Every once in a while you watch a movie that speaks to you at multiple levels. To me, The Book Thief happened to be one such movie. Whether it was the fact that I had recently started voraciously reading books and enjoying the written word, or whether it was something about the setting of the story bang in the middle of WW-II, or whether it was the wonderfully heartwarming and courageous tale of Liesel Meminger (portrayed beautifully by young Sophie Nelisse), I don’t know what it was, but this movie just ended up moving me in more than one way.
Based on an eponymous novel authored by Markus Zusak, the story is set in Germany and begins in 1938 when the Nazi party is slowly gaining in popularity and the juggernaut started by Adolf Hitler is gathering momentum. It is in this hubris that Liesel comes into the family of the Hubermanns (Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson) and becomes a part of their lives.
The movie follows her story and talks about how she becomes friends with Rudy, the neighbor boy, the arrival of Max, a Jew who is sheltered by the family, her friendship with Max bonded by their common love for the written word, all the while reminding the viewers of the escalating tensions outside when England declares war with Germany and the subsequent bombing raids on their homes.
At the heart of it, this is a movie of Liesel growing up from an innocent, ignorant child to someone who loses her foster parents, her friends and yet surviving through the entire ordeal with nothing but her words to keep her company. This transition in her character is brought out very subtly and very effectively by the director without getting too soppy or mushy about her losses. In an extremely understated way, the director manages to effectively convey this entire growing up process of this little girl caught up in extraordinary circumstances beyond her control.
While I have seen a lot of war movies which highlight the futility of war and hatred in different ways, this one takes an entirely different approach to delivering the same message. It uses the eyes of a little girl, her innocence, her love for words, as a medium to deliver the message, and it does an awesome job of the same.