The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Reviewed on 2009 July 18
This is a Holocaust movie where the events are seen through the eyes of a German boy, and I’d sort of dragged my feet to see it. I’m actually very glad I did and it’s a wonderful movie, but it’s not an easy thing to sit through.
Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is an eight-year-old who’s about to have his very comfortable life uprooted. His father (David Thewlis) is a SS Commandant who lives a materially flush life as long as he does Der Fuhrer’s bidding, and this means a trip from their lovely palatial home and all he knows, to a rather grim house in the countryside. His older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) is a little more stoic but not thrilled either. Their mother (Vera Farmiga) tries to be upbeat for her children, letting them pick their rooms in the new behemoth house. She limits where they play on the grounds, however: we learn Father is in charge of a concentration camp, and in order to shelter their son when he starts asking questions about it they let him think it’s a farm. Bruno wanders off their yard and up to the barbed wire fence one day and meets Schmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish boy about his age. Schmuel is the first person to explain to him that no, this is note a farm.
And to tell you anything more would be unthinkable. Without blowing it, I can say the dynamic between the family members is amazing. The scenes where they’re all trying to have dinner together are a study in tension, since we learn the mother isn’t too thrilled with Father’s line of work either (but apparently fond enough of the lifestyle to stay). Poor Bruno had his view of his father very shaken. Butterfield and Scanlon both own this; the waterworks start when Bruno realizes he’s “not supposed” to be friends with Schmuel but has no clue why not, and decides to be his friend anyway.
Three chocolate morsels, but it ain’t for sissies.