Review

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Review

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Nov 06, 2008 | 8:49pm EST

Adapted from John Boyne’s award winning novel  Pajamas presents a different view of the Holocaust told as a fable primarily through the eyes of an 8-year-old German boy Bruno (Asa Butterfield) whose father a Nazi officer (David Thewlis) is transferred from Berlin to a desolate outpost. Bruno finds nothing much to do and no new friends to play with. His older sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) pretty much ignores him preferring to spend time playing with dolls or talking to Lieutenant Kolter (Rupert Friend) an eerie young man working for her father. What the father knows and doesn’t tell his family is that his new assignment is running a concentration camp. Despite the warnings from his mother (Vera Farmiga) to stay away from the huge backyard Bruno heads to a “farm” he sees in the clearing where he meets and befriends a Jewish boy Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) on the opposite side of a barbed wire fence. As the frequency of his visits with this boy in the striped pajamas increases Bruno learns more about intolerance in the world and the fences that divide them. As his “education” continues the story takes a surprising turn. Although the film has typically fine performances from an impressive roster of actors -- including Thewlis Farmiga and Friend as well as veteran Richard Johnson as Grandpa -- it’s the remarkable young stars who make the most vivid impression. Butterfield is especially impressive showing the emerging curiosity of a young child caught up in a new environment and circumstances he can’t quite grasp. His outgoing friendly nature and his discovery of a human connection despite the barrier of a barbed wire fence is well-played and carries the entire film. This is perhaps the first time the tragedy of the Holocaust has been portrayed in such a manner and it’s all on Butterfield’s able shoulders. Equally fine is Scanlon playing the title role with haunting sunken eyes but who like Bruno shows us a better way through an uncorrupted innocent perspective. Their scenes together are touching and quietly intense and both are easily up to the task. Smartly adapted for the screen by director Mark Herman this delicate fable about the effects of hatred senseless violence and unimaginable prejudice as filtered through the eyes of children has become far more dramatic and complex in its trip to the big screen. The novel is essentially FOR children an attempt to show the Holocaust in terms they could more easily understand. The film uses the children at the center of the story to express a more universal and tragic view of war and the Holocaust. Herman has still captured the surreal fable at the heart of Boyne’s book but it’s pointedly real and effective in its devastating impact when seen on film. Shot on location in Budapest Herman expertly captures the lone note of youthful hope and power of friendship embodied in his two remarkable young leads who seem immune to the reality of death and hate surrounds them. This is a daringly different and gut-wrenching movie that stays with you long after the theatre lights have gone up.

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