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Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The (2008)

Release Date:
Friday, November 7, 2008

MPAA Rating:

Rating Reason:
For some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust


David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Rupert Friend, Asa Butterfield, Jack Scalon

Written By:
Mark Herman

Mark Herman

Official Site:

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is a fictional story that offers a unique perspective on how prejudice, hatred and violence affect innocent people, particularly children, during wartime.

Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The (2008) | Review

The Fence Divides
Jacob Sahms

Content Image
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is the critically successful movie adaptation of the John Boyne novel that explores World War II Germany through the everyday life of a small, eight-year-old boy living lonesome in an isolated world. Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is the son of the Nazi officer, Ralf (David Thewlis, Remas Lupin in the cinematic Harry Potter) and a less-enthused (and more naïve) Elsa (Vera Farmiga from Running Scared and The Departed). The film's exploration of inhumanity, both by omission and commission, will break your heart and lift your spirit at the same time.

Ripped from his native Berlin and all the friends that he has known, Bruno seems the only member of the household who has any misgivings about his father's new job. "Being a soldier is not so much about choices as it is about duty and going where your country needs you," Ralf tells him, and we're given the insight of a good soldier in the midst of a war that seems obviously inhumane to anyone watching the film, or reflecting on the Holocaust. Even Elsa argues that Ralf's mission isn't war (or right), but the film's marginalization of Jews extends to women and children as well. We're not so inundated with Nazi policy that this becomes a movie about Nazis—this is about our mistreatment or ostracizing of anyone, and the way that our behavior is corrupted or bettered by those around us.

Bruno's older sister, Gretel (Amber Beattie), takes after their father, believing Hitler's propaganda and scorning everything that Bruno continues to hold to be true. She eats up everything Herr Liszt (Jim Norton), the tutor, brings for the two of them to read and believe, and serves as the kind of psychological and social study we thrive in, of nature versus nurture. While both are exposed, only one buys in. In the experiment between captors and inmates, some always seem to ally themselves with whomever seems more capable of winning, and brutality perpetuates itself. But there's hope, isn't there?

Hope springs up in the form of two little eight-year-old boys. Bruno doesn't understand why these people, the Jews, are treated like they're not people, and has naivete shows how his education at the hands of the tutor doesn't seem very fulfilling. He doesn't understand why those in the camp wear pajamas, or why the soldiers would take his peer Shmuel's (Jack Scanlon) clothes, or why the Jew Pavel (David Hayman) can't make up his mind when it comes to being a doctor or a potato digger, or what the awful smell is that accompanies the strange chimneys in the distance.

It's systematic brainwashing: the alternatives seem so ridiculous that this eight-year-old boy can't believe that his father perpetuates such evil, or the truth behind each of these strange misunderstandings. At each step, I found myself sucked into the lives of these people who aren't real but who represent real people: I'm moved by this fictional representation of people who once lived and died and suffered&ellips; and finally, overcame. It's a tribute to the story, with the realism of The Diary of Anne Frank and the heart of Elie Wiesel, but it's also indicative of the effort of the actors and those who directed them.

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