Percival cast the role of Zusak’s protagonist based on talent alone, inserting blue-eyed Sophie Nelisse into the role of brown-eyed Liesel Meminger. This is a mistake that might have been corrected with brown contact lenses. For whatever reason, they remained blue.
Liesel must have brown eyes. Zusak specifies this requirement several times in his World War 2 novel. It matters.
Hitler was intent on creating a “Master Race”, multiplying populations of Northern Europeans and annihilating the rest. His “Ubermensch”- the top of Hitler’s heap- were blond, blue-eyed champions.
Those without Ubermensch status were not encouraged to breed. Some unfortunates were sterilized. Many were sent to work and die with Jews and gypsys in concentration camps. At the bottom of Hitler’s hierarchy lay expendable, dark-skinned, indigenous folk, categorized as mentally and physically deficient beings.
Not only did blue-eyed, blond-haired girls like Nelisse have more fun, they dominated classrooms and social gatherings like genetically endowed goddesses: middle school mean girls.
Liesel's brown eyes distanced her from Hitler's Nordic ideal. Add to that her adopted status and brown eyes were more suspect; brave Germans opposing the regime did what they could to hide Jewish families. Think Anne Frank.
Hans, Liesel’s adopted father, was a suspected Jew-lover. His application for membership in the Nazi Party sat unapproved on an anonymous desk; Hans had been observed painting over graffiti containing a Jewish slur. Such despicable behavior raised swastika red flags sky high.
Hans was conscious of the danger Liesel’s eyes afforded and acknowledged this fear, whispering "keep your eyes down" as father and daughter strolled past a Nazi soldier on high alert. The quality of brown eyes may have been a minor character in the novel, but it was a significant one, generating habits of behavior common to minorities- not to an oblivious elite.
Markus Zusak penned an eloquent, 5-star novel that confronts readers to face inner demons and death, to weigh life's value against great odds. Even as his terrifying read inspires fearful dreams, it illuminates goodness.
The quality of Zusak's vision shines through, despite Percival's distortions, earning the film a four star rating.