Jakob the Liar
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that kids will see hung bodies, beatings, shootings, torture, and psychological cruelty under the Nazi regime. The main character, Jakob lies repeatedly in an attempt to buoy hopes in a Jewish ghetto during World War II.
What's the story?
Imprisoned within a Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland, Jakob Heym (Robin Williams) overhears on a German radio the heartening news of Russian army advances. By sharing this forbidden information with a select few, he not only risks his own life, but the life of young Lina (Hannah Taylor-Gordon), who he's secretly harboring in his attic. Rumors begin circulating that Jakob has a radio of his own. Suddenly he's treated with respect. The community clings to him for hope and for news. Because they won't believe the truth, he begins feeding his desperate companions lies about allied advances against the Germans. Hope breeds bravery and talk of an uprising, and Jakob is elected to lead the resistance against their captors.
Is it any good?
Following closely after the success of Roberto Benigni's Life Is Beautiful, this sentimental, watered-down tale (adapted from Jurek Becker's 1969 book) of one man's wartime attempt to spread hope fell through the cracks, despite star Robin Williams' box office magnetism. In the right movie, with his shtick and his histrionics seriously curtailed, Robin Williams can be a very capable actor. His characters in Good Will Hunting and Dead Poets Society) ably communicated both humor and emotional depth. But in JAKOB THE LIAR he delivers a Moscow on the Hudson performance, putting on an accent and a costume and asking audiences to forget his reputation for manic comedy even though scenes are filled with light humor. As a result, taking Williams seriously as a ghettoized Jew is nearly impossible.
Because director and co-writer Peter Kassovitz softens the reality of the Holocaust, the movie plays more like a Hogan's Heroes episode than the serious drama it alleges to be. But what may be less than satisfying for adults can be a good stepping stone for children taking an interest in the subject. The Nazis aren't terribly menacing, the scenes of violence and psychological torture are relatively mild, and the themes of perseverance and selflessness are strong.
Families can talk about...
Families can talk about war and prejudice. Families may also want to discuss lying and the spreading of false hopes. Was it okay for Jakob to lie for good purposes? How can lies, even when meant to make people feel better, still harm?