The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 2008
PG-13 | 1h 34min | Drama, War | 26 November 2008 (USA)
Young Bruno lives a wealthy lifestyle in prewar Germany along with his mother, elder sister, and SS Commandant father. The family relocates to the countryside where his father is assigned to take command a prison camp. A few days later, Bruno befriends another youth, strangely dressed in striped pajamas, named Shmuel who lives behind an electrified fence. Bruno will soon find out that he is not permitted to befriend his new friend as he is a Jew, and that the neighboring yard is actually a prison camp for Jews awaiting extermination.
Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)
Rated PG-13 for some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust
There have been more than a few films on the subject of the Holocaust, possibly the daddy of them all being Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” based on the book “Schindler’s Ark” by Thomas Keneally. Much better, however, in my mind is Costa-Gavras’ “Amen” based on Rolf Hochhuth’s play “Le Vicaire”. Now Mark Herman’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, itself based on John Boyne’s novel, is fit to mentioned alongside these two great films.
I was initially doubtful at the premise of this film since my knowledge of Holocaust history suggested that 8 year old boys would have been sent straight to the gas chambers on arrival rather than set to work in a camp (obviously I am happy to be set straight on this point if I am wrong). And having seen the film, I also doubt that the boy in the camp (Shmuel, well played by Jack Scanlon) would be able to sit at the camp fence undetected long enough to meet and talk to Bruno, the camp Commandant’s son (an astonishingly assured performance by newcomer Asa Butterfield).
There has also been some criticism of the fact that all the actors speak in Received Pronounciation English accents (even American actress Vera Farmiga, whose English accent is completely faultless). This is true, although to be completely accurate, all the actors would have to speak in German and the film would have had to be subtitled as a result.
In truth, however, none of these criticisms actually matters a damn. For even though all of the above is undeniably true, the film still works. And my, how it works. When it finished, I sat in my seat stunned (I had the same reaction after watching “Disaster Movie” last week, but most definitely not for the same reason, I assure you).
The Holocaust as seen through the prism of 8 year old German boy is a novel approach and although we all know what is happening at the camp nearby, at the beginning, he does not. And every step he takes, he gets closer to discovering the truth, losing his childhood innocence in the process.
What I liked about this film is the sophisticated and multi-layered portrayal of the German characters. None of them are one dimensional wholly evil characters but nor are they wholly good either (not even Bruno who tells lies on several occasions, one occasion which results in brutal punishment for one of the prisoners as a consequence).
With good performances from Asa Butterfield as Bruno, Amber Beattie as his sister, David Thewlis as his father, Vera Farmiga as his mother and Jack Scanlon as Shmuel, this may not be the first film about the loss of childhood innocence in the Holocaust (Roberto Benigni beat Herman to it with “Life is Beautiful” and whilst Benigni’s film has a powerful end of its own, even that does not compare to the powerful shattering ending which this film possesses) but it is the best and most effective to date.
With restrained direction by Mark Herman and a similarly restrained score from James Horner, if this film does not win the hat full of Oscars next year that it surely deserves, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will have shown itself to be completely irrelevant.
Director: Mark Herman
Writers: John Boyne (novel), Mark Herman (screenplay)
Stars: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend
Country: UK | USA
Release Date: 26 November 2008 (USA)
Also Known As: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Filming Locations: Hungary