Trailer: The Book Thief
The Book Thief tells the story of Liesel, an extraordinary and courageous young girl sent to live with a foster family in World War II Germany.PT2M31S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-2slja 620 349 August 26, 2013
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Everyone says I look like my brother. We look the same, talk the same, yell at our kids the same … but ask either of us, and we'll range from laid-back to indignant in our denial of these so-called facts.
In the case of a week ago, a friend of mine met my brother for the first time and said, ''You sound exactly like Markus!'' My brother, of course, just paused and smiled. We sound nothing alike, is what he was thinking, but he felt like joking around.
Sophie Nelisse in The Book Thief.
''No, I don't,'' he said. ''He sounds exactly like me.''
It's kind of like that with The Book Thief. It's 12 years ago that I started that book, nine years since I finished it, and eight since it was released and signed up for a film. In the writing of it, I thought no one would ever read it, especially as it grew from a novella into a 580-page book. I thought it would sink without a trace, having no idea it would go on to have a life of its own, dragging me along behind it on a sometimes strange, often beautiful ride.
Back in 2006, when I signed those film rights, I thought a movie might be the book's only chance of achieving some sort of success. Even then, I'd been told by all and sundry: ''It'll be signed up, but they'll never make it. Don't even contemplate them making it, because they won't.''
Geoffrey Rush in The Book Thief.
Seven years later, they did.
Through time, that book has constantly proven me wrong.
I thought it would be my least successful. It didn't turn out like that.
Just as I was certain a movie would never be made, they started filming in Berlin.
Clearly, I know nothing about publishing, and even less about the film industry – but what I do know, without question, is that I see the book and film as two completely different things. Like brothers, they might look the same at times, and sound it. They might even have the same blood in their veins. But they go their own ways.
It was like that from the start.
I was always adamant I didn't want to write the screenplay, because the book had wrung me dry. It killed me to put it together, so to pull it all apart again would have been too heartbreaking.
Next to that, I was well aware that screenwriting is a different art form altogether, and I respected (and feared) it. It had taken me 14 years of work and failure and honing everything inside me to write that book. Attempting a screenplay in quick time didn't even enter my mind.
I knew that, for better or worse, I would let it go.
Now, on the eve of the film's release here at home, many things have changed. I couldn't write that book now, even if I wanted to.
One thing, though, hasn't changed, and that's that I'm still the same person who has always loved books and movies. The first book I remember loving was Grug and the Big Red Apple. The first film I saw in the cinema was Grease. Each time, I was five. (The sexual content of the latter was a little lost on me, but I was no fool, either; I knew Olivia Newton-John was absolutely spectacular in You're the One That I Want.)
As a fan of both media, I never had any qualms about an adaptation. I've always been able to separate books I've loved from their movies, no matter how the film turns out. As a reader, I've never felt let down or outraged, because the film changes things for its own sake but it can never change the book itself. The book will always remain.
Often, too, a film will lead me back to the original work when I wasn't aware it existed. An example of that is Wonder Boys, one of my favourite books and movies. After enjoying the film, I went back to discover the book as a new, extended treasure, with its own array of surprises and eccentricities. That's the beauty of not having a two-hour time constraint. You need a hundred more pages to tell this story? Go ahead.
For that reason, I can only respect what a screenwriter (in this case, Michael Petroni) has to do when trimming a sizeable novel to a 120-page script. For The Book Thief, I wanted only one outcome, and that was for the director to follow his own vision, just as I had. Every time a risk was there to be had in the book, I wanted to take it. If people didn't like the book, or completely despised it, I knew they couldn't accuse it of being unambitious – and I didn't want the film to abandon that spirit by being too faithful to the novel. I wanted it to be itself … and again, I go back to my brother.
As kids, we both played football. He played in the centres, but I was always a halfback. I had to do it my way.
As it is, people can make up their own minds about the film now, but I still don't wish I'd had more input. I feel like when you give someone a creative job, you can't say, ''Right, be creative, but do it how I want you to do it''. I don't think that heightens the chances of a good result.
Maybe the best analogy is to imagine going on to the set and calling out to Geoffrey Rush: ''Hey, Geoffrey! Come over here a second … Have you considered saying it like this?''
The prospect of that is ridiculous, and the same goes for telling a director how to direct. They have to make it theirs. Just as I stand next to my novel and accept its victories and defeats, so it goes for the film's director. As the author of the original work, I walk into a cinema to a world that lived within me for a decade, but now I see it from the outside in.
I realise it's no longer mine.
As a postscript, in November, my whole family saw the movie and, within it, its five beautiful performances. I tend to let Emily Watson (as Rosa), Ben Schnetzer (as Max), and Nico Liersch (as Rudy) fight it out as my favourite, but how can I go past Geoffrey Rush?
As for my alter-ego?
My brother kidded that now he's seen the movie, he doesn't have to read the book. But then he grew serious, even if just for a moment.
''That girl, Sophie,'' he said, ''who plays Liesel, she's brilliant.''
And he was right, and it was a great night because we were together again, but it was also nice afterwards to go our own ways, because we always have. We're made of the same things, but we are not the same.
As I said: I still love books. I still love movies. But I'm not ashamed to say that, as a general law of my own nature, I can't help but love one of them just that little bit more.