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Apt Pupil (1998)

Short Story by Stephen King Screenplay by Brandon Boyce Directed by Bryan Singer

  We first see Todd (Brad Renfro) in class as they complete a lesson on the Holocaust. Yet having a curiosity about the finer details of the subject that one may not be able to find by simply attending a class or reading a book. Based in 1984, it shows how ones curious nature can get out of hand and in turn bring out an inner evil that perhaps had been there all along. Todd appears to be an above average teenager, getting good grades and having a “fulfilling” social life. One day he approaches a house in which belongs to Kurt Dussander, (Ian McKellen) who eventually opens up. Todd insisting on speaking with him inside as he reveals possessing intimate details of where Kurt had last been before entering the states. Claiming to know nothing he might be suggesting, quickly giving up the charade when hearing of a month prior entering on a bus when Todd had recognized his face from what he had read on the war. But he couldn’t just compare his face to a picture so he dusted his mailbox for fingerprints and took other pictures of him to ensure he had the right guy. Threatening to call the police, claiming for it all to be lies; finally asking what the boy wanted as he came to the conclusion of not fooling this young man.

Wanting stories of what really happened and explaining that if Kurt did get any ideas of hurting him, everything he obtained on the war criminal was in a safe place of which he was only able to get to. Fast forward a month later as we see Todd had acquired a new sort of teacher, one that only spoke of pain, tolerance and slaughter; true horror stories. The next morning waking up drenched in sweat as his mother asks for him to invite his new friend over to be more comfortable with their son hanging out with a complete stranger. Dussander selling a story of spending the majority of the war in a hospital being only in the reserves; seeming to do his part in winning them over. Their teachings continue as Todd’s personal life has taken a dive and his nightmares continue to worsen and become life-like, haunted by one face in particular.

Todd’s interest in Kurt takes a turn as he brings a “present,” genuinely thinking it would excite his newly forced friend. An almost exact replica of the uniform adorned in the war, demanding to see how it looked. Throwing out orders for him to stand at attention and march in place. Getting a bit more than bargained for, he rekindles a lost spirit within the Nazi that soon emerges as its own entity. Due to his recent involvement in his own displaced concentration though his school work, his relationship with friend Joey (Joshua Jackson) had become affected. A letter about his sudden lack of attention at school sent to his father as Todd forges the signature, knowing what it would mean if his parents discovered what was going on. However Kurt takes it upon himself to visit with guidance councilor Mr. French (David Schwimmer) who he assures, that as long as they could take care of the manner between the three of them that things would begin to change (claiming to be his concerned grandfather). Turning the tables on the seemingly “know it all” American he ensures that if the boy did decide to go to the police, that he would have something to get him back for, taking just as much advantage of the situation.

Succeeding with getting the straight A’s in all his finals (as negotiated) it seems it had always been a ploy to have the child pick up where he left off. Just as Kurt seems be able to breathe regularly again comes Archie, (Elias Koteas) a beggar who one night catches Kurt in his uniform while digging through his trash; later seeing him on the bus. Asking for some generosity and a drink, shower, maybe even some money in the morning. Though a familiar feeling and itch comes over Kurt as he finds himself standing over Archie with a knife as stabbing him, throwing him down the stairs. Unable to handle all the excitement he begins having a heartache and calls Todd, explaining that his help was needed quickly. After arriving he’s asked to go down stairs and is immediately locked in. Trapped with Archie’s body, Todd is forced to kill when approached by the beggar who he mistakenly believes to be going after him. Shocked for the moment as he hides the body within the basements confines and calls for an ambulance so as to get Kurt to the hospital. Enduring a procedure in which they say will give him 20 more years of life, isn’t enough for a man whose murderous past catches up when patient Ben Kramer (Michael Byrne); recognizes him. Waking up with the police over his bed and told not to bother pretending anymore, jump cuts combine with Todd’s graduation and the body being found in the basement. Kurt commits suicide to avoid any repercussion. The last shot of the film being certainly the most powerful in that it reveals a transition passed from Kurt’s ill intentions towards another/ instilling a power that would eventually take his place.

The ending of the novel was quite different in that Mr. French ends up dying by Todd’s hands and that he becomes crazy, making his way to the free way and begins sniping people off with the police killing him. Which I thought would have made for just as great of an ending for the film. Though what they ending up shooting conveyed a stronger message of evil making for a better means to show visually. This movie did have some trouble getting on its feet though. Two actors who had been cast prior for the role of Kurt both passed away and the first attempt to film stopped after 6 weeks due to them going over budget. However I do think that regardless of what those films outcome might have been that it came together quite brilliantly in this version.

Renfro was only 16 yet commanded the role with a maturity and understanding of the evil surrounding the character exceptionally for someone his age. *Was quite the shame losing him a couple of years back* McKellan had a great intensity for a character of which was supposed to be at least 20 years older (as in the novel). My favorite moment was in the kitchen when he’s presented with the uniform and begins to march in place; it was so satisfyingly chilling. The cameos by Jackson and Koteas were nice surprises, both giving great though small performances, significant each on their own. The best side character being hands down the performance given by Michael Byrne (Ben Kramer). The fear he conveyed wasn’t enough but it broke your heart to see him “run” as far away as could and to embrace the nurses arms, giving himself over completely. Then with a visionary Director such as Singer who was able to transfer the riveting and powerful story by King to make an arguable stronger ending. Carrying on an evil that perhaps would make him no better than the one who encouraged his behavior.