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The only thing more frightening that having the Holocaust as part of our
world's long history is to know that are human minds capable of creating and
sustaining such an oppression. The real horror of Bryan Singer's adaptation
of Stephen King's novella "Apt Pupil" lies in that we have this knowledge.
We know that Adolf Hitler possessed the powers of immense manipulation and
charisma. This has been so ingrained into our heads that I remember as a
child knowing that Hitler was charismatic before I really knew what the term
meant. This film is an exploration into the mind of a person who conceivably
has many of the same manipulative characteristics. In the progression of the
film, we slowly learn why.
Before any images actually come on screen, we hear the voice of someone asking if the Holocaust occurred as a result of economic or social cultural reasons. Or was it in fact, human nature? We then realize that the monologue is being given by a school teacher in a social studies class. The principle character, Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro), a member of this class and is fascinated with studying the Holocaust. He spends much time in the library reading books and newspaper articles on the subject. Just as the opening credits finish, the camera zooms in slowly to the eyes of a concentration camp leader. This is the first of many extreme close-up shots of eyes. This distance motif is incredibly effective. The eyes are the window to a man's soul and the psyche that "Apt Pupil" explores.
One rainy night, while Todd is riding the bus, he sees a mysterious man, who he realizes is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellan), a Nazi war criminal and concentration camp leader who managed to escape from Germany years before. This is when we really begin to see Todd's disturbed mind. He is the kind of person who is so meticulous that he finds fourteen finger print matches of Dussander and builds a file that will be sent to the Israeli government if he doesn't agree to tell stories about the Holocaust that "they are too afraid to tell in school". It is now clear that Todd is not so fascinated with the Holocaust because he's racist (the film makes no reference to him being racist). He admires the power, dedication and will behind the driving force of the Holocaust. He mimics this power in his blackmailing of Dussander.
The scenes with Dussander explaining in explicit detail the acts that he performed in concentration camps are quite disturbing in themselves, but what is more disturbing is that Todd seems more detached than Kurt. Most of us would cringe in disgust if we were to sit and listen to the stories that Kurt tells. We get the impression that Todd is thrilled with the fact that he is able to control this man and make him relive his past.
In the film's most harrowing scene, Todd brings Kurt an officer's uniform, similar to what he would have worn during the War years, and makes him march. Up until this point, we are led to believe that perhaps Kurt has had some time to develop remorse over the years for his haneous acts of brutality, but when Todd begins commanding him, Kurt fades to the same state of mind of his Nazi persona from the past and we see the man capable of ordering concentration camp personnel to gas hundreds of Jews. The scene is truly chilling and stands out as the most memorable in the film.
"Apt Pupil" is occasionally slow, but never boring. I, for one could not take my eyes off the screen for a second. The power struggles between Todd and Kurt are always intense. The sequence of events leads up to a horrifying scene with Todd and his guidance counselor (David Schwimmer). Here, we learn of the lengths that Todd will take his manipulation. "You can't do that," the guidance counselor says. "You have no idea what I am capable of doing," replies Todd. This line of dialogue is very effective. We know from having seen the rest of the film that Todd is capable of quite a lot. While not as powerful or intense as Stephen King's novella, the film "Apt Pupil" gives us a creepy insight to the corruption of power and manipulation.
**** out of ****
Young high school student Todd Bowden uncovers that an old man in his
neighbourhood is really Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander under the name of
Arthur Denker. Bowden offers not to turn Dussander in if he agrees to tell
him what it was like to carry out the crimes he did during the war. However
the relationship changes both Dussander and Bowden, bringing evil to the
surface in both of them.
Having read the short story prior to the film being made I knew that this was going to be a difficult subject to bring to the screen. The film does a good job but makes many changes that will disappoint those who know the book. Treating the film as a separate entity it isn't bad but it happens too quickly and doesn't go deep enough. The plot is interesting but the depth Todd sinks to isn't convincing as half of it is forced on him and the other half he seems to embrace it. Dussander himself is well crafted but his descent into evil doesn't go far enough to be truly captivating. The ending is different from the book but I'm in two minds if it works better or not.
Brad Renfro is good but I can't help but compare him to the character in the book and see his short fallings. However he does manage to keep his changes semi-realistic without descending into being OTT or turning into a cartoon character. McKellen is perfect in the lead role and he manages to be larger than life. An actor of Koteas shouldn't have done such a minor role but Schwimmer gives a good performance that isn't his usual `Ross' thing again.
It's hard not to compare this to the book and beside that it pales slightly. As a film in it's own right it's OK but it doesn't quite convince and has an uneasy tone to it. Singer was always going to have a tough time following the amazing Suspects, but here he does pretty well. The direction is great and features plenty of great shots throughout the film.
Overall it is a flawed film because it doesn't go as far as it should nor does it manage to totally sell the characters to us. However it's worth a watch for great direction by Singer and a good lead by McKellen.
Directed by Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects and both X-Men features),
Apt Pupil is a story of adolescent curiosity and evil intentions. Ian
McKellen (X-Men) plays the role of an aged, former Nazi soldier living
alone in a quiet town with Brad Renfro (Sleepers) as a young, high
school teenager in the search of finding the truth about Nazi life in
Adapted from the Stephen King novella of the same name, Apt Pupil is a psychological thriller with an Alfred Hitchcock-like presence, leaving quite a bit to the viewer's imagination. Much like a game of cards, the action moves back and forth between characters, each trying to take control of one another. While Kurt Dussander (McKellen) wants to keep his past in the past, Todd Bowden (Renfro) keeps probing (and sometimes threatening) to unleash the stories of the reign of Hitler and the torture of the Jews.
While this movie is much like other Stephen King-adapted novels in the sense that it doesn't always translate well to the big screen (with all of the little nuances that made King famous), the superb acting and directing makes Apt Pupil a worthwhile venture into the nature of mental wickedness. Both Singer's vision and McKellen's portrayal of Nazi war criminal bring excitement and intrigue to this movie making it a must-see.
I read the novella in high school, and I found it scary, disturbing, and a
real grabber - I couldn't put it down until I was done.
As for the movie version, I'm sorry to say it doesn't work. While there have been much worse Stephen King adaptations, this is still pretty weak. Someone else here said it's been sugarcoated, and I agree. It's been watered down so much, that character's actions that were easy to understand in the book become "Whaa - why did he do that?" here. The ending is the worst part - though I can understand why they may not have been able to recreate the novella's original ending onscreen, couldn't they have thought of a new ending that was better than the one they used here?
The acting is good, one of the few things that works here.
In short: if you have read the novella, do NOT watch this movie - you'll be horrified in a way the filmmakers didn't intend. The positive comments here seem to come from people who haven't read the novella. I still wouldn't recommend this movie even for non-readers, but if you must watch this movie, I strongly urge you to read the novella after you've seen the movie. It'll really open your eyes (in more ways than one), and you'll see how much better the movie could have been.
Apt Pupil is a movie of symbolism, it is a movie of metamorphosis, it is not a movie to be brushed off, taken lightly, nor is it to be watched if you want anything even remotely uplifting. It is a thoroughly depressing movie about corruption and the very root of evil. You'll find no plot summary here because you can scroll up slightly and find one. I can tell you Ian McKellen is one of the finest actors in the world and even solidifies that unlikely people like Brad Renfro and David Schwimmer can be incredible actors in their own rights. The movie poses several questions, almost none of which it answers and indeed might not have answers. It is, at it's core, about evil feeding into evil. The boy's evil reawakens the old man's evil, the old man's evil stokes the boy's evil and it continues to crescendo throughout coming to an incredible climax. A fascinating and thoroughly challenging movie.
This film is not for the light of heart or of mind. The story is about a boy who learns that a Nazi war criminal is living right in his metaphoric backyard. Obsessed with learning more than just what they teach you in school, the boy sets off on a journey to discover "How did it feel?" The writing, based on a novella by Stephen King, takes you through the minds of both the boy and the Nazi. It's a battle of wits with real people being the pawns. This movie will mess with your mind. Do not watch it if you aren't up to the challenge. My hat goes off to Brandon Boyce and Bryan Singer, the writer and director, respectively, who seem to have interwoven the story and the audience. Never have I witnessed such an excellent display of psychological warfare.
Stephen King's Apt Pupil, which is part of the novella collection
Different Seasons (alongside the stories that inspired The Shawshank
Redemption and Stand by Me), is a valid example of how you don't need
things to be openly supernatural to have a good scary tale: a "human"
incarnation of pure evil will do just as fine, and few images are more
effective than those of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis during
Okay, minor correction: WWII has virtually nothing to do with this story, given it takes place in 1984. There is a Nazi involved, though: his name is Kurt Dussander (Ian McKellen), but he's been living quite peacefully in your average American neighborhood under the name Arthur Denker. However, a young boy named Todd Bowden (Brad Renfro from the Grisham-inspired The Client) manages to uncover the old man's real identity thanks to some thorough research and tells him about the discovery. The unexpected thing is, Todd doesn't want to report Dussander to the police. What he really wants is to learn everything - and he repeatedly emphasizes the word "everything" - about the former Nazi's work under Hitler's regime. Soon enough, the perverse bond between the two starts affecting the boy's grades and behavior, and Dussander isn't unaffected either: somewhere deep inside lies the old Nazi, and that part of his personality would like to come out and play.
The film's screenplay sticks quite faithfully to the basic idea of King's story and reproduces some of the most famous scenes verbatim (except for one moment of animal cruelty, which had to be softened), although a few subplots are excised, presumably for the sake of length and pace. The downside of that is an occasional lack of detail, especially when it comes to the development of Renfro's character. Director Bryan Singer, who obviously found himself in an uncomfortable position to begin with, having to live up to the success of The Usual Suspects, makes up for this flaw by constructing a genuinely tense and unnerving atmosphere, adding to the moral ambiguity by highlighting the homosexual subtext already present in the book (when Todd tells Dussander to f*ck himself, the latter replies: "My dear boy, can't you see? We're f*cking each other.").
Acting-wise, the limelight is inevitably placed on the leading duo, even if the supporting cast, which includes fine character actors like Bruce Davison and Elias Koteas, is quite strong (with the exception of David "Ross" Schwimmer, who isn't entirely at ease in a serious role). Renfro's performance is solid and captivating enough, but like his character he is completely overshadowed by the superb, unsettling McKellen, who inhabits the role of Dussander with his usual Shakespearean grandeur. Case in point: the unforgettable moment when the old man is forced to wear an old SS uniform Todd got his hands on. McKellen carries out the assignment with the dignity of a great tragic thespian, nailing the scene as one of the essential samples of his film career.
Apt Pupil distances itself from The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me in that it isn't as accomplished, most notably when it comes to the inevitable book/film comparison. Then again, it tells a much darker story, which asks the audience to root for a psychotic teenager and an aging Nazi. Flawed it may be, but it certainly is interesting (not to mention carried by an astounding McKellen). It is indeed a different season.
I was surprised at how good this movie was. The plot line seemed
intriguing, but I was worried that it would eventually fall into one of
the standard "bad Nazi war criminal found" plots where you always know
the ending. This story was much more inventive.
At its core, the movie is about a high school student who discovers that an old man living in his community is a former Nazi war commander. Instead of turning him in, he approaches the man with a very unusual deal. He'll leave the man alone if he can hear first-hand about all the horrible things that were done. This was the plan at least.
The movie needed intense performances - and it got them from McKellen and Renfro. Both are incredibly captivating and scary in their own ways. Coupled with a suspenseful, unpredictable Stephen King story, the movie succeeds well.
If you're a Stephen King fan or simply enjoy thrillers, this movie is worth checking out.
A teenage boy befriends an elderly man. During countless discussions
over many a night, they form a special friendship that manages to
bridge their considerable age gap. It would sound like a sweet
character study if the old man wasn't a Nazi war criminal and the teen
wasn't a Holocaust-obsessed recluse blackmailing his new pal for all
the gory details.
APT PUPIL scores the highest marks for originality. Nothing ever quite like this has been done before, and it's all quite intriguing. In the beginning, we come close to feeling sorry for the old man despite his past misdeeds. Here is he living out his golden years in peace and seclusion when all of a sudden a pushy teenager threatens to blow his cover. As the tale progresses, we see that the elder is just as conniving as the boy, threatening simply to expose their friendship, forever linking the young man with unimaginable notoriety. What starts out as a bizarre acquaintance escalates into a duel of manipulation.
It's not surprising that APT PUPIL is based on a novella by Stephen King. The film bears many of the hallmarks of King's works. And while it's never actually scary, it is thrilling at a psychological level that King reaches best. It's not perfect, but with the skilled direction of Bryan Singer and solid performances by leads Brad Renfro and Ian McKellen, it generally accomplishes what it sets out to do.
You don't have to be a horror person or a teenager at a late night party to enjoy APT PUPIL. The film has a unique appeal beyond what its target audience may have been. If you missed it when it was released in 1998 (as many did, based on its limited commercial success), it's certainly worth a look.
The underlying theme Apt Pupil maintains throughout is attention to
texts and attention to texts that can inspire and influence but for all
the wrong reasons. Apt Pupil does not have a set up; it jumps right
into its narrative from the very beginning as close to perfect student
Todd Bowden (Renfro) sits there having gone through a lecture on the
infamous Holocaust that took place during the 1930s and 40s in Central
and Eastern Europe. Todd looks disturbed and yet intrigued at the same
time; the opening credits roll after the teacher rubs out 'Jews'
written on the chalk board, with the credits doubling up as a montage
as Todd goes deeper and deeper into the history of the Holocaust and
picks up on lots of information.
From here, Todd has had his mind polluted with a text he has done every attempt to read up on and is now in a different sort of mindset but since we did not know him before the film started, it is his psyche that has been attributed to him. Similarly to the American couple who went on a spree after seeing Badlands; similarly to the French couple who shot and robbed a liquor store after seeing Natural Born Killers and similarly to the hoodlums in Britain who dressed up and beat tramps after seeing A Clockwork Orange, media texts and texts in general can inspire and influence. Todd's story is a study of this and it become doubly dangerous when he realises local neighbour Kurt Dussander (McKellan) is an ex-Nazi in hiding.
From this intriguing set up comes a film that unfolds at a satisfying pace, delivers shocks and the odd surprise whilst maintaining a healthy amount of suspense. The film spends most of its first third informing us that the Holocaust was a 'bad thing' with its trailing off of stories that Kurt delivers to Todd and its dream sequences that Todd must endure. But at the same time, this only further emphasises Todd's fascination and displays how vulnerable he really is. There are two scenes in which Todd hallucinates about the Holocaust; one of which is when he is peering into a window at a dying Jew who cries out for help but Todd awakes in a cold sweat he didn't enjoy it. The second of which takes place in the shower when he imagines he is a Jew himself. But he snaps out of it and pants in relief it's over.
These reactions display fear and anxiety toward such visions but it is not long before he is treating friends like dirt, participating in animal cruelty and wanting to witness first hand a Nazi drill from the real thing. There are two symmetrical scenes during which both Todd and Kurt partake in animal cruelty emphasising that Todd is perhaps entering the mindset of a Nazi whilst one who has already been there and been one also tries his hand at animal cruelty disturbingly fitting how it involved an oven. But at this point, Todd has already bordered on the insane since his readings of the subject and the stories of the ex-Nazi have deterred him from the straight and narrow; it echoes the scene in Taxi Driver when Travis pretends to 'shoot' the porn stars on the screen in the cinema he has seen the filth and the bare bones of the subject first hand and is now building up a fascination; albeit and 'anti' fascination as opposed to Todd's fascination which makes him want to hurt, upset and maim.
And so as the film progresses, so does the intrigue and the deception. One of the films more memorable scenes involves a homeless man who for one reason or another gets in on the blackmail and believes he'll be permitted to stay at Kurt's house given a twist that occurs. Kurt may have other ideas and the scene in which he strokes the man's bald head (probably echoing the way he did for the Jews following their head shaving) is tense and unnerving. But the student/pupil relationship takes a bizarre route and Todd buys Kurt a uniform, demanding to see him in it and demanding a performance I don't think there is much of a homo-erotic 'gaze' that follows but there is certainly a lot more 'I'll look out for you, you look out for me' emphasis and everything gets a little more 'touchy-feely' if you know what I mean.
Despite, in my opinion, one of the biggest mis-castings in a film from last decade; David Schwimmer turns up with a silly looking moustache and some tacky looking glasses and plays a school counsellor. His presence adds another ingredient to the boiling pot but just when the game looks up in a forgettable scene, Todd is quite literally saved by the bell. Then there are the lingering close ups of the handshakes, the creepy smile and those eyes behind those glasses is there something we should know? Apt Pupil is engaging and good fun for what it is but there are some sloppy scenes and some incidental occurrences but what good there is, is either nerve jangling, tense or unpredictable.
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