Movie Magazine International

Apt Pupil

USA - 1998

Movie Review By Heather Clisby

When it comes from Stephen King, you can count on being disturbed, such is the case with the film, "Apt Pupil," based on his novella of the same name. Directed by Bryan Singer, the film is the story of psychological blackmail and haunting secrets that never go away.

Bran Renfro stars as Todd Bowden, a 16-year-old senior at the top of his class. Todd's interest in world history takes an ugly turn when he becomes captivated by the Holocaust and becomes something of an expert. Riding the bus one day, he spots an elderly gentleman and believes him to be a Nazi war criminal at large.

After some incredible research efforts, Todd compiles conclusive evidence that Kurt Dussander, played to chilling effect by Sir Ian McKellen, has been living a lie since 1955, when he escaped from Berlin. When Todd corners the old monster with sufficient information to expose him to the world, Dussander asks what the boy wants. "I want to hear stories," he says, "I want to know everything they won't tell us in school. I want to know what it felt like."

So begins their bizarre association wherein Todd spends most of his free time listening to the harrowing details of mass human extermination from a man who was clearly made for a career in genocide. Surprise! The gruesome tales start to penetrate the boy's already-warped psyche and we witness Todd slowly eschewing girls and baseball and taking up more disturbing interests, like dressing up old Nazis in uniform and marching them around the kitchen.

With natural human evil as the theme, the story doesn't have to travel far to disturb, yet it occasionally goes overboard and wanders disjointedly. Furthermore, the occasional dream sequences don't gel with Todd's emotional detachment. In fact, watching his smooth baby face take all this in with little or no reaction is the film's most unsettling aspect but we don't need him to appear hosed down every morning with fake sweat to know the dreams are exhausting, we get it.

As for Dussander, his character comes off much more lovable than he should and a few things could stand to be fleshed out. What's he been doing since the war? How did he make his living? He's wearing a wedding ring yet he lives alone and no mention is made of his family life, thus he is left as more of an outline than a full-fledged human being, which diminishes the severity of his sins.

The biggest fright here is, what we insisted would never happen again, is alive and well and living in the curiosity of youth.

© 1998 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 10/21/98

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