The pains of the Second World War are not felt
By young German Bruno, who hasn’t been dealt
The cares of the world; all this lively lad knows
Is his soldier dad helps fight ambiguous foes.
They move from Berlin to a large country home,
But Bruno is strangely forbidden to roam.
He sees from his room an unusual farm
That causes his mother peculiar alarm.
Pajamas are all that these odd farmers wear;
They seem rather nice, but they’re filled with despair.
The one who assists at his house is abused
By a soldier named Kurt, leaving Bruno confused.
The boy sneaks away to the woods to explore
And locates a victim of bias and war.
Dressed up in pajamas behind the “farm’s” fence,
He meets little Schmuel, and discussions commence.
Although Bruno learns Jews are evil in school,
He sees no corruption in suffering Schmuel.
While Bruno’s own sister is rapt by the Reich,
The boy befriends someone he’s told to dislike.
His mother is shocked when she learns through a joke
Of the terrible cause of the nearby camp’s smoke.
The day that she plans to forsake her fell spouse,
Her son makes one last trip away from the house.
Schmuel’s father is missing so both boys decide
To search the camp’s cabins with Schmuel as their guide.
Their search is cut short as, in turbulent weather,
They’re taken with Jews for a “shower,” together.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas offers a different perspective of the Holocaust than the myriad other films that have covered the subject in much more graphic detail, that is, the perspective of a German child. As time goes on at his new home, Bruno notices things beyond his ken: a guarded “farm” full of sad people in “pajamas,” the Jews’ numbers that he assumes are part of a game, the foul smoke from the crematoriums. While we as the well-informed audience know what these things mean, he takes them at innocent face value, not understanding their horrific significance or the atrocities his father is committing as the camp’s commandant. Another trend he does not comprehend is the brainwashing of his sister, who, thanks to their personal tutor, goes from praying and playing with dolls to praising the Fatherland and cutting out good articles from propaganda magazines.

In some ways, the film is like a cross-section of Nazi Germany, featuring all the kinds of Germans during the war. Bruno’s grandmother disapproves of everything going on but is forced to stay silent; his father Ralf may not like it but has convinced himself that it’s right for his family and career; the mother dislikes Jews enough to accept her husband leading a work camp but draws the line at mass murder; Bruno’s sister Gretel may not understand everything but she supports the Fuhrer blindly; the soldier Kurt hates Jews with a passion and treats them as slaves; and then there’s Bruno, untainted by the evil around him and willing to befriend a supposed enemy.

The acting is wonderful, from Vera Farmiga as Bruno’s conflicted mother Elsa to Jack Scanlon as Schmuel and Asa Butterfield (Hugo) as Bruno. The performances make up for the slow pace of the story, which is like a Masterpiece Theatre tale. The end holds the emotional punch of the whole film; it is one of the most frustratingly sad, stop-what-are-you-thinking endings I’ve seen. While it left me depressed, my VC was more angry at the parents and almost glad in a strange way that the impact of the horrors they were ignoring was finally hitting home. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas may grieve and enrage its audience, but it’s a potent yet restrained look at the Holocaust through the eyes of an innocent.

Best line: (Gretel, summing up the disheartening view of so many people during the Holocaust) “It’s only horrible for them.”

Artistry: 9
Characters/Actors: 9
Entertainment: 5
Visual Effects: N/A
Originality: 8
Watchability: 4
TOTAL: 35 out of 60

Next: #268 – Kiki’s Delivery Service

© 2014 S. G. Liput