Bad Script? Good Plot?

Or both, Interchangeable


Five sea-battles, a lynching, a riot with attempted arson, a torture scene, practically no dialogue, and a cast of predominantly male actors. The only two females are respectively a whore and a longsuffering wife. They probably have about three lines between them. Perhaps the wife has a bit more, she scolds her husband for fifty seconds or so. Oh, she also repeatedly tells a band of rioters to ‘go home’. And I’m supposed to like this film? What a waste of time.

On top of everything else, the sea battles were 3d models, and they used the same still of the attackers before every battle scene (as seen through a folding monocular). There was too little dialogue and what was there was inept. It may have been historically correct. If so, that is a poor merit. I have nothing more to say about this.


A few days ago, I watched The Book Thief. It was glorious and tragic and funny and beautiful all at once. I think I cried for the better part of it. I simply couldn’t stop, but I didn’t care. It went through and through me like a knife and a caress. What a rare treat. It just fits in with what I write about. It was an inspiration, and more so than the book. I found the book impossible to finish the first time I attempted to read it. On my second try, I think I got it, but there are things in it that I can’t handle. Mostly it is a question of language. I don’t know. The mixture of German and English seems shrill in the book. In the film, it seems natural. I also had trouble with the ‘hand-written’ sections. That is one thing they’d left out in the film. It is hinted at: Liesl opens a transformed (painted over) propaganda book and starts writing. In the next frame, she sleeps resting her head on the book. Hans Hubermann finds her there and caresses her hair. These simple pictures say everything.

I’m not certain, but I believe Geoffrey Rush (Hans H) speaks death’s lines. This film shows a surprisingly gentle side of Rush. I’ve mostly seen him in hard-boiled roles, but here he shows so much more. Sensitivity, warmth, understanding, and sorrow. What a performance. Emily Watson as Rosa is his match. But the young actress who plays Liesl makes the film come alive. Her eyes are riveting. Max and Rudy are equally well presented. What’s not to love about this film?

A mixture of humour and pain can convey fundamental ideas. I knew this was an important film the moment I saw the first short clip from it. That’s several years ago. At the time, I worked in Bremen, and the first thing I did after seeing that clip was to buy the book. I was disappointed in it at first. But I overcame that. But I think this is one film that overshadows the written work.

Isn’t it strange how close beastliness is to humanity? In The Book Thief, they manage to show both sides in a devastating manner. Such works of art give me back my trust in humanity. They also underline the importance of insisting on kindness, charity, and compassion. There’s nothing worse than envy. That is a deadly sin, even if one isn’t Catholic. What more can I say? It was a significant experience.


© HMH, 2018



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