“Innocence is always unsuspicious.” - Thomas C. Haliburton
At the weekend we watched a touching and poignant film, Mark Herman’s 2008 “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It is based on the novel by John Boyne and Mark Herman wrote the screenplay. It starred Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Jack Scanlon, Amber Beattie and Rupert Friend. The film is set during WWII in Germany and has Holocaust themes, which some people may find extremely and especially distressing.
The film examines themes from several perspectives and in the first half hour one is lost in the everyday existence of a German family living in Berlin and dealing with the war. The viewpoint is very much from young Bruno’s eyes – an eight-year-old German boy played wonderfully by Asa Butterfield. The filmmakers have done a very clever thing: The accents of the Germans are faultlessly English and one cannot fail to identify (initially at least) with the familiar family environment and the routines of a family coping with the antics of two children. The sympathies of the viewer need be won early in order to increase the force of the punch delivered later in the film.
The family must relocate to the countryside when Bruno’s father (David Thewlis) is promoted and is assigned to take command of a prison camp. His wife (Vera Farmiga) and their two children will of course accompany him to the camp, living some distance away in a mansion behind tall walls. Bruno is bored and as his sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) becomes involved in Nazi ideology, he has to find ways to amuse himself. He discovers a way of leaving the house and gaining access to the delights of the countryside, and soon comes across the “farm” (or so he thinks) where everyone wears striped pajamas. He befriends another child, named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) who lives behind the electrified fence of the camp. Bruno will soon find out that he is not permitted to befriend his new acquaintance as he is a Jew, and that the neighbouring “farm” is actually a prison camp for Jews awaiting extermination…
The theme of the film is how two innocent 8-year-old boys are affected by evil, and man’s inhumanity to man. The loss of innocence is documented as the movie develops and the children’s characters build slowly to show basic human foibles, but also the grandeur of the human spirit. The mother of the family who has “anti-establishment” thoughts and comes into conflict with her husband shows us what conversations and moral quandaries must have been prevalent in (what one hopes) were more than a few German households during the war. The father’s mother (the children’s grandmother) is also another of these questioners of the regime and this causes more friction and an uneasy situation within the family.
The film is extremely well-crafted with wonderful performances by all the cast, authentic sets and locations, accurate period costumes and a wonderful musical score by James Horner. As the fine English production pays attention to detail, one can simply concentrate on plot, character development and the meaning of the film. It is very hard not to get emotional when watching it and the ending is quite devastating. We were touched and stunned by the film and recommend it highly.