Many movies have been made about the Holocaust. This winter will see a handful more. Kate Winslet is on trial as a war criminal in “The Reader.”
It seems there still are plenty of stories to be shared about this dark time. We haven’t seen many tales told about the period from the perspective of children like, for example, Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl.” What if a young child was presented directly with its worst?
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” a moving and beautifully told British film, imagines just that. The 8-year-old Bruno (David Thewlis) is an important soldier who has been given a new command.
Bruno is too young to be told that his new home sits beside a concentration camp. The intrepid explorer soon discovers it for himself. He doesn’t know it’s a prison, though. He thinks the “farmers” next door are strange because “they all wear pajamas.” He asks his father about them, and the man tries to explain: “You see, those people … Well, you see, they’re not really people at all.”
His 12-year-old sister, Gretel (Vera Farmiga) doesn’t want to believe the truth that’s becoming impossible to ignore.
Bruno soon befriends another 8-year-old he meets on the other side of the fence, who introduces himself as Shmuel (Jack Scanlon). “I’ve never heard of anybody called Shmuel,” Bruno says. “I’ve never heard of anybody called Bruno,” Shmuel retorts.
The two come up with games that can be played with a fence separating them. Bruno at first is jealous of the other boy, thinking that he’s in a community with lots of other boys to play with. When it comes time to choose between protecting himself and betraying his friend, though, Bruno learns to grow up very, very fast.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is, for most of its run time, a rather witty work for a film on such a heavy topic. When his tutor keeps telling him all the problems of German society for which “the Jew” is responsible, Bruno asks, “Our nation collapsed because of one man?”
The humor only serves to highlight the horror. This intelligent film offers a fresh perspective on an oft-portrayed period, asking the viewer to question his own assumptions about what he expects and wants from such a telling. Every performance from the mostly British cast is perfectly restrained, but it’s the very talented young Asa Butterfield who makes the film so engaging.
John Boyne, has made something special here. It’s a grown-up film but one that might serve as a perfect introduction for older children about events that made us all lose our innocence.
TITLE: “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”
RATING: PG-13 (Some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust)
CREDITS: Written and directed by Mark Herman based on the novel by John Boyne
RUNNING TIME: 93 minutes
WEB SITE: boyinthestripedpajamas.com
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS