The Book Thief Film Adaptation Critique Emily Jennings

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There are many positive aspects of Markus Zusak's The Book Thief that are properly translated into the film adaptation of the same name, directed by Brian Percival. However, some elements have been lost and some have been added, both of which work out for the better in keeping the audience constantly anticipating what will happen next in the small town of Molching, Germany on Himmel Street. As Liesel Meminger matures into a charming and intelligent young lady during World War II, she becomes mesmerized by the strange and wonderful world of books, which aid her in becoming friends with so many. The following claims are what distinctly separate the book from the film adaptation.

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Hans Hubermann is definitely the most influential figure in Liesel's life. Though at first she is adamant about getting out of the car when she first meets her foster parents, she warms up to Hans's gentle spirit and quiet manner: "It took nearly fifteen minutes to coax her from the car. It was the tall man who did it. Quietly." (Zusak, p. 28). In the film, this scene is longer and more dramatized than it is in the book; however, this seems to work out for the better because the audience receives a better first impression of Hans, his wife Rosa, and their characters than in the book. Hans is portrayed as more crafty and caring in the book, as he does small acts to show his affection for Liesel, but is shown as more openly loving and kind in the film, which is most likely due to time reasons. One thing is undeniable: when he "gives" the basement to Liesel, they both experience a new sweet bond for each other that is blatantly demonstrated for the rest of the book and film.

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Frau Hermann is the grieving mayor's wife, whom Liesel meets by delivering her laundry. Their relationship is very different in the film compared to the novel, but each relationship expands Liesel as a character in different ways. In the book, Liesel steals books from Frau Hermann and is openly rude to her for always grieving, but later apologizes for her actions: "'It's about time,' she informed her, 'that you do your own stinking washing anyway. It's about time you faced the fact that your son is dead. He got killed! He got strangled and cut up more than twenty years ago! Or did he freeze to death? Either way, he's dead! He's dead and it's pathetic that you sit here shivering in your own house to suffer for it. You think you're the only one?'" (Zusak, p. 252). In the film, when the death of Frau Hermann's son is mentioned, it's more of an observation in an apologetic way. Liesel and the mayor's wife have a much closer bond in the film than the novel, which is positive in light of character development, but negative in that the audience loses the edginess of Liesel stealing the books (although the scene where the mayor comes into the library to shut the window while Liesel is still in there is rather exciting). Finally, at the end of the story when Frau Hermann takes Liesel in, it is portrayed in a much more sentimental way in the film than in the book.

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There was symbolism in both the film and novel that at some points was over-exaggerated as well as under-exaggerated. For example, Hans Hubermann's accordion is accurately portrayed as a symbol of hope and distraction in both versions. While the neighbors of Himmel Street are gathered in the air raid shelter, Liesel reads to them to soothe them: "She didn't dare look up, but she could feel their frightened eyes hanging on to her as she hauled the words in and breathed them out. A voice played the notes inside her. This, it said, is your accordion." (Zusak, p. 381). This is one of the most significant and inspiring points in the novel and it is not even portrayed in the film because in the movie, Hans plays his accordion in the shelter. Nonetheless they are both effective in depicting the desperation that was so evident in these scenes. Another example is the books Liesel reads in The Book Thief. In the novel, she steals The Grave Digger's Handbook, The Whistler, The Shoulder Shrug, and more. The titles of the books she stole were very significant and influential to her; however, in the film their importance is majorly understated.

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Finally, Max Vandenburg is the Jew that the Hubermanns hide in their basement and one of Liesel's closest friends. He is symbolic because it is the most unlikely friendship as well as forbidden. Despite that, they bond over a shared love for books, words, and paint. The words that save the Jew's life is: "Do you still play the accordion?" (Zusak, p. 173). After uttering these words in the movie, he immediately and dramatically faints, but in the novel, the reader gets to experience his backstory as a fist fighter, which is not emphasized at all in the film. Additionally, in the novel he gives Liesel a very special gift: a book he writes and illustrates himself titled The Standover Man. In the film he also gives her a book that he creates himself, but it is blank for her to write her own stories.

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All in all, several elements were added and taken away to effectively translate The Book Thief into a major motion picture. Despite the differences, it is still a magnificent story that can be enjoyed as just a novel, just a movie, or together. As The New York Times states, "...It's the kind of book that can be LIFE CHANGING." No matter how the audience chooses, the tale of The Book Thief is desperately beautiful and should be experienced by all who wish to visit a time of war, death, and hope.

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Emily Jennings
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