David Lukacs / Miramax Film Corp.
PG-13 for some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust.
Nov. 7, 2008
Vera Farmiga, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, Rupert Friend, Cara Horgan
Miramax Films, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International
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The Boy in The Striped Pajamas
By Belinda Elliott
- Based on the bestselling novel by John Boyne, The Boy in The Striped Pajamas is a heartbreaking look at the events of WWII through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy.
Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is the son of a Nazi officer. When his father receives a promotion, the young boy must move with his family away from his friends and his comfortable home in Berlin. He quickly becomes bored in his new surroundings in the countryside where he has no one to play with.
From his bedroom window he can see a neighboring “farm” where all of the occupants wear “pajamas.” Hoping to play with the kids there, he can’t wait to go pay them a visit. Though his mother repeatedly warns him not to venture far from the house, his curiosity gets the best of him and he sneaks off to go exploring.
It is on one of these adventures through the woods that he stumbles upon the barbed wire fence that encircles the neighboring concentration camp. Behind it he finds Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish boy who is the same age as him. They quickly develop a friendship, interacting as much as they can while separated by the fence. Though they are both somewhat oblivious to the horrors taking place around them, they will both ultimately be affected by the events of the war.
This film is very well done, yet difficult to watch. While there is no graphic violence depicted on the screen, the film is none the less heartbreaking. Because the story is told through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy, much of what we see seems mostly benign. Bruno simply doesn’t understand the things that he sees. Unfortunately for us, as adults, we do.
All of the actors in the film are to be commended. Both young boys offer stellar performances. Butterfield, especially, shines as the naïve and curious 8-year-old German boy trying to figure out whether his father is good or bad, and attempting to understand the hatred of his relatives toward the Jews.
Another standout performance comes from David Thewlis (of Harry Potter fame) who adeptly portrays Bruno’s father, a very complex character. Though adults realize the monstrous nature of his job as the overseer of a concentration camp, to Bruno he is a caring dad and role model. Thewlis expertly conveys this dual persona of loving father and heartless Nazi soldier.
Underscoring the dramatic events on the screen is the film’s stirring music written by talented composer James Horner (Apocalypto, A Beautiful Mind, Titanic, Glory). Often, music in a film either blends into the background so much that is barely noticed, or becomes so overbearing that it seems to crowd out the action onscreen. With this film however, the music is the perfect complement to the movie’s moving images. It builds along with the plot and is a haunting match to the story’s chilling conclusion.
Though the movie is being promoted for kids, parents should note that it is rated PG-13 due to its thematic material involving the Holocaust. Even with the absence of graphic violence, the movie may still be too upsetting for younger viewers. (Read what the filmmakers had to say about promoting the film to children.)
While it is heartbreaking to watch, as are most movies about the Holocaust, it is still an important film. The movie not only depicts the tragic effects of prejudice, but it offers a poignant look at the evil that humans are capable of apart from Christ’s redemption. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas reminds us of the atrocities that can happen when people fail to love each other as Christ commanded.
The Holocaust Through a Child's Eyes
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