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'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas'

Photo courtesy of Miramax Film Corp.

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The Holocaust through a Child's Eyes

By Belinda Elliott
Contributing Writer - No one can forget the horrific images of the Holocaust once you have seen them. Now a new film shows those events in a fresh light – through the eyes of a child.

John Boyne’s bestselling novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is being brought to life on the big screen by writer and director Mark Herman. The film centers around the relationship between 8-year-old Bruno, the son of a Nazi officer, and Shmuel, a Jewish boy imprisoned in a concentration camp.

When one thinks of Holocaust movies, Schindler’s List is probably one of the first to come to mind. Films of this nature can be hard to watch because the images are so disturbing. Though this film doesn’t include such graphic images, it is none the less heartbreaking.

“I think what’s interesting about the book and the film is that they both explore the most violent extremes in human history, but neither one has violence on either page or screen,” Boyne said.

Because the story is told through the eyes of an 8-year-old boy, much of what we see seems mostly benign. Bruno doesn’t understand the things that he sees. For instance, he mistakes the concentration camp for a “farm” and his friend’s uniform for “pajamas.” In an attempt to shield him from the horrors that are happening around them, his parents do not correct these assumptions. Unfortunately for us, as adults, we know the truth behind all that he is seeing.

“For young children who are going to see the film, there is nothing there that is going to visually horrify them,” Boyne said. “It’s all in the imagination. It will leave them asking questions, which I think is important.”

In fact, the filmmakers encourage families to use the film as a springboard for discussion about the Holocaust, something which they’ve already seen happen as the movie has been embraced by audiences overseas.

“The movie has been very successful in Europe,” Herman said, “and it’s obvious it’s becoming a family film in the true sense that people go as families and they actually need to and want to discuss it afterwards.”

Though it is quite a tear-jerker, the filmmakers say they believe it is an important film for children to see with their parents.

“The worst thing that can happen to children watching the movie is that they will get upset,” Herman said. “I actually don’t think that’s too bad a thing.”

Indeed, the film does serve as a reminder not only of the appalling events of the Holocaust, but also of the evil that humans can be capable of apart from a relationship with Christ.

One of the most interesting characters in the film is Bruno’s father portrayed by David Thewlis (of Harry Potter fame as Professor Lupin). On the one hand he is a father who seems to love his children very much. On the other hand, he oversees a concentration camp where atrocious acts are committed against Jews all the while explaining to his young son that, “Those people are not really people at all.”

Boyne said as he wrote the novel he wanted to avoid writing the father off as a stereotypical Nazi official. To Bruno, his father is a loving role model that the young boy longs to be proud of. Thewlis does an excellent job of bringing this across in the film version as well.

His character reveals the duality that exists in each of us. As Scripture tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Without Christ’s redemption, humans are capable of unspeakable evils.

The film also provides a poignant look at the effects of prejudice. For some children this may be the first time they are exposed to the idea of one group of people elevating themselves above another because of their perceived differences. Though it is heartbreaking to watch, the film could be a great teaching tool for parents to explain to their children why the Bible instructs us not to do this.

Instead we are called to love one another (John 13:34-35) and to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience toward others (Colossians 3:12). As Paul reminded the early Christians in the Colossian church, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free..." Christ loves all people and gave His life for each of us.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a stirring reminder of what happens when humanity fails to live this out.

The film is rated PG-13.

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