The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Genre: Drama and War Running Time: 1 hr. 34 min.

Release Date: November 26th, 2008 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Mark Herman Actors: Asa Butterfield, Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Jack Scanlon, Jim Norton, Rupert Friend, Cara Horgan, Amber Beattie, David Hayman




he absolute high point of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is the attention to character development witnessed in every persona that graces the screen. Thought-provoking and potent, the backdrop of World War II, prison camps, and conflicted or overzealous Nazis perfectly clashes with the innocence of a child’s mind and the injustice and compassion perceived through his eyes. At once painful, tear-jerking, and deeply emotional, this is a film that cannot be easily forgotten.

Little Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and his family relocate to the countryside and out of Berlin during World War II. Bruno’s father (David Thewlis) has just received a promotion to oversee a German concentration camp, much to the disapproval of his politically forthright parents, which takes the family away from friends and comfort. Bruno is initially upset, especially with a newfound boredom attributed to the lack of playmates around the secluded house they move into, but he secretly creates his own adventures by wandering outside to investigate the surroundings.

Not far from the lonely home is the camp and its odd “farmers,” who occasionally act as servants for the family. When Bruno works up the courage to travel to the gaunt resort, he meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), dressed in funny pajamas and looking glum. Soon, the two consider themselves friends, even though they are separated by an electrified fence and can only meet in secrecy. Bruno brings food and games to play, but envisages himself as the unlucky one; he’s tutored most of the day and trapped in a solitary fortress, while Shmuel gets to roam freely (within the confines of the camp). Bruno’s family life begins to falter when his mother (Vera Farmiga) discovers the true purpose of the camp and her husband’s objectionable duties, persuading the young boy to attempt to join Shmuel in his search for his missing father.

James Horner’s preeminent score gives extra depth and resonance to outstanding performances and dire depictions of a catastrophic period. The film is told through the eyes of a blameless boy, imparting a considerably unique approach to a Holocaust tale. Based on the novel by John Boyne, the project never delves into actual atrocities, instead focusing on the misinterpretations of a child’s perspective and his innocent interactions with both dutiful soldiers and suffering prisoners.

Every character is incredibly complex, from Jewish servant Pavel (David Hayman), who was once a doctor and now peels potatoes and serves drinks (Bruno can’t understand why he’d give up his career), to Lieutenant Kotler (Rupert Friend), the intimidating German officer who shows no clemency to the Jews, yet carefully hides his own doubts about the orders he carries out. No supporting role is wasted or trivialized. There are, however, some aspects of the film’s realism that appear questionable – from the use of servants, to Schmuel’s age, to young Bruno’s naïveté – but the message behind “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” is nonetheless quite powerful. It’s a difficult film to watch, but tightly paced and cinematically enlightening, serving to illustrate historical, traumatic World War II tragedies in a new light.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10