Bookish Adaptations: The Book Thief


February 1, 2014 by Bernadette ~ The Bumbling Bookworm

Bookish Adaptations is a sporadic feature here on The Bumbling Bookworm where I look at a book’s adaptation into a visual medium.  This includes movies, miniseries, TV series and the like. Today I’m spotlighting The Book Thief!  I didn’t want to ruin the book or film for anyone who hasn’t watched it, so I’ve blacked out the spoilers below.  If you want to see what’s written in the blacked out parts, simply highlight it and the text will show up 🙂

So, I finally saw The Book Thief last week… To be fair, it WAS only released in Australian cinemas on 9 January 2014. I did have a reason for waiting though, and that was because I hadn’t read the book yet – in fact, I’d just started it shortly before the movie was released. I don’t know about you but my preference is to read the book before seeing the adaptation, where possible. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way, like with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, but that’s a story for another day. In this case, I finished the book the day before I saw the movie, and you can find my review of the book here.

Before seeing the movie, I stumbled across this article by Markus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief. Titled “Markus Zusak: How I let go of The Book Thief,” it’s an interesting insight into his process in writing the book and his reasons for not being involved in the movie, having turned down the offer to write the screenplay. I’m glad I read this article, because it prepared me to expect that the movie would not be identical to its bookish original, something I should always keep in mind when watching an adaptation.

I went and saw The Book Thief with two friends, one of whom finished reading the book twenty minutes before we started watching the film (Friend 1), whilst the other had not yet read the book (Friend 2). Interestingly enough, Friend 1 and I had a very similar perspective of the film and felt that our opinion was clouded due to having read the book so closely to watching the film.  On the other hand, Friend 2 had no such reservations with the film, and enjoyed it for what it was – a movingly spectacular film.

So, let’s start with what I loved about this film:

  • The casting of the main characters in the movie was spot on – Sophie Nélisse as Liesel, Geoffrey Rush as Hans, Emily Watson as Rosa, Ben Schnetzer as Max and Nico Liersch as Rudy, they were all absolute perfection in their role and as each character.
  • The relationships between Liesel and the other main characters felt very true to the book, it was an accurate portrayal.
  • The sets and scenery were amazing and they really brought the book to life for me.
  • The film did a great job in capturing the essence of the book and in featuring a snippet of life in Nazi Germany, particularly with the rallies, the Hitler Youth, the singing of the national anthem and the German spoken throughout – I felt every possible emotion on the spectrum during this film: happiness, sorrow, fear, disbelief, love, hate, etc.

And now onto the things I didn’t enjoy as much:

  • I didn’t appreciate the changes to the storyline with the Mayor’s wife, particularly her portrayal and her interactions with Liesel – I don’t see why this is different to the book and what purpose the changes served.  It therefore didn’t make sense when the Mayor and his wife showed up towards the end of the film after the bombing looking for Liesel.
  • In changing the storyline with the Mayor’s wife, them film lacked focus on the book thievery, a crucial element of the story.  It particularly changed Liesel’s reasons for stealing from the mayor’s wife and how this occurred in the film compared to the book: in the book, she steals the books for herself because she feels entitled to them, unlike in the film where she ‘borrows’ them to read to an unconcious Max.  I didn’t like this AT ALL.
  • Death is not used enough in the film; what is a main feature of the book only had a passing glance in the film, and there could’ve been greater use of the narrator.
  • Much like the storyline with the Mayor’s wife, I did not understand why the changes were made to Rudy’s storyline, particularly with his father going off to war far earlier than in the book and with Rudy then being accepted to the Academy, unlike in the book where Mr Steiner is conscripted for refusing to allow Rudy to go to the Academy.  This made no sense to me, and these changes didn’t seem to serve any purpose at all.  It could’ve easily been done the same way as the book without any great incovenience.  I can handle ‘trimming the fat’, so to speak, and not including every little detail from the book in the film, even if this means making minor changes to the storyline so it all fits in and works for the purpose of the film.  This DID happen in other parts of The Book Thief and I had no problem with it, but I CANNOT STAND IT when changes are made for no apparent reason.

Despite what I didn’t like about the film, I felt that overall it was a wonderful adaptation of the book and I’m sure I will watch it again.  It was a moving experience, even if I wasn’t happy with a few bits and pieces. I think my opinion of The Book Thief suffered a little because I watched it so soon after finishing the book, however don’t let that discourage you from watching the film – it’s certainly one I’d have no problems re-watching in the future! In fact, it would be interesting to watch the film again in a few months time to see if my reaction to it is still the same!


One thought on “Bookish Adaptations: The Book Thief

  1. […] rare that I’m fully satisfied with a bookish adaptation to the screen; my post on The Book Thief is a clear example of that!  It is rare, however, that I totally hate an adaptation.  So, to […]

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Hi! I'm Bernadette, a 27 year old lawyer who loves to read (duh!), especially to escape my day job. I love to talk about books but I don't always get the opportunity to do so, hence my blog! I adore YA literature, most genres of Adult Fiction, and I've also been known to pick up a non-fiction book from time to time. I hope you enjoy your visit!

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