Movie Review - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
This movie is based on a book that goes by the same name, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, written by John Boyne. I absolutely loved the book, and finished in one go. I picked it up one evening and did not stop reading until I finished it, early the next morning. So I was looking forward to the movie, but also a little worried it might not live up to my expectations. But director Mark Herman did very well and I loved the movie. Herman did a great job in capturing the main character Bruno’s childish innocence, whilst capturing the brutalities and cruelty of World War II. A light movie about a heavy subject. And although this war has been a cinematographic favourite for a long time, Boyne and Herman bring a new and fresh perspective.
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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas shows us Bruno, an eight-year-old German boy. He lives with his parents and his older sister. His father is an important officer in the German army, and when he gets promoted this means the whole family has to move from Berlin to a new house in the countryside. Bruno is not very happy with moving and losing his friends. He does not like the new house at all at first. There are no other kids to play with, and his father’s soldiers scare him. But then he discovers a rather weird farm behind their house. Everyone on the farm wears weird striped pyjamas, but whenever he asks his father or mother about it they avoid answering his questions, and tell him he cannot play with the children on the farm. Bruno wants to be an explorer when he grows up, so he decides to go and explore the land behind the house and the farm. One day he meets a boy named Schmuel, a boy in striped pyjamas who lives on the farm, and they become friends. Schmuel lives behind a fence and he is not allowed to leave the farm because he is a Jew. Bruno does not know what that means, but he soon realises they are not supposed to be friends.
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The book is written from Bruno’s perspective, and the director tries to do the same with the film. This worked fairly well. The viewer understands most of what is actually going on, and that the farm is not actually a farm. But the film keeps with Bruno’s perspective and does not mention the word concentration camp once, and Bruno stays clueless right up until the end. The book is written with a little more humour though, with Bruno’s more childish language and his misunderstanding and wrong pronunciation of a lot of the ‘big’ words.
The young actor Asa Butterfield, who plays Bruno, does a great job. He regards the world in constant surprise with his big blue eyes, exactly what you would expect from an explorer. Vera Farmiga is great as Bruno’s mother. She starts out as a good and proud wife, but you see her slowly falling apart as she realises what kind of job her husband does in the countryside. Her slow understanding and rebellion is well played and very believable. She struggles to come to grips with the job her beloved husband holds, and what her country has become. Bruno’s father is played by David Thewlis. He is a bit stiff, but maybe that is purposely due to his role as an important army officer. He tries, but he does not truly get into his role, I don’t see the conviction as a soldier in him he is supposed to have. Even though he is very proud of his job, and a big fan of Hitler in the books, in the movie it looks like he is in constant doubt as well. And last but not least, Schmuel, who is played by Jack Scanlon. Schmuel and Bruno come of great as friends, and he is a talented young actor as well.
Though the story deals with a very heavy subject, the concentration camps in World War II, Mark Herman made it into a very light movie. This is because we see everything through Bruno’s eyes, who does not understand what is going on, and who idolises his father. It isn’t until right in the end the atmosphere of the movie changes, and that is exactly what John Boyne did in the book as well. I would absolutely tell everyone to go see this little gem of cinema! I have watched it about 10 times by now, and I still love it. Very confronting, but in an easy to watch, and endearing way. So go get The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas now!