The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

This film was told in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) who likes to explore his surroundings and play with other children. One day, his family decides to move from Berlin to a remote place in Poland because his father (David Thewlis) is a Nazi soldier and he is promoted there by the higher ranks. Bruno, being unaware of the horrors that the Jews are going through, assumes that the concentration camp that he can see from his bedroom is a farm. He also takes notice of the people there and tells his mother (Vera Farmiga) that he thinks they are quite strange because they wear pajamas all day. As a young explorer, he eventually visits the concentration camp and meets another eight-year-old boy named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) and the two become friends. I liked that this picture was told from the eyes of young person who didn’t know anything about what was going on around him. While his mistaken assumptions were amusing at times, it was very sad in its core because little by little his innocence got stripped away. I liked the scenes when the private tutor would teach Bruno and his sister (Amber Beattie) how to think like Nazi and labeled Jewish people as “evil” (among other things). Such scenes showed two crucial reactions from the children: the sister’s total acceptance of the Nazi ways to the point where she started putting up clippings and posters on her wall; and Bruno’s as he tried to resist what he was being told by asking questions such as if there were nice Jewish people. Since this was aimed as a children’s story, it was important for me to see how Bruno processed the varying information that was being presented to him by his strict Nazi father, his mother who was having a breakdown after finding out a secret that her husband kept from her, his patriotic but ultimately deluded sister, and his Jewish friend who was clearly miserable. And I did see and feel his confusion and frustration about what people have told him and his own experiences. As for the ending, it completely took me by surprise. But I suppose the director (Mark Herman) did a good job building up the tension that led to the conclusion. This film provided a nice change from other Holocaust pictures. If the fact that all of the characters spoke in English instead of German does not bother you, this is a pretty good find.

5 replies »

  1. after reading the book and watching the movie, i am inclined to side with the CNN/Time critic who raked it over the coals:,8599,1857440,00.html
    (the above link was provided by your blog site as a possibly related article)

    first, let’s be clear…schmuel was a figment of bruno’s imagination, a literary device used to show bruno’s inner dealings with what he was being taught to believe…don’t believe me? see the discussion going on at IMDB:

    furthermore, bruno’s break into the camp and subsequent death by gassing represented the stripping away of his innocence by the nazi propaganda and his environment…no doubt this little boy would’ve become aware what was really going on in his own backyard…which again is a way to judge those who remained willfully ignorant of what was going on in nazi germany, or their own backyard…

    these literary devices were neatly packaged in a nice little movie meant to evoke some emotion…the problem for me was that i didn’t connect with any of the characters…they were all too shallow, caricatures really…so i didn’t care what happened to them…

    what’s more, a holocaust-themed movie shouldn’t be delivered in nice and neat packages…it was horrific, terrifying, shockingly unbelieveable what the nazi’s did to the jews and to other “undesireable” elements of society, yet you’d never really get a sense of it from this movie…i thought it was horrific and terribly unbelieveable

  2. I haven’t read the book so I comparisons cannot be made on my side.

    While I do agree with you that the holocaust was horrific, I disagree that this movie was delivered in a nice package. After all, let’s not forget about the ending. The way I saw it was that the story was told through the child’s eyes and not an adult’s. And as a child, one can’t exactly make sense of everything that’s going on because a child doesn’t yet have a mental model of mass murders. Things as such were not taught in school at their age.

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