In no way a fashion statement about sleepwear, but rather a solemnly imaginative political statement touching on a German population asleep when it came to exactly what genocidal horrors were going down during the Nazi regime, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas brings an entirely novel perspective to the already exhaustive ongoing annals of Holocaust cinema.
Uniquely and touchingly from a child’s point of view, the film also drives home the way in which evil on the planet is perpetuated through the imposed conformity on younger generations to often incomprehensible destructive adult imperatives. And how that magical time just before a child’s innocence and intuitive wisdom is irreversibly broken, may actually hold the key to nurturing a more hopeful world.
Written, directed and adapted by Mark Herman from the children’s bestseller by Irish novelist John Boyne, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is told through the eyes of Bruno (Asa Butterfield). He’s the eight year old son of a Nazi commander (David Thewlis) who is uprooted from his Berlin home and relocated with his family to a villa in the countryside where Dad oversees a nearby concentration camp. While his father is sworn to secrecy about not revealing the nature of his job there, Mom (Vera Farmiga) is increasingly aware of the horrors surrounding them, but pretends not to notice.
Bruno, on the other hand is full of questions, and his immense curiosity along with his loneliness, isolation and boredom leads him to wander off on an adventure to locate the source of that black, horrid smelling smoke-filled sky. Not to mention his perplexed notions about all those peculiar adults around him, including why the people over at what is described to him as a farm, wear pajamas all day, while a reviled Jew who toils as a servant in their home, says he’s a doctor but would rather peel potatoes.
And though forbidden to venture outside the home, Bruno sneaks off to the farm, where he discovers a ragged boy his own age named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), who also wears those strange, identical striped pajamas. And certain that Shmuel must be having much more fun on the other side of that barbed wire fence than he, Bruno fetches cakes smuggled from his kitchen for the famished lad, so that he may have an alluring pair of those pajamas too. And perhaps even join Schmuel on the other side, where the grass must surely be greener.
The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is both a mystifying and heartbreaking Pied Piperesque tale. And a cautionary reminder to a careless adult world how their deeds impact most brutally and tragically on those vulnerable little souls they’ve committed to caring most about, to nurture and shield from harm.
3 1/2 stars