‘We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you not know that?’
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a movie based on the book of the same name by John Boyne, and it is about a forbidden friendship between a German boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and a Jewish concentration camp inmate boy named Schmuel (Jack Scalnon). It also stars Vera Farminga as Bruno’s mother, Rupert Friend as Lieutenant Kotler, David Thewlis as Bruno’s father and and Sheila Hancock as Bruno and his sister Gretel’s grandmother.
I read the book for school back in year 5 and year 7 respectively, so of course I’ve had to analyse both the book and the film to death. I distinctly remember having to get our parents to sign permission slips back in year five as we were all too young to watch the film at the time. We were also all not allowed to watch the ending at the time as well, and I do recall my old teacher calling the book ‘the Boy in the stupid pyjamas’.
Despite that, I think anything from a child’s eyes when applied to a serious subject such as the holocaust and World War II is particularly horrifying. Considering its subject matter, I would never consider this movie to be my favourite film, and for the most part, the movie is downright depressing. However, this was the movie that originally got me interested in the actor Asa Butterfield, who was ten when he was in the film, yet his performance was far more striking than anyone else’s in the movie. I think it’s the fact that he went on to do several more brilliant, thought provoking films and has since done incredibly well in his acting career. Apparently him and his other young co star Jack Scalnon did not know anything about the Holocaust at the time, which makes it slightly more haunting. Now that I’m considerably older than when I last watched the movie, I picked up on a couple of smaller details, such as the fact that it sounded as if Lieutenant Kotler’s father was actually a Jew.
There are a couple of plot holes in the movie, for example, wouldn’t someone notice a boy hanging around outside the camp? I think the camp that divides them was for metaphorical purposes, as Bruno seems to be very free and comfortable in his own life and Schmuel is imprisoned only because he’s a Jew, showing a contrast between the two boys. Also, young children would be killed upon arrival to the camp,so the entire film is slightly inaccurate. I’ve always found the friendship between Bruno and Schumel to be a rather forbidden one. When it comes down to it, it’s the things that you do for a friend that ends up getting you killed.
Other than that, the cast was good. Asa Butterfield and Jack Scalnon worked really well considering that they were both very young at the time, I’ve seen David Thewlis in a lot of things and he was good both in the film and as the character of the emotionally distant father who happened to be a Nazi soldier. Rupert Friend graced his scenes with his charming screen prescence and secretly snappy mannerisms, and Vera Farminga was good as Bruno’s mother. She’s also been in her fair share of horror films. The film really shows how impressionable and naive children actually are, from the way that Bruno thinks that the camp is a farm, believing what was actually propaganda and calling the camp ‘Out-With’ to his sister Gretel having Nazi propaganda posters on her wall. Children will also believe anything. You are almost caught up in their naivety and blinded to the actual horrors of the war and the holocaust, that are now a huge part of our history today. The ending in itself is considerably emotional. How has an empty room that slowly faded to black shown more about the truth of the Holocaust than going in to great detail about it? It’s as if the viewers have been hit in the face and had their emotions played around with. I’ve also always found the bit when the man with the gas mask pours in the gas rather scary.
Overall, a rather haunting and emotionally stringent film that is considerably more poignant as it is seen through the eyes of an eight year old child.