THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS

2008

10/10

DIRECTOR: Mark Herman

CONTAINS SPOILERS!

READ WITH CAUTION AS MAJOR PLOT DEVEPMENTS WILL BE REVEALED!

The title is intriguing. A clever nod as to what is to come. A child’s eye view of one of history’s most vile periods. 6,000,000 innocent people were murdered in one of the first real examples of genocide to be scientifically attributed to genetics. Hitler wished to rid the Earth of the what he and his followers considered to be source of economic and social upheaval, but in the end, he only served to strengthen the worlds resolve to never to repeat such horrifically misguided acts. Well, supposedly…

Told through the eyes of eight year old Bruno(Asa Butterfield), the son of wisely un-named parents, the father (David Thewlis) who is the commandant of and equally unidentified concentration camp, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas follow the enlightened child’s exploration of a world which confuses him. The secrets of his fathers work are never truly revealed to him. His mother is becoming more disturbed by his older sisters conversion to the Nazi movement and is herself shaken to core by her discovery of her husband’s role and the full extent of the slaughter which is taking place just a mile away.

Bruno bares witness to the complex politics which operate within the Nazi state and some of the brutality towards the Jewish people. But he only understands the camp to be a farm, the interpretation of an eight year old who could never begin to understand the evil which his father is not only complicit, but an orchestrator of. This culminates in an ending which I didn’t even see coming until he dings the whole and begs the question of who is really The boy in the stripped pajamas?

This is a prime example of whimsical filmmaking at it’s very best. The film is filled with contrivances and historical potholes, but none of that matters because the film knows what it’s doing and that it is doing so for a very good reason. This is a parable. A story which has been told in such a manner as to gain the desired response from it’s audiance and one to teach people a valuable lesson.

By telling this story through the eyes a well-to-do boy as he befriends a Jewish lad of the same age through the barbed wire, we are stripped bare of some of our preconceptions, or are we? We all feel for the Jewish prisoners. We understand that they are the victims of one of the most evil states in history and one which would fall soon after, but I wonder is it not only at the end, when we witness the biggest twist of this tale, when the innocent boy, the German boy who we have come to like and identify with, meets his fate, that we truly feel the plight, the fear and the true horror of the innocent men and women who have been taken by force from their homes and led to their deaths.

The fact that we accept the impending doom of the boy in the striped pajamas and feel horrified when the Commandants son is mistakenly caught up in this, is a pretty savage indictment of us and proves beyond a doubt that this film has served its purpose. Placing a different twist a story which must not be forgotten but kind of is.

This is a tremendously important film, well made, written and conceived, delivering its message with devastating effect, and filled with little and subtle nods which go beyond its obvious message. But all working towards the fact that Nazi Germany was a flawed state whose fascism was as doomed as those who it went to great lengths to oppress.

But in theatrical terms, the last ten minutes are some of the most harrowing and insightful minutes of screen time that I have seen and this is a must see for everyone, child and adult a like. The simple fact that my cynical outlook had written off the little Jewish boy from his opening scene and didn’t take in the significance of that until the son of a Nazi was killed, shocked me more than any actual frame of this movie. Everyone behind this project should be very proud of themselves.

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