Singer's source is a Stephen King novella from the same collection that yielded The Shawshank Redemption. Published in 1982, it's pre-Schindler. Nevertheless, its cautionary account of an enterprising high school lad named Todd, who discovers a real Nazi war criminal living incognito in his idyllic American suburb and is consequently corrupted through his fascination with this absolute evil, is a Faust story with a neat-o Spielbergian resonance. (If Life Is Beautiful is the antiSophie's Choice, this is the anti-E.T.)
In the original, the somewhat younger hero is disappointed when his SS man fails to sound like Colonel Klink on Hogan's Heroes. So it is with the movie. Singer tries in vain to find equivalents to wartime atrocities--as when the reawakened Nazi (Ian McKellen) stuffs a pussycat in his oven or young Todd (Brad Renfro) slams his basketball on a wounded bird. This exotic Euro horror is as alien as Count Dracula. One might have made Apt Pupil an allegory of postwar realpolitik--or at least the rehabilitation of rocket scientist Werner von Braun--but Singer has something more Hitchcockian in mind and, after the Nazi becomes Todd's superego, the guilt starts flowing freely. To complicate things, Singer imbues their relationship with an undercurrent of homosexual attraction while Renfro's cloddish character, who seems to be reinventing the s/m dress-up of The Night Porter, slyly encourages audience sympathy for McKellen's foxy grampa.
Directed by Bryan Singer
Written by Brandon Boyce from the novella by Stephen King
A TriStar Pictures release
Opens October 23
Disagreeable and exploitative as it is, Apt Pupil insists on something that Life Is Beautifultries to hide in plain sight: the individual acts of courage found in the testimony of Holocaust survivors can never compensate for the knowledge gleaned of human depravity. There is no light at the end of that tunnel or even an end. It leads to a place with neither redemption nor closure.
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