The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Film review by: Witney Seibold




            While the plight of Jews during World War II was a horrible thing, and the tragedy should never be forgotten, movies to feature the details of the Holocaust always feel like a bit of manipulation. There have been so many freakin’ WWII movies now (there’s at least a half dozen a year), that genocide has become less a moving and tragic horror and more a dramatic jerkaround. The same thing happened to rape. Time was, the word “rape” could not be uttered aloud in polite conversation. Recently, I think I heard it as a punchline on an episode of “Family Guy.”


            So when I sat down to see Mark Herman’s little-boy WWII drama “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” a tale of an eight-year-old German boy who sneaks out of his home and befriends – through the barbed-wire fence – a Jewish boy in the nearby concentration camp, I was prepared for a good deal of emotional manipulation. The film never entirely transcends the banality of its setup, but it luckily manages to be moving and powerful on its own terms. It even has some very good performances, and a startling ending. It may be somewhat quotidian, but it manages to make sure we actually feel the horror of the times once again.


            “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is told entirely, very novelly, through the eyes of the eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), who is, like most boys his age, sort of indifferent to the wartimes around him, and is far more interested in playing games with his noisy friends and reading adventure books. His father (David Thewlis), a Nazi general of some kind, gets a promotion, and must take his family to Hungary and oversee a mysterious farm. Bruno’s mom (Vera Farmiga) seems to know what her husband does for a living, but has one well-developed blind spot.


            Their new house is square and post-modern and cold. Soldiers patrol the perimeter of the house with attack dogs. New soldiers are always wandering in and out, among them Lt. Kotler (the unjustly good-looking Rupert Friend). Bruno’s 12-year-old sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) develops an unhealthy crush on him, as any red-blooded 12-year-old girl would. The children’s new schooling has a lot to do with The Fatherland.


A very British Nazi

A very British Nazi


            Bruno sneaks out of the house one afternoon over to the neighboring “farm.” On this farm, all the farmers are bald, and wear striped pajamas. How odd. And they all have numbers on their pajamas. What a silly game. Bruno finds a boy named Schmuel (Jack Scanlon), and they begin meeting regularly by the barbed-wore fence to gab, play board games, and chat about this weird plight they are both in. Neither of the boys has been told what’s really going on in the camp, or what those two big chimneys are for.


            “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” mercifully, has no fetishistic depictions of death. The adults, too afraid to discuss real death and real wartime horror to their children, prefer instead to fudge facts and tell half-truths to “protect” them. Of course, when there’s wholesale slaughter going on just next door, there’s only so far protective lies can extend.


            So yes, despite the been-there-done-that sentimentality of the setup, the film’s message still manages to be clear, simple, and concise. It’s not the be-all and end-all of WWII drama, but it’s effective enough.



Published in: on December 11, 2008 at 7:16 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. this movie moved me and the ending was soo tragic and not something i saw coming.. i cried.

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