Major and minor character deaths- some gore
- Visible weapons- guns
- People are beaten with the butt of a gun
- Hans is shoved by an officer and falls and hurts his head
- Explosions, car crash
- Air raids
- Dead bodies are visible
- Liesel hurts her leg-some gore
- Visible drinking
- Liesel challenges traditional gender stereotypes regarding femininity and is depicted as a role model. For example, Liesel is active (runs, fights a boy, plays soccer with the boys), is not afraid to get dirty or injured, and is very intelligent. Also, Liesel regularly challenges (male) authority or stands up for what she believes is right. Further, Liesel causes an injury (slides on the ground while she is playing outside) so that she can warn Rosa (Liesel’s foster mother) that officers are checking houses for Jewish people.
- Hans, Liesel’s foster father, challenges traditional gender stereotypes regarding masculinity. For example, Hans is caring, sensitive, and lighthearted. Also, Hans has difficulty reading and is not depicted as the “breadwinner” of the family. Hans, overall, is someone who has strong and unwavering moral character even when it means putting his life and the lives of his family at stake.
- Max, the Jewish refugee, challenges traditional gender stereotypes regarding masculinity. For example, Max expresses emotion and even cries in front of Liesel (thus challenging traditional stoicism).
- Throughout history, Jewish people have been depicted as “Other,” and this Othering was especially evident during WWII. The film engages with the anti-Semitism that Jewish people faced in Germany. For example, Kristallnacht is included in the film in which Jewish owned buildings were destroyed by Nazi soldiers. Also, Jewish people are shown wearing a yellow badge on their clothing as an indicator of Otherness.
- Oftentimes the media perpetuates the notion that all German people who lived in Europe during WWII were “bad” or were Nazis. However, the film challenges this stereotype by including the narratives about Liesel, her family, and her best friend. For example, Liesel and Rudy yell “I hate Hitler!” at the top of their lungs as they look out into a vast lake. Also, Liesel’s parents risk their lives to hide a Jewish man in their home. Additionally, Liesel tells Max that she “hates the Führer.”
- The film also addresses racism regarding black identity. At the 1936 Summer Olympics, black American Olympic athlete Jesse Owens won several gold medals besting the Aryan athletes that Hitler touted as superior. Rudy, unaware of the discourse surrounding race in Germany, smears dirt all over his body to look like Owens. It is important to note that Rudy’s attempt to look more like Owens was out of admiration. This is significant because it shows that race is something that is certainly visible but that the stereotypes surrounding races and ethnicities are constructed.
- Hans returns from the war with hearing difficulties and a leg injury, and his character is depicted in the same way as it was before being sent off to war (lovable, kind, and caring). Also, Hans’ injury illustrates the dangerous effects or war.
- There are many body types included in the film.
- At the beginning of the film, Rosa is depicted as a cold, stern, and as an incessantly nagging woman. Also, because Rosa is depicted as the main provider of income and disciplinarian for the family, it is often suggested that Rosa emasculates Hans in a number of ways. At one point in the film a Nazi officer, in reference to Rosa, says to Hans “I don’t know how you live with her.” However, toward the end of the film, the audience finds that she is a very caring person who just wants the best for the family.
- While the film does an excellent job of considering a narrative that is largely absent from the media, more contextual information regarding Hitler’s treatment of marginalized identities, especially Jewish identity, before and during the war would have been helpful. However, it is clear that this film is not necessarily a movie about the Holocaust and is a story about Liesel.
- The film appears to include no variation of sexual orientation.
- When Liesel refuses to speak in the beginning of the film, Rosa claims that “they have given us a mute,” unsatisfied with the foster child she had received because of the assumed disability.
- When Hans is drafted to fight in the war, many of the younger soldiers call him “old man” and make fun of his age. This suggests that old bodies are not capable bodies.
Suggested talking points
- The film embraces the humanity and bravery of human beings even in the most fearful of times and shows that kindness and compassion, even if it means putting one’s own life at risk, is of utmost importance.
- While some Jewish people did survive Nazi occupation in Europe, many Jewish individuals were either killed or relocated to different parts of the world. At the end of the film, Max returns to Liesel years after the end of the war. It is important to note that this “happy ending” was the exception for many people after WWII.
- It is also significant to note that not all Germans were “bad people.” The film does an excellent job of showing a narrative that is not usually expressed in the media.
- Death is a major theme as Death (personified) acts as a narrator in the film and encourages the audience to live life to the fullest.
- The film missed an opportunity to discuss the suffering of queer people and people with disabilities at the hands of Hitler and his Nazi party. This is another example of Othering and the dangerous effects of stereotypes.
- For more information about the Holocaust, please visit http://www.ushmm.org/learn/introduction-to-the-holocaust
Keywords: book thief, liesel, gender, jewish people, Other, race, ethnicity, family, drama, based off book, movie, review, 4 paws, four paws