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Movie Review

The Book Thief

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some violence and intense depiction of thematic material.

Reviewed by: Jennifer L. Hanley—first time reviewer

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
War Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 11 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 3, 2013 (festival)
November 8, 2013 (4 theaters) November 28, 2013 (wide—1,234 theaters)
DVD: March 11, 2014
Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film click photos to ENLARGE Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Twentieth Century Fox Film

stealing in the Bible

courage, bravery, self-sacrifice

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

value of written words / books

horrors of Nazi Germany

persecution and murder of Jews

protecting a Jewish refugee during World War II

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?


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Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer

What about the issue of suffering? Doesn’t this prove that there is no God and that we are on our own? Answer

Did God make the world the way it is now? What kind of world would you create? Answer

What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

Featuring: Geoffrey RushHans Hubermann
Emily WatsonRosa Hubermann
Sophie Nélisse … Liesel Meminger
Ben Schnetzer … Max Vandenburg
Nico Liersch … Rudy Steiner
Sandra Nedeleff … Sarah
more »
Director: Brian Percival
Producer: Fox 2000 Pictures
Studio Babelsberg
more »
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film

“Courage beyond words”

“Death” is the narrator of this movie and is the foreshadowing of things to come. A mother with her two young children have been abandoned by the husband/father and are on a train heading to Molching, Germany, a small town outside of Munich. The son, Werner, is sick and dies on the train trip. It is during WWII and times are very difficult in Nazi Germany.

Liesel, the daughter is left in the care of her new foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann. The older couple are polar opposites in personalities. Hans (Papa) is an honorable, gentle, and sensitive soul. Rosa (Mama) on the other hand, is brash and abrasive, yet has a huge heart which is revealed throughout the movie. We follow Liesel as she makes her way through her new life and puberty during one of the most horrific times in history.

The movie is about the innocence of youth, as well as the travesties of war. Liesel is seen growing from an almost illiterate young girl, to a voracious book reading young woman. Her father Hans teaches her how to read. She goes on, in much later years, to be a prolific author at the encouragement of a young Jew and kindred spirit she befriends (Max), who the Hubermanns hide in their basement. Her life is full of love, which includes her devoted friend, Rudy, accordion music, words and books. And yet this same life is filled with hate, heartache and major loss due to the war.

Many selfless and heroic acts are done throughout this movie. The most significant one is when the Hubermanns (Hans, Rosa and Liesel) hide a young, Jewish man, Max, in their basement. He is very ill, and they take care of him and share their meager wares and food with him for two years. They are Germans living at a time when disobedience or disloyalty to Hitler is not tolerated. If they are found out, they will probably be killed. They show the same spirit of self-sacrifice that Christ showed on the cross.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Since this movie is about war, there is some violence, but there is very little blood and no gore. There is more blood shown in the scenes where there are children fist fighting after a fatal explosion. There are also scenes in which Jews are abused and beaten.

The only objectionable content, as far as sex goes, is that Rudy on numerous occasions asks Liesel for a kiss, and she does kiss him at the end. There is also racism portrayed against Jews and blacks.

RACISM—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Liesel also steals books in the movie and lies about it, hence the title, on three separate occasions. She is not punished for these crimes but rewarded by her father by keeping her secrets and reading the books with her.

There is some objectionable language. The father (Hans) takes the Lord’s name in vain. There is also quite a bit of name calling in the movie, although most of it (if not all) is in German. The most frequent names used are “saumensch” which means “literary pig woman,” “saukerl,” which means “dirty swine” and “arschloch” which means a… hole.

The father in one small scene, smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol.

I really did like this movie. I thought the actors were very developed and believable. I also thought it was an accurate historic portrayal of Germany at that time.

I recommend that only teens and adults see this movie. The drama and the tragedy is very intense and may be difficult for a sensitive teen or adult to watch.

The biggest problem for me in this film is that there is no mention of God. The people are facing very weighty issues, life and death, without praying to or thinking of God.

How can we know there’s a God? Answer

The narrator being Death may make one think that “He” is our final stop on our life journey. He says that he takes people’s souls, but fails to mention where he takes them.

“But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory [over death] through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:57).

Violence: Moderate to heavy / Profanity: Moderate—“My God,” OMG (3), “hell” (2) / Sex/Nudity: Minor

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—Despite the death and sadness that fill this film, the screenplay paints a picture of humanity that reminds viewers of the vacuum in the human soul that is ever hungry for beauty and goodness. The film reminds us that, although all humans must die, not all humans are defeated by death. Furthermore, “The Book Thief” makes an attempt to communicate the idea that humans are special and that words are a powerful gift. As a character says to Liesel, “Every living thing, every leaf, every bird, is only alive because it contains the secret word for life. That’s the only difference between us and a lump of clay. A word. Words are life, Liesel.”

Unfortunately, however, the film fails to distinguish humans from any other living, breathing creature. It fails to explain why words have so much power. Although “The Book Thief” shows viewers hope in the face of death, it does not give them a source for that hope. Without bringing God into the picture, the hope that Liesel finds in books and words is shallow and fake. Without referring to God’s powerful word in Genesis one and the “breath of life” that he breathed into mankind, the movie’s distinction between clay and humans seems superficial. The characters fail to recognize that words are not God. In truth, God made words. Therefore, words are not life; rather, the Word of God is life.

From a moviemaking standpoint, this movie is beautifully made, professionally acted, and accompanied by a breathtaking soundtrack. Philosophically, this movie dives to into some incredibly deep topics, addressing them in ways that are utterly genius.

The very fact that this movie deals with some nitty-gritty topics, however, makes this film inappropriate for young children. The dreary and depressing aura of the film, along with the recurring depictions of death and war, would be simply too frightening for children who are too young to understand the movie’s central themes.

In addition, the presence of Death as the narrator of the film could also be disturbing and slightly gruesome to more sensitive viewers; however, this element is not overdone and, therefore, not repulsive. Although there are a few misuses of the Lord’s name in the film, I found them relatively inoffensive compared to the content of other contemporary films and, therefore, would consider language in this film to practically be a non-issue.

The film also deals with the element of young love quite tastefully, not only painting a heartwarming picture of friendship but also showing viewers a beautiful image of the love of family. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie and would highly recommend it to families with teens. Whether you want to have a good cry or are looking for a movie that will spark a profitable discussion, this is definitely the movie for you.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Leah Hickman, age 19 (USA)
Positive—* No spoilers in this review * “The Book Thief” is, and has been for years, one of my (now 17 year old) daughter’s favorite books, so when she heard that it was being made into a movie, it was a must see. And, a must see it is! Although there are some aspects of the book that could have been more developed or explained in the movie, the content of the film was on the mark with the book.

This is a wonderful, heartwarming film that will touch your soul. There are moments of laughter, moments of suspense, moments of sorrow. Overall, the acting, costumes, scenery, sets—everything—all came together so magnificently in this film. You will not be disappointed. This is one of the rare, morally appropriate and virtuous movies that make your spirit rise and your heart sing.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Michele, age 38 (USA)
Positive—I saw this movie with my wife, and we both agree it was EXCELLENT. It is like an epic about life and death and war from the civilian family and children’s perspectives with no actual battle scenes and no bad language to boot. The acting was superb. We plan to see it again-best movie I have seen in ages! Spread the word.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Ray, age 63 (USA)
Positive—This is a slow-moving, contemplative movie, in the fashion of “Meet Joe Black,” that is to say, it is devoid of anything profane or pornographic, has an excellent script and enchanting cinematography that makes good use of its child star’s haunting eyes. The scenes of violence are far from extreme, but a young child might become restless. Although Christianity is not mentioned, God’s love, and His apparent lack of it are continually on display; any Christian will find this movie instructive and uplifting.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Brian Schacht, age 67 (Canada)
Positive—I saw this movie in the company of someone who witnessed the Nazi occupation of Holland, as a child; and his father hid a Jew in their home for the last year of the war. He was impressed by the historical and cultural details which carried him back like a time machine. This movie is a must for everyone over about ten.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Brian Schacht, age 67 (Canada)
Positive—I am very critical of movies and get upset with swearing and sex, and violence. This movie is a “must see.” It is compelling, and I will see it again. I loved the little girl who is the title character. The story is engaging. The people are likable. There are moments of humor, sadness, joy, intrigue, and suspense. I am recommending this movie to everyone I know. I think it would be appropriate for teen youth groups and families.

Younger children used to action and animation may be bored, though.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Maggie, age 66 (USA)
Positive—I gave this film a positive rating due to the wonderful aspects of humanity brought forth in the film. This time period always peeks my curiosity, due to the unbelievable horrors that people were forced to endure and others were allowed to pursue! The rise and fall of a terrible soul! It all reminds me that an anti-Christ can and will be permitted in our society. It all reeks of an anti-Christ now.

I am saddened that there is no mention of God and where death takes their souls. However, has it ever been Hollywood’s emphasis to shed light on our savior? We know how Hollywood works. We know that their films are not made to glorify God but to glorify your wants, your needs, and your desires! It is all to please you… It’s for your entertainment… So to speak. That’s how they make money, right? I don’t believe that the film claims to be a Christian film??? Therefore, in that light I will give this movie and it’s writers praise because they didn’t make a movie about a self consuming, “what’s the world got to offer me” type young lady, but one with a kind heart brought up in a horrible time in life in the world, but she found joy in something which were stories not drugs, alcohol, false love, material things… more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Star Snow, age 35 (USA)
Positive—I was not sure I wanted to see the film, since it was “narrated” by Death. But three days after seeing “12 Years A Slave,” which was a poorly realised production (I tend to dislike films others like and vice versa!), I wanted to see something that worked emotionally and had a “proper” music score. “The Book Thief” had emotion, laughs, great acting (particularly Geoffrey Rush) and John Williams” score was subtle but suitable.

I wish that the film had included something other than just the “character” of Death saying “that’s it, that’s your lot” and no input from God or his representatives but there were uplifting moments, and it showed how books and the word can be truly inspiring. But in the final analysis, it was a bit of a downer. Not having read the book, I think I can still glean from the feel of the film that it was probably a representative adaptation of the book and the author’s purpose.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Dirk Wickenden, age 46 (United Kingdom)
Positive—Deep drama that touches the heart and captivates the viewer. It’s not a “Christian Themed” paint by the numbers A-B-C Bible story. However, the characters portrayed in the film are very moral, genuine, and honest. And the original story, which is about the personal cost of being willing to prove love via sacrifice, is a literary rainbow of emotive subtexts balanced by brilliant layers of shimmering emotional depths.

A truly superb adult movie, wonderfully acted and also beautifully filmed and directed. A two-thumbs up—put it on your short list—must see. Best movie of 2013. Bravo.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Larry Cooper, age 53 (USA)
Positive—The two most objectionable things in movies for me are blasphemy (taking the Lord’s name in vain) and explicit sexual content. This movie has none of the latter, but when Hans is talking about standing up for a Jewish neighbour, he says “Christ on the cross, what have I done?” In the context, I took this to be an invocation rather than blasphemy, although the main reviewer saw it as profanity.

The values of love, courage and self-sacrifice portrayed in this movie make it worth seeing. I was particular impressed by how it could give young teenagers insight into war and the holocaust without being too traumatising.

The Angel of death, who narrates the story, also underlines the inevitability of death in a way that is not too confronting for children. I do not think the movie should be criticised for what it does not say, such as the theological implications of death.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kenod, age 69 (Australia)
Negative—To quote the reviewer of this movie, “The narrator being Death may make one think that ‘He’ is our final stop on our life journey. He says that he takes people’s souls, but fails to mention where he takes them.” As the reviewer also points out, there is no mention of God; no one prays to Him or reads a family Bible. This is not an accurate portrayal of German families during World War II. Nor is Max’s statement about what his “religion teaches” accurate. His statement was much more of a New Age belief system than Jewish. Jews believe that life is found in God, not in “words.” And Christians believe that God offers eternal life in Jesus Christ.

I found the insidious lies of this movie disappointing, but not unexpected. The story had so much potential, but it left me flat because of those lies. As a Christian, I do not recommend this movie, because it portrays death as the end and really, no big deal. But it isn’t the end. And it IS a big deal. Our souls DO go somewhere.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jeanne, age 62 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—I just watched The Book Thief and it was so touching. Let me just say that tears were shed. The script was amazing and the acting drew you in. This movie will stick with me for a long time. I now really want to read the book! As for the volience in the movie is was sometimes intense and parents with younger children should be cautious. In some scenes Jews are ripped out of their homes and dragged away. As for sexual content I found nothing to be concerned about. Only the fact that the younger charactor is always asking for a kiss, which didn't bother me because it makes it more touching in the end. This movie was so amazing! I recommend tween and teens to go see this movie.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Meaghan, age 15 (USA)

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