Thursday, November 6, 2008
Movie Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas - Innocence and Horror Overlap to Create a Powerful Story
Mark Herman's The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, adapted from the 2006 book by John Boyne, is a riveting look at the Holocaust from the perspective of Bruno (Asa Butterfield), an 8-year-old German boy. Bruno's father, Ralf (David Thewlis), is a Nazi soldier who has just been promoted. His wife (Vera Farmiga), is proud of her husband's advancement, and oblivious to the horrors the Nazis are secretly perpetrating against the Jews in the name of the Fatherland. The promotion forces Bruno and his older sister to move to the country with their parents. When Bruno spies a faraway farm populated by strange workers in pajamas through his bedroom window, he asks his mother if he can go play with the kids in the pajamas. His mother and father have a quick argument, which leads to the boarding up of said window. Ralf has been given the post of commandant over a concentration camp, a fact that Bruno's mother never wants her son to find out. Bruno, intrepid explorer that he is, ends up meeting a boy, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), on the other side of the electrified fence surrounding the camp. He visits the boy daily, providing food and learning about Shmuel's second-class status as a Jew. While Bruno tries to reconcile the denigrating daily life his friend faces at his father's camp with the kinder image he has of his dad, Bruno's mom's sanity starts to erode as the full impact of the atrocities committed on the Jews is slowly revealed to her. Boyne's story is moving, but even though the film seems to be earning recommendations by family groups, caution should be used when taking anyone under fifteen to see it. The film's ending is strong. It does not shy away from bringing the full horror of the Nazis' campaign of terror right to the commandant's family's doorstep. Thewlis is particularly effective in this scene, as a man who has made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of a way of life that helps him repress his own feelings of inadequacy. The film's power lies in the juxtaposition of an innocent's comprehension of the horrifying events that surround him. Again and again, director Herman reminds us of these twisted overlaps. The pedestrian buildings of the camp almost look innocuous when surrounded by the beautiful countryside. It is only the dark smoke of the crematorium slicing its way across the sky, while Bruno swings on a spare tire from a tree, that signal the sickening cruelties of the camp. The kindness of Pavel (David Hayman), the family's Jewish servant, when patching up Bruno's knee after a fall, is shown in relief to the same man being beaten to death by a young Nazi soldier (Rupert Friend) after he accidentally spills the soldier's wine glass. Herman never lets you forget that the Nazi's ideology may not only have been beyond the boy's comprehension, it may be beyond most of humanity's. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas opens Friday, November 7th, in limited release in theaters across the country. Still provided courtesy of Miramax Films.