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A Movie Review of Apt Pupil

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The movie Apt Pupil, starring Sir Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro, adapts a Stephen King novella into a full-length film. The story presents an aging, hiding Nazi being confronted by a high school student obsessed with the gruesome details of the Holocaust.

After a week-long history unit on the Holocaust, Todd Bowden (played by Brad Renfro) continues to research the Holocaust at his local library. On the bus one day, Bowden sees an old man whom he thinks is a wanted Nazi. After gathering evidence, Bowden appears at the door of Kurt Dussander, a.k.a. Arthur Denzer (played by Sir Ian McKellen).

Bowden confronts the old man about his past and gives Dussander an ultimatum - share his stories and descriptions about the things that they are "afraid" to teach in history class, otherwise, Bowden will turn the old man in to the authorities.

Dussander begins to share, telling stories to Bowden every afternoon after school. Liquor helps Dussander tell the stories; sleepless, nightmare-ridden nights confront Bowden. Bowden's grades start to fall and he begins to drift away from his friends and life.

But there is more to this relationship than sharing of gruesome stories. Bowden seems to slowly acquire some of the evil; Dussander seems to have reawakened an urge, a need, to kill.

But why? The movie doesn't tell us.

Bowden's actions start drifting from reasonable to obscene when he buys Dussander a Nazi uniform from a costume shop. Dussander is disgusted; Bowden insists he put it on. At this point, the viewer is shown a side of Bowden that we just don't like. Their relationship has taken a new turn - Bowden is no longer just fascinated by gruesome details, but by the power of evil.

The movie has now made a turn for the worse. No longer do we question, discuss, or deal with the Holocaust, instead, horror-film build-up leads to hollow characters with an unexplained obsession to kill.

After two hours of watching evil portrayed in an escalating array of violence, as well as seeing David Schwimmer in a terrible mustache, I decided that this is not a film that I would recommend. But it raised a question. Does this kind of representation of the Holocaust, used as a movie backdrop, bring added attention to the subject, thus more study and interest, or does it trivialize it?

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