Apt Pupil
Apt Pupil
Ian McKellen is Kurt Dussander

Apt Pupil: Evil finds a friend

Riley Riley

Apt Pupil is another twisted tale from the prodigious pen of author Stephen King.

The 1998 film, set in the 1980s, tells the story of a teenage boy obsessed with Nazis and the atrocities committed during World War II.

Travelling home on the bus one day, he spots an elderly man whom he believes is the Nazi war criminal, Kurt Dussander — the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp.

The boy follows the man home and begins to gather evidence that proves his claim, including fingerprints, but not as you might expect in preparation to turn him in. 

No. He has other, darker plans for him.

Directed by Bryan Singer, Apt Pupil stars Ian McKellen, as Dussander and Brad Renfro, as the teenager Todd Bowden, with support from Bruce DavisonElias Koteas and David Schwimmer

Singer, who directed The Usual Suspects and four of the X-Men movies, describes the film as “a study in cruelty”, with Nazism serving as a vehicle to demonstrate our capacity for evil.

Todd blackmails Dussander into sharing stories about the war and what it was like to work in a concentration camp — what he saw, what he did and how it felt?

He even buys Dussander an SS uniform almost identical to that of the one he wore during the war, and forces him to dress up and to parade for him, and to deliver a Nazi salute.

At first reluctant to comply, the frenetic exhibition seems to throw a switch in Dussander, reactivating long dormant emotions.

As their relationship develops, Todd’s school marks begin to slide, turning from a top student into one who is about to fail.

Dussander, seeing an opportunity to gain some control over Todd comes to his rescue, masquerading as his grandfather at a meeting with school counsellor Edward French played by David Schwimmer.

That hurdle behind them, he forces Todd to buckle down in preparation for his final exams.

Things take a turn for the worse when a second blackmailer comes along.

Brad Renfro was just 14 years old at the time filming began. The cast and crew threw a party for him when he turned 15.

Speaking about the role, Sir Ian McKellen admitted he was surprised when he was asked to play the 75-year-old Kurt Dussander. He was only 57 at the time.
Meanwhile, Kevin Pollak was to have played Edward French, but was replaced by David Schwimmer after Singer caught his performance in a play in Los Angeles and cast him in the part instead.
Reflecting on Apt Pupil, Singer believed that Todd Bowden was not as pure as the driven snow.
He first read Apt Pupil when he was 19 years old and was keen to turn it into a film after he became a director.
“The capacity to blackmail an old man — obviously there’s a search for something going on that’s a good hard step beyond innocence,” he said.
“I think he had it within him, some emptiness that needed fulfilment and taken to a new place, a new direction. His school, his parents, his environment weren’t doing it for him. This particular individual came along before some other, but it perhaps could have been drugs, it could have been rape.
“Todd was probably not a very good guy. But that kind of bad guy can exist within a lot more people than we realise.”

Apt Pupil went on to win a string of minor awards.

Ian McKellen would go on to play Erik Lehnsherr, a.k.a. Magneto, in Bryan Singer’s next film X-Men (2000), a Jewish character who was persecuted during the Holocaust.

You can catch Apt Pupil on Apple TV.


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Time out score

Final thoughts . . .

Evil knows no bounds


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