There are so many movies about WWII that you would think we’ve gone over every aspect of this horrific war. However, its sheer scale makes that impossible. And the severity of suffering and death it caused forces us to constantly talk about it. To talk about it to make sure something like this never happens again. Based on a book written by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a powerful drama that will stay with you for a long time. It follows an eight-year-old boy, a son of a Nazi officer, who befriends a young boy living in a nearby concentration camp.
The decision to tell the story from the perspective of a child illuminates everything surrounding this young boy. It’s like that friendship is a beacon of piercing light showing the cruel reality of life in its real light. There will be more of these perspective shifts, making this movie incredibly thought-provoking. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a movie that’s not based on real events. John Boyne, who wrote the original novel, said that the idea came to him one day and that he spent the next three days writing non-stop. That idea is the concept you see on the poster for the movie, two boys talking to each other through a fence.
This is not just a movie about those two characters and there will be others whose lives we’re going to look at. All of them were well-fleshed out and written. I do have to mention Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, another movie featuring a similar story. Of course, I don’t need to tell you that the acting was excellent. Asa Butterfield, who plays the young boy Bruno, is clearly a kid with a bright future in cinema. David Thewlis and Vera Farmiga also gave flawless performances. The pacing is a bit slower, but this is a drama and there’s this awkward anticipation in the air that makes the atmosphere very intense and you simply lose track of time.
Meet Bruno, a curious young boy living with his parents in Germany. It is the year 1940 and war is spreading all over the world, with Germany spearheading the chaos. After his father, a Nazi SS officer gets a promotion, the entire family will have to move from a city to a small village. Something that Bruno doesn’t like as he loses touch with all his friends. However, he will soon meet a friend, a young boy in a striped pajamas…
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas simply disarms its viewers by being very intelligent and subdued when needed. There are no big melodramatic scenes like those in television movies where your main goal is to go through a purge of emotions in order to feel better. Those are products created to be used by people who don’t want to think about the hard stuff. So, you just go through this experience and everything is fine and dandy afterwards. This is not a preachy movie, banging you over the head with clearly logical ideas. It’s a movie that explores the personal and very human reactions to something so horrific as a world war.
With this being said, I have to admit that it dances a fine line between humanizing Nazis and eliciting sympathy for them. These are all complex issues that work across many different dimensions. And we’re used to thinking in these black-and-white terms. It’s so hard to come to terms with the fact that Nazis and fascists are just regular people. Regular with varying degrees of culpability and understanding of what was going on. And I would like to think that this is the main purpose of this type of exploration. We need to understand how they were able to turn a blind eye to so much suffering and murder.
We need to do that in order to recognize the signs and make sure that we nip that shit in the bud. However, when it comes to WWII, I have a rather drastic opinion about the Axis forces. And also those who let this thing come about in the first place. The responsibility for the evil acts falls on those who have committed them but also on those who were sitting at home arguing that the immigrants are ruining their country and that they need a “strong leader”. You could argue those fucks are even more responsible for all the evil as they never had to deal with it.
Well, not until the Allied forces forced them to do so. One final note, rarely do we get the opportunity to ponder upon these questions while watching cinematography like this. Wide shots of beautiful German rural valleys, old buildings, and new walls and barbed fences. Everything looked and felt all too real, only amplifying the effects of the story. Additionally, the entire movie was filmed in Hungary so it has that authentic Euro vibe.
Director: Mark Herman
Writers: John Boyne, Mark Herman
Cast: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Zac Mattoon O’Brien
Fun Stuff: The concentration camp in the movie The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is Auschwitz located in Poland.