Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Directed by: Mark Herman | 94 minutes | drama | Actors: Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Amber Beattie, Rupert Friend, Sheila Hancock, Richard Johnson, Cara Horgan, David Hayman, Jim Norton, László Áron, Attila Egyed, Béla Fesztbaum, Gábor Harsai, Zsuzsa Holl, Henry Kingsmill

War movies, a genre of its own. How many have been made, especially about WWII – so you can hardly be original in that, you would think. Many films follow on from the bad events, seen from the point of view of the Jewish population in particular. Stories about what it was like from the other side – and not exactly Hitler himself – are less common. ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ takes a middle course and tells the story of a German boy, Bruno, who befriends the Jewish boy Schmuel who is in a concentration camp just behind his house.

The film is mainly aimed at older children, but adults will also appreciate the film. Asa Butterfield, who takes on the role of Bruno, shows that he has a lot of potential to become a great actor. This newcomer fills his role with the necessary naivety and childhood wisdom and slowly shows the growth he goes through as he discovers the truth about his father and the persecution of the Jews. Schmuel is played by Jack Scanlon, who is just as talented as his minor opponent.

Besides the acting talent, ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ has two other strong points. First, no character is all good or all bad – that’s especially true of the German characters. This gives more depth and credibility to the story. The second point is that it is laced with dramatic irony: as a viewer you immediately know what is going on when black smoke and stench comes out of a chimney, but at the time only a few high-ranking soldiers were aware of this. Everything had to be kept secret, also from the wife and children. That whole process is also made clear in the film, which also arouses some sympathy for the ‘normal’ German population. ‘

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ is very good at evoking emotions in the viewer and mainly plays on the feeling. When one looks through it, however, it becomes clear that the story is not nearly as strong, especially considering the length of more than one and a half hours. Yet the viewer remains captivated by the heartbreaking story of an impossible friendship. ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ is a true emotional highlight. The fact that everyone is talking britishly British instead of German is then unimportant criticism.

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