The Critique of Frank Beyer`s Film Adaptation of Jurek Becker`s Jacob the Liar Does the Film Do Justice to the Original Novel?

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TheCritique of Frank Beyer’s Film Adaptation of Jurek Becker’s Jacobthe Liar:Does the Film Do Justice to the Original Novel?

Jacobthe Liar isa novel written in 1969 by Jurek Becker, an East Germany-based Jew.The novel was first published in German with the original title asJakobder Lügner beforeit was later translated into English.Thenovel, covering the experiences of the Jews in the hands of the Naziregime during the Second World War, became so popular that it earnedseveral awards, notably the CharlesVeillon Prizeand theHeinrich-Mann Prizein 1971. Motivated by its popularity, the story has been furtheradapted into films. FrankBeyer’s adaption is perhaps the most popular. It is intriguingwhether the movie does justice to the original story by Jurek Becker.Thepurpose of this paper is to examine the strengths and weaknesses ofFrank Beyer’s film in relation to Becker’s original story. A lookat the storylines of both the novel and film creates the allowance toassert that, indeed, Beyer amplifies the themes and perspectivesenvisioned in Becker’s story with minimal distortion, maintainingthe key plot and themes. Therefore, the film adaptation was nothingless than an overwhelming success.

ThePlot and Themes in the Novel, Jacobthe Liar

Beforecommenting on the success of Beyer’s film, it is first important toexamine the storyline and single out the notable, underlying themesin Becker’s story. The story tells of the experience of Jacob Heym,a Jewish protagonist in the face of the Nazi tormentors during SecondWorld War. Jacob is walking around the ghetto when he is stopped andarrested by the patrolling German officer on account of violating thecurfew. Although Jacob is aware that it was not yet the evening time,he obeys him. He is released shortly because the officer was onlyplaying a practical joke on him since it was not yet curfew time.While at the police station, Jacob had heard the news of the Red Armyapproaching over the radio. Therefore, Jacob is not only unbelievablylucky that he walked out of the detention alive, but also heard someinspiring news that fills him with hope. Upon returning to hiscommunity, he starts leaking the secretive information to the Jews.However, because his people are unable to believe him, and becausethey are so desperate for hope that they start pressurizing him toproof, Jacob begins to lie and pretend he possesses the radio fromwhich he gets the news. Over time, he is forced to become creative toprove his lies as the neighbors now believe he has the radio andexpects him to continue furnishing them with information to keeptheir hope alive. His lies cost life to some of his friends. Forexample, Herschel Schtamm is shot and killed when he attempts todeliver the ‘good’ news to the deportees emerging from a wagon.The author makes the novel to have two endings: one is based on andindependent endings based on the real story, while the other is basedfaction that strives to satisfy the emotional appeals of the audience(Becker 54).

Inthe fiction, Jacob is shot while he attempts to escape from theghetto. Just after his death, the Red Army arrives to liberate theJews. In the actual ending, the Nazi Army comes and deports all theJews in the ghetto to the death camps. Therefore, the key themes inBecker’s story can be seen to be hope versus hopelessness.

ThePlot and Themes in the Film, Jacobthe Liar

Havingreviewed the plotline and identified the key issues in Becker’sJacobthe Liar, ofparticular interest is to examine ways that Frank Beyer’sadaptation succeeds transcribing the story into the film.

Asthe story in Frank Beyer’s film goes, a man (Jacob) walking in theJewish ghetto streets is arrested for violating the curfew time. Heis taken to German military base. Hefinds the officer in charge in a stupor, drank. His radio is running,broadcasting about the advancing Soviet Army. He eventually sneaksout and leaks the information to the friends about the advancingRussian Army. Since they do not believe that he could go to the Nazioffice and come out alive, Jacob starts to make up lies that he ownsthe radio that serves as his source of information. As more peoplestarting believing him, Jacob finds himself in a difficult situationand continues lying to encourage many of his friends in the ghetto.The hope of residents, who are now desperate and starving, is revivedby Jacob’s stories. In the end, however, the Russian Army neverarrives. Rather, the Nazi Army deports all Jacob and others to theextermination camps.

Clearly,the stories are similar, and even the characters remain the same,although the film adaptation makes some cleverly negligiblealterations. Both stories present Jacob as the liar, but who inspireshis people with his lies. They start with Jacob walking in theghetto, before meeting the German patrol officer. He is arrested, butis lucky against all the odds to return to his people while alive,and hear the news of hope of advancing Russian Army. The adaptationalso resembles the non-fictious ending of Becker’s story, that is,the sad turn (Beyer film).

Nevertheless,certain alterations are notable. For instance, in Becker’s story,Jacob did not violate the curfew. Rather, his arrest was borne onofficer’s practical joke. In Beyer’s film, Jacob was arrestedbecause he violated the curfew. In Becker’s story, he was releasedbecause he was innocent. In contrast, Beyer’s Jacob sneaked fromarrest because the guard was drunk. Moreover, Bayer’s adaptationdoes not provide the twin ending. Rather than present the hard truthand, at the same time, reserve additional space to appease theaudience with the alternative appealing end as Becker did, Bayer’sopts only for the sad ending. Better still, this alteration does notchange the theme and the message of the story. Both storylinespresent hope versus hopelessness as the critical issue and are basedon the story of the experiences of Jews in the hands of the Nazis. Inother words, if Beyer decided to make the alterations in the Becker’sstory, then it was because he only wanted to make the story moreappealing. The film adaptation was certainly a show of Becker’scleverly art mastery of film


Inconclusion, Beyer amplifies the themes and perspectives envisioned inBecker’s story with minimal distortion, maintaining the essentialplot and the key theme of hope versus hopelessness. Therefore, hisfilm adaptation was nothing less than an overwhelming success.Although he makes some alterations, they are negligible and onlymeant to make the story more appealing.


Becker,Jurek (Author) and Kornfeld,Melvin (Translator)Jacobthe Liar. OxfordUniversity. 1975. Print

Beyer,Frank. Jacobthe Liar. [Film].DFFBarrandov Studios