Written by Role Mommy Contributor, Kristin Flannery
The Book Thief, based on the beloved bestselling novel, is a deeply , moving movie which tells the inspiring story of a spirited and courageous young girl named Liesel, who transforms the lives of everyone around her when she is sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany. Rolemommy sat down with Director Brian Percival (best known for directing PBS’ Downton Abbey) and Author Markus Zusak to discuss taking a novel to film.
The story and its characters sprang from the imagination of author Markus Zusak
whose novel The Book Thief was published in his native Australia in 2005 and throughout the rest of the world in 2006. The book has sold eight million copies worldwide, held a place on The New York Times best-seller list for almost seven years and has been translated into over 30 languages. Rolemommy correspondent, Kristin Flannery, was actually introduced to the novel by her niece when she read it in high school on her reading list. So we were wondering, how does an author write such an incredible book and how does he channel the character of death?
Markus opened up to us about how listening to his parents’ stories helped him create such rich characters, “I don’t know to tell you the truth. I don’t know anything anymore. I think a different version of me wrote that book. I couldn’t write it again now. To me, it all started with my childhood, growing up in Sydney, beautiful sunshine. And then, you come in and it’s like a piece of Europe came into our house, and my parents told their stories, and they’re amazing stories about cities that were burning, kids who were giving bread to prisoners on their way to camps and getting whipped for it and so on. I grew up hearing these stories over and over again.”
Being a parent means that you take a different look at your own parents’ history and how they lived. Markus believes, “Just, don’t be afraid to tell the stories again and again and again, because I’ve realized now that my mom is 76-years-old and she still cleans people’s houses for a living. My dad was a housepainter and he still paints. He painted my house. He didn’t do a very good job the last time. His eyes are getting a bit shot. But that’s funny, a housepainter, a housecleaner, and there they were telling me their stories of growing up and I realized they weren’t only telling me about their lives. They were teaching me how to write. Talk about you would never imagine that people in those professions would give you a career in literature, but that’s exactly how I grew up.”
Being a Director on a film based off of a novel has it’s challenges, what do you keep in and what gets cut? Director Brian Percival took us through the process, “Well, you know, a lot of decisions had been done already by the time I got this because the screenplay had been in existence for about six to seven years before the time was right to make it because it was done quite early on. For the producers it was a labor of love. It really was. It was a very important project to them, and they were emotionally attached to it. And so, the time was right for them to make it and fortunately, I was in the right place at the right time. I read the screenplay, and I’d never ever read anything like it. I wasn’t–shamefully I wasn’t aware of the book. I stayed up really late. I was shooting something else, and I stayed up really late one night and then finished at 1:30 in the morning and just e-mailed off to Los Angeles and said, “You know, if I don’t do anything else in my life, I’ve got make this film.” So a lot of those decisions had been made. When it actually comes to make the film, obviously I get pictures in my head of how I want it to look, but we’ve got a 580 page guidebook on how to make the film. We never really wanted to come away from Markus’ vision and his message. We just wanted it to reach a wide variety and to be in a different medium.”
There’s some really beautiful contrasts in the movie. Like, there’s that scene where–the choir scene–and they all look so angelic and they’re so proud. Then they start sort of the second verses, and they’re horrible. Was there a scene anytime in the shooting where you kind of felt this is it, this is the most surreal?
Brian reflected, “No. I mean, not particular. See, the film is full of contrast. That was always my intention. But you see the innocence of those children. They’re singing something so proudly that they think is so beautiful. And then, you see–we’re given the brutality of the truth of what actually happened. But there’s contrast right the way through. When you see Rudy in a Nazi uniform, part of you is saying, “Oh, what a cute kid,” and the other part’s going, “Oh, he’s–but he’s becoming a Nazi.” In a lot of films Nazis are always being portrayed as generally I think one dimensional. They’re evil guys with the blonde hair and the chiseled jaw or whatever. And we get the teacher that comes to take Rudy to the camp for elite training. He looks incredibly tough, but he’s actually a bit stupid. There were always things in there that I tried to create contrasts and that was the important thing to me. I had to work on more than one level so that we would see something and then we would actually question it.”
You know that a novel is amazing when you are sad at the end because you want to know more. Did the story end for you at the end of book or do you know what happened to all the characters after? Do you know how Liesel finds growing up and what Max did for a living?
Turns out that we are not the only ones who want to know what happens beyond the pages. Markus has fans all over the world, “Someone came up to me. A few people have said, “I really wanted to know what happened between them. I feel like I just cut to the end of her life.” I’m like, “How long did you want the book to be?” It’s like 500 pages. Just make me write another 3,000 pages while we’re at it. So, I always imagine that Max goes his way and Liesel goes her way, but they have this kindred relationship their whole lives, but that is just me. Everyone else has their own take, but I have several reasons why.”
Even Director Brian Percival has his thoughts on the ending, “That’s part of the beauty of it for me is that we leave the reader or the audience to make up their own mind and that’s ultimately satisfying.”
Book Thief can be seen currently in theaters but to see more clips and information, log on to www.thebookthief.com