This review was originally posted on Nov. 30, 2008 on a different blog (no longer maintained). I’m re-running it here because I think this is an important movie. It is now out on DVD. I encourage you to rent it and watch it. Powerful.
This is not an easy review to write. Not because I don’t like or recommend the movie–I enthusiastically do! But because I don’t want to give away any of the plot, and because even two days later as I write this, the movie still haunts me.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is based on a book by the same name. I have not read the book, although I’m going to look for it now. I was only peripherally aware of the movie’s theme, the Holocaust, when we attended. Last year my wife and I attended a play by the name of “A Shayna Maidel” which was also about the Holocaust. It is one of those profoundly important pieces of history about which, just a generation later, we do not know enough. This movie will definitely educate you.
The movie (and presumably the book) takes a unique approach. It shows us the Holocaust through the eyes of an 8 year-old German boy named Bruno. His father is a Nazi officer who has received a promotion, and along with the promotion comes a move to the country and a new posting. The family moves to a house not far from a Jewish internment camp, and Bruno, being a curious 8 year-old, finds his way to the edge of the camp where he befriends another 8 year-old boy (a Jew) on the other side of the fence.
There are a lot of themes skillfully woven into this movie: Like how adults (and society) tell us one thing, but sometimes the things we’re being told don’t line up with truth and the reality we know. Sometimes there’s a disconnect. Yet, we play along anyway. We also see the internal struggles some of the German families must have had in dealing with what was happening around them. And the results of speaking out against accepted societal norms. We experience that tension. It’s as if we’re a member of the family ourselves–we are “in the picture.”
The cinematography is excellent, the dialog well done. The characters are fully developed–people you really care about (especially the children). And the subject matter, well, what can one say? Tragic, unsettling, horrific. But important. I think if you go and see this movie, at the end you will come away as moved as my family and I were.
If you live in the Greater Binghamton area, this movie is currently (and only) playing at Regal Cinemas. It’s a shame that nationwide it’s only brought in $2.6M after 3 weeks in the U.S. This is a movie everyone needs to see. Go and see it before it’s gone from theaters.
One note of caution: We took our 12 year-old boy with us to see it. If I had known more about the content and plot, I would have elected not to take him. I would say children no younger than 13-14 years old be allowed to watch it–at least not without a parent seeing it first to judge its appropriateness. I am, however, strongly recommending to my older children (19 and 17 respectively) that they should go and see it. You should too.