Apt Pupil (film)
|MPAA Rating (USA):||R|
Apt Pupil is a 1998 American thriller film directed by Bryan Singer and starring Ian McKellen and Brad Renfro. It is based on the 1982 novella by Stephen King. In the 1980s in southern California, high school student Todd Bowden (Renfro) discovers fugitive Nazi war criminal Kurt Dussander (McKellen) living in his neighborhood under the pseudonym Arthur Denker. Bowden, obsessed with Nazism and acts of the Holocaust, persuades Dussander to share his stories, and their relationship stirs malice in each of them.
The novella was first published in King's 1982 collection Different Seasons. Producer Richard Kobritz sought to adapt the novella into a film during the 1980s, but two actors he invited to play Dussander died. When filming began in 1987, a loss of financing led to production being shut down. Forty minutes of usable footage existed, but production was never revived. In 1995, when rights to the novella returned to King, Bryan Singer petitioned the author for an opportunity to film the novella. With King's support, Singer filmed Apt Pupil with McKellen and Renfro in Altadena, California, in 1997. The director shortened the novella's storyline, reduced its violence, and changed the ending. Singer called Apt Pupil "a study in cruelty" with Nazism only serving as a vehicle for the capacity of evil.
During the $14 million production, a lawsuit was filed by several extras who alleged that they were told to strip naked during a shower scene, but the lawsuit was determined to be without merit. The film was released in the United States and Canada in October 1998 to mixed reviews and made under $9 million. The main actors won several minor awards for their performances.
In southern California in 1984, 16-year-old high school student Todd Bowden (Renfro) discovers that his elderly neighbor, Arthur Denker (McKellen), is in reality Kurt Dussander — a former Obersturmbannführer in the SS who is now a fugitive war criminal hiding from justice. Bowden blackmails Dussander by threatening to turn him in to the police. However, the teenager is fascinated with Nazi atrocities perpetrated during World War II, and forces Dussander to share disturbing stories of what it was like working at Nazi extermination camps, and how it felt to participate in genocide. Bowden even purchases an SS uniform from a costume shop, and forces Dussander to wear it. When he spends more time with the old man, his grades suffer, he loses interest in his girlfriend, and he conceals his bad grades from his parents. In turn, the Nazi blackmails the young boy into studying to restore his grades, threatening to expose the boy's subterfuge and his dalliance with Nazism to his parents. Dussander even poses as Todd's grandfather and goes to an appointment with Bowden's school counselor Edward French (David Schwimmer). Talking about the war crimes affects both the old man and the young boy, and an intoxicated Dussander attempts to kill a cat in his gas oven but fails when it attacks him and escapes. Dussander also takes great pride in Bowden's unbelievable turnaround, going from near dropout to straight A's in a matter of weeks.
One night, Dussander tries to kill a hobo who earlier had seen him in the uniform. When Dussander has a heart attack, he calls Bowden, who finishes the job, cleans up, and calls an ambulance for Dussander. At the hospital, Dussander is recognized by a death camp survivor sharing his room and he is arrested, prior to being extradited to Israel. Bowden graduates as his school's valedictorian and gives a speech about Icarus, saying, "All great achievements arose from dissatisfaction. It is the desire to do better, to dig deeper, that propels civilization to greatness." The scene is juxtaposed in a montage with Dussander's home being searched and the hobo's corpse being found in the basement.
Bowden is briefly questioned about his relationship with Dussander, but he manages to convince the police that he knew nothing of the old man's true identity. At the hospital, Dussander hears a group of Neo-Nazis demonstrating outside the hospital; realizing his identity has been hopelessly compromised, he commits suicide by giving himself an air embolism. When French learns that the man who met Bowden at school was not Bowden's grandfather but a war criminal, he confronts Bowden, who then blackmails him into silence by threatening to accuse him of making inappropriate sexual advances towards him, and to thereby expose him publicly as a homosexual and pederast.