The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)
Bruno Finds Concentration Hard Work
They smell worse when they burn, don't they? - Lieutenant Kotler
"The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is only the second war movie which I have seen which approaches war through the eyes of a child, the other is "Empire of the Sun". They are vastly different movies as where as "Empire of Sun" is about a young boy surviving war in Hong Kong, "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is about a young child's innocence and not understanding about the treatment of Jews at the hands of the Germans. Now as a movie which is about the holocaust "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" isn't the most hard hitting when it comes to how the Jewish people were treated, in fact the horrific treatment is never shown directly although as an audience we are aware of it. But in a way it is right because this is a movie about innocence and how an 8 year old doesn't understand thanks to the way his parents protect him from reality.
As an 8 year old growing up in Berlin Bruno (Asa Butterfield) doesn't understand war and his parents do their best to protect him from the truth even when his father is promoted and is put in charge of a Jewish work camp. Having been forced to leave the luxury of their Berlin home for a more functional home near the work camp Bruno struggles not only to get use to his new life but also with being shielded from what is outside the home. But when one day he does manage to escape the confines of his new home he meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), an 8 year old boy on the other side of a wire fence and through him he begins to learn the truth, that his friend Shmuel is a Jew in a work camp and things are not as simple as Bruno believes they are.
For the most "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is a story told through the eyes of 8 year old Bruno who thanks to his parents and his privileged upbringing has been shielded from what war really is, in fact war to him his running down the street pretending to be a fighter pilot with his friends. And as such when his father is promoted to take control of a Jewish work camp he is again shielded from the truth, not understanding why they have to move home, leaving his friends behind and moving to a boring house where he is tutored at home, a home which almost becomes his own prison as he's not allowed to explore. Some may say that it feels false that an 8 year old son of a German Officer would not understand war or the treatment of Jews but it feels real especially in his naivety, he thinks the buildings and people he sees in the distance from his bedroom window are a farm and not a work camp. It actually throws up the interesting point whether his parents are right to try and protect him from the truth or whether they should have explained to him.
This innocence and naivety really shows itself when on a rare excursion out of the confines of the home he meets Shmuel, a Jewish boy in the work camp and doesn't understand that he is a prisoner. But there is more to this than just the friendship which forms between Bruno and Shmuel as you also get how he views his father, as this hero yet he doesn't know what he does, the brutal truth.
At the same time as witnessing how Bruno is innocent to what he is seeing you also have his mother struggles to deal with the brutality of the situation and the coldness of her husband when it comes to his treatment. I said that it's not hard hitting but there are element such as the foul smelling chimneys in the work camp and the brutal abuse which Lieutenant Kotler dishes out to Pavel a prisoner who assist around the home still has an impact, not only on us but Bruno and his mother.
Now as already mentioned for the most this is war through the eyes of the innocent Bruno who never understands what is going on. But later on in the movie the whole thing switches around as the viewpoint changes to that of Bruno's mother and father. To explain why will spoil the outcome of "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" but the switch makes it a complete movie, as it goes from innocence to harsh realisation.
With both 8 year old Bruno and 8 year old Shmuel being central to the story the performances from Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon are standout. It is the innocence of Asa Butterfield and the fragility of Jack Scanlon as they become friends which help draw us in to this story. But there is not a single bad performance in "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" with both David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga impressing as the parents who not only try to protect Bruno but end up arguing over their situation. And Sheila Hancock who is only in it for a few moments is effective as Bruno's grandmother who disapproves of her sons work and dedication to Hitler.
What this all boils down to is that "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is a good movie which delivers a different perspective of war and the treatment of Jews at the hands of the Germans. It is hard hitting but at the same time restrained as it never goes for the in your face horror of the treatment which the Jews encountered but in a way it is right in explaining how Bruno was naive to what was really going on.
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