THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS (2008)
Starring David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, Amber Beattie, Richard Johnson, Sheila Hancock, Rupert Friend, David Hayman, Jim Norton and Cara Horgan.
Screenplay by Mark Herman.
Directed by Mark Herman.
Distributed by Miramax Pictures. 93 minutes. Rated PG-13.
It’s a given that movies about the Holocaust are going to be depressing as hell, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas most certainly makes for devastating viewing.
It takes a novel approach to looking at this well-covered and tragic subject – Nazism and concentration camps as seen through a child’s eyes – and if it is not always successful in this approach, it is still usually thought-provoking.
Our innocent guide to the horror is Bruno, an eight-year-old German boy who must move with his family when his soldier father gets a promotion. What the boy does not understand is that dad’s new position is as commandant at the infamous “work camp” Auschwitz.
Once they move to the country house, the boy starts to notice a strange “farm” outside his window, where all the people there wear “pajamas.” He becomes curious about the place and despite being forbidden by his parents, he sneaks over one day and meets another boy his age on the other side of the barbed-wire fence. Not really understanding the significance of the boy’s imprisonment, they become friends.
In the meantime, the proximity to the camp is affecting the family in different ways – the mother is horrified when she realizes what is really going on behind the fences, the daughter gets a crush on a Nazi soldier and becomes infatuated with the lifestyle and the little boy tries to come to terms with what could be so wrong with his new friend.
The Holocaust has been covered in so many ways on film over the years that is difficult to see that there could be new ways to present it. Therefore, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas should be respected for finding a way to make this difficult subject matter palatable for children who may not know as much about this terrible moment in history.
The end, though, seems somewhat misjudged. Beyond the basic fault that it is difficult to believe that the two boys would be naive or stupid enough to think it was a good idea to have young Bruno break onto the camp – or that the Nazi guards would fail to notice someone digging a hole under the barbed-wire fence – it feels off-kilter for a much more basic reason. Is the audience supposed to be that much more horrified that the young son of the Commandant is in danger than all of the other thousands of prisoners who had no choice but to be there? I understand the dark irony of the situation, it just seems to undercut the importance of the real victims of the atrocities. Some people may even consider the situation to be karmic payback for the Commandant.
Still, while I do not quite agree with how the ending comes about, I do see how it may very well be the only possible conclusion for this story. There were no happy endings around concentration camps, just differing levels of the tragic.
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 15, 2009.