A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Book Thief is a historical drama set in WWII Germany based on the bestselling young-adult novel by Australian author Markus Zusak. There are many scenes of violence, from the way the Nazis treat Jews, to schoolyard fights, to recurring bomb threats. There are many character deaths and near-deaths that will affect even the most jaded of viewers, though there's almost no blood and zero gore. Language includes German insults that translate to "a--hole" and "dirty swine" as well as "stupid" and "idiot."
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What's the story?
THE BOOK THIEF, like the book on which it's based, is narrated by Death (Roger Allam), who explains that he rarely cares about the stories of the living, with the exception of young Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse). In 1938, Liesel is shown on a train with her frightened mother (rumored to be a Communist) and sick little brother, who dies before they reach their small town destination. At his impromptu funeral, Liesel steals The Gravedigger's Handbook as a memento. She's soon delivered to childless foster parents, gentle painter Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and abrasive laundress Rosa (Emily Watson). At home, Hans discovers the book and begins to teach Liesel how to read, and at school, Liesel befriends her neighbor, the fast-running Rudy Steiner (Nico Liersch). Liesel's life changes even more when Hans and Rosa agree to hide a young Jewish man, Max (Ben Schnetzer), in their basement. Liesel, now a voracious reader, forms a sweet secret friendship with Max -- but as the war progresses, all of them are put in danger again and again.
Is it any good?
The film may not steal your heart quite as powerfully as Zusak's novel, but it is faithful enough to show moviegoers why the characters are so beloved. Take Rudy, he's a "boy with hair the color of lemons" who doesn't care that his Olympic idol Jesse Owens is black -- he just wants to run fast and convince Liesel to give him a kiss. Then there's Max, who shows Liesel how to resist hate, and who paints over the pages of Mein Kampf to give Liesel a place for her words. And class actors Rush and Watson are fabulous as the bickering but loving Hubermanns, who really love their new daughter. This is a movie that will make you cry, make you laugh, and make you hold your books close to your heart.
Markus Zusak's novel is unforgettable: How many books are narrated by Death? The movie doesn't pull off the Death narration quite as seamlessly as the novel (plus, Allam's voice is stereotypically deep and knowing), but the at-times heartbreaking story will still resonate with viewers, who will grow to love young plucky Liesel. Nelisse is lovely as the curious Liesel, who despite losing her entire immediate family, is open to love -- whether it's from her parents, her new friend Max, or her best friend Rudy.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the importance of literacy and books. How does learning to read change Liesel's life? Why does she "steal" books? How can books make an impact on even a horrible situation?
What makes a movie or a book "young adult" -- the age of the protagonist, the intended audience, or something else?
How is this movie different from others about WWII? Do you believe there were Germans who weren't fond of the Nazi regime or of Hitler's anti-semitic laws?
In the movie, like the book, Death is the narrator, but he doesn't reveal things the same way. What did you think of the narrator in the movie? For those who've read the book, did you like and understand the changes between the page and screen versions?
- In theaters: November 8, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: March 11, 2014
- Cast: Emily Watson, Geoffrey Rush, Sophie Nelisse
- Director: Brian Percival
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship, History
- Run time: 125 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some violence and intense depiction of thematic material
- Last updated: January 8, 2021
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