The Second World War is a scenario that cinema has wanted to squeeze to the fullest, it has been nourished by the same decades and decades. Therefore, when we recommend another film on the subject, the feeling is tired.
It is not bad that they continue doing this type of films and, personally, I think it is interesting to talk about the past and keep it in mind, especially so as not to make the same mistakes. But laziness is understandable and, many times, it can. Therefore, when one gets ready to see The Book Thief (Brian Percival, 2013), based on Markus Zusak‘s novel of the same name, at the beginning, he thinks he is going to find “another Nazi drama”.
But in the end, the book thief tells us something else (or, rather, someone else tells us), something that has to do with the present, with the past and with the future. This something is death, the death that awaits us all, that inevitable destiny that is always lurking. Is that this type of film can generate rejection by the tear, but The thief of books, although force some scene, does not pretend to make us cry, but accept our end.
Another peculiarity is that we are not in a concentration camp, nor does Hitler appear physically. Although we can perceive Hitler in the environment, as a threat; as an omnipresent, invisible and ruthless being. In this way, the film places us in everyday life, in the life of the city whose inhabitants do not know very well what is going to happen and try to continue with their lives as they can. Everything is written on the fly, the characters do not know their destiny.
Some will accept with resgination the rise of Nazism, others will welcome it. And, among the crowd, there will be a girl whose life has been marked by misfortune: first, with the separation of her mother and, later, with the death of her brother.
Liesel, the girl, will be adopted by a much older couple. At first, she will feel like a stranger, she will not make good friends with her mother, nor will she understand how the world works or why they hang the communist label on her. Through the eyes of Liesel and with the voice of death, we discover a story that oscillates between story and reality, between life and death.
The book thief: read to escape
The thief of books is not an essential film and neither one of the most praised of its kind. But it has an important message that refers us to the power of the word. The word is another great protagonist in the film, it is the way of escape that the protagonists will find to survive in a horrible world. As we have advanced, the action takes place in everyday life, within the framework of the city, of the working families to which Nazism has caught unprepared.
Liesel arrives at her new home, she is just a girl and has already lost the most important people in her life. He does not know how to read and, as a consequence, he will be mocked at school. Liesel is also of communist origin, so she will not escape from that label either.
It is interesting to see how children repeat what adults say, even if they do not even know the meaning of the word. Some children will insult Liesel with the cry of “communist”, but neither they nor Liesel really know what it means to be a communist.
The indoctrination in the school also becomes patent, the children sing without knowing very well what hides the lyrics of the song. And here lies part of the message of the film: Liesel is labeled as illiterate, but the other children, although they know how to read, do not know the meaning of many of the words that are part of their vocabulary. Is it only illiterate who can not read?
At the beginning of the film, during the burial of her brother, Liesel steals a book, a book of which she does not know its meaning, but for her it means a lot, it is a connection with her past, with her brother. His father will discover the book and teach him to read. The book, in fact, is not a novel or story, it is a simple manual for gravediggers. Death, again, makes an appearance.
Liesel will find in books and words an important way to escape, to immerse in other worlds and learn. Books can become a weapon, a way of thinking, therefore, they did not interest Nazism. In a inmoral book, Liesel manages to rescue one, as occurs in Farenheit 451; but, here, we are not in a dystopia, we are in the real world, in a not so distant past.
This gesture is really significant, Liesel will share his love for books and words with his family and with Max, a young Jew who hides in the basement of the family of Liesel. Later, he will also share his secret with his friend Rudy and, in some way, with the mayor’s wife. The books allow Liesel to dream and Max to come out of hiding …
The true power of the word is manifested when the inhabitants of the city must hide in an air raid shelter while the city is bombed. At this moment, worry, fear and pain takes over people. Therefore, Liesel decides to tell a story, soak those frightened people with their love for words. And, without a doubt, it succeeds; Tranquility returns to that dark place and words have defeated the bombs themselves.
Nobody escapes death
Somehow, the protagonists have two fears throughout the film: fear of death and fear of Hitler. Neither figure appears physically, but we can perceive them. There is a really interesting moment in which Liesel and Rudy shout “I hate Hitler”. This cry supposes the loss of fear, there is no longer terror and they can accept whatever comes.
The same happens with death, Liesel has been aware of it since childhood, has seen it everywhere, but his life has not stopped because of it. We are all going to die at some point, death is the only thing we have insurance from our birth and does not understand neither money nor borders.
Liesel dodges death several times and the same thing happens to Max, who looked like he was going to be the first to die. Other characters will not run with the same luck, but in the end, Liesel and Max will also get their time. Death lurks from the beginning of our lives.
In The Thief of books, death will comment on what we see, with a calm and calm voice. And it is that if we have to fear someone, we should fear the living. Even in the worst of scenarios, Liesel finds room for optimism, so we see in the embrace with the mayor’s wife after the terrible bombing in which death has devastated almost all inhabitants.
The voiceover is ironic in some points, but at the same time, it connects with the reality of its essence, its nature. He also acts as judge, balancing the balance, something that refers us enormously to art and to that topic of memento mori. Death is a kind of righteous, sometimes benevolent and sometimes ruthless, but it is not an enemy.
In this way, the book thief immerses us in a story full of humanity, friendship and learning in the midst of a horrible, dark and suffocating world. Of course it does not stop being a fantasy and does not have the impact of authentic stories like The Diary of Anne Frank, but it is a story, a pleasant story that reminds us that we must accept our fate patiently and without fear.
“Words are life. If your eyes could talk, what would they say? “
-Max, The book thief-