Astrology: Film: ‘The Book Thief’ (2013)

20th Century Fox

20th Century Fox

Books, storytelling and theft are the perfect Mercurial trifecta that’s the heart of The Book Thief, a movie directed by Brian Percival and based on the global best-selling novel about a little girl growing up in Nazi Germany.

Little Liesel (Sophie Nelisse) experiences tragedy early. In 1938, while on a train with her mother who’s a Communist fleeing for her life, Liesel witnesses her younger brother’s death. Shortly after, she’s adopted by an older couple. Traumatized by her mother’s surrendering her, the girl barely speaks – another nod to Mercury, especially in the absence of communication.

The kindness and humor of her new father, house painter Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), makes up for the gruffness of new mom Rosa (Emily Watson). What’s more, papa has something extraordinarily valuable to offer. He can read and Liesel can’t.

At the funeral of her brother, Liesel had snatched – yes, she’s the “thief” of the movie’s title, just as Mercury had impishly stolen Apollo’s cattle – a book from the grave site that belonged to one of the cemetery crew. Hans helps her read it and, with the elaborate classroom and dictionary-on-a-blackboard he manages to set up in the family basement, archetypal Mercury takes up residence in Liesel’s soul.

That’s not the only thing that takes up residence. Soon there’s a new but secret addition to the family. That would be Max Vandenburg (Ben Schnetzer), a young adult Jew and avid reader, who’s the son of the man who saved Hans’s life in an earlier war. Max becomes the archetypal brother – Mercury rules Gemini, the domain of siblings – as does Liesel’s neighbor and best friend Rudy (Nico Liersch).

Liesel, who likes to emphasize that she “borrows” books, not “steals” them, finds her literal paradise-of-a-library at the home of an unlikely “lender.” It’s the sympathetic wife (Barbara Auer) of the town’s top-ranking official whose own son loved books – items which the regime regards as “intellectual dirt” and likes to use as fuel for bonfires.

The movie, gorgeously shot in shades of teal, dark blues and gray is, in the end, all about words and, by extension, the transformational dynamics of Mercury. Hans states “a person is only as good as his word,” Rosa insists “not a word” be divulged about Max’s status and, from Max (with a nod to Schindler’s list) “words have life.” Towards the end of the movie, Liesel uses everything she’s absorbed to comfort people in a bomb shelter by telling them a story. You can almost see the winged messenger god perched on her shoulder.

The Book Thief is book-ended by narrations from Death (voiced by Roger Allam), a sympathetic but potent off-screen character here. He may be unavoidable but a person’s Mercurial birthright, embraced during life as Liesel illustrates, can make the passage into Death’s arms bearable.

Astrology Film Rating: ☿ (Mercury)

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