The Boy In The Striped Pajamas (2008)

DVD Cover (Miramax)
Childhood Drama, Drama, War Drama
Mark Herman Mark Herman
Asa Butterfield Asa Butterfield
Zac Mattoon O'Brien Zac Mattoon O'Brien
Domonkos Németh Domonkos Németh
Henry Kingsmill Henry Kingsmill
Vera Farmiga Vera Farmiga

7.8 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: November 21, 2008
There was a feeling that came over me shortly after leaving the theatre after watching "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". It was a feeling I've had many times before. It was a feeling that shaped my decision to write film critiques in the first place. It's the feeling that I was right and everyone else was wrong. I saw the film with three friends, none of whom really enjoyed it. This was a shock to my system because I absolutely fell in love with the film. I can't think of another instance where I've loved a film so much and everyone else I was with disliked it so thoroughly. I originally thought it might have been me. Maybe I wasn't looking deep enough? Maybe I was missing the big picture? The more I thought about it, the more I realized it wasn't me. It had to be them. Why? Because I am always right, that's why. Deep down, every film critic knows their inability to be wrong. You can respect other peoples opinions, but it doesn't mean you have to respect that they're right. So, that's where we stand. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" was a moving, beautiful and inspiring motion picture that left a lasting impression on me. I went to bed thinking about it. I woke up this morning thinking about. It sticks with you. If it doesn't, you just don't have a heart.

Set in Nazi Germany in the 1930's, the film is told from the perspective of Bruno (Asa Butterfield), an imaginative eight-year-old whose father (David Thewlis) is a high ranking Nazi officer, and whose mother (Vera Farmiga) is a beautiful woman who doesn't fully understand what her husband is doing and why. The film begins as the family moves from their home in Berlin to the country, where their home is only a mile or so away from a concentration camp that is used to house and eventually dispose of Jewish people. Bruno is not allowed to venture away from the house, but finds a way to sneak out. He thinks the people over in the camp are actually on a farm and are playing a game with the numbers on their uniforms, which he thinks are pajamas. Bruno doesn't understand why anyone would want to treat other people that way, and neither does his mother, who has no idea what is going on until she sees the smoke coming from the stacks and quickly distinguishes what the smell is that accompanies it. Bruno meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish boy who is on the other side of the electric fence guarding the camp. With Schmuel on the inside and Bruno on the outside, they develop a friendship that translates to Bruno bringing Shmuel food and playing checkers with him from the other side, all without the knowledge of his parents. I don't really want to delve any further because it would require my giving away too much of the films endings.

So, what were the problems with the film, according to my friends? (01) The accents. Director Mark Herman chose to have the actors speak with a fixed English accent, not German. This is a technique that has been used for years and years, on stage and on screen. It's the idea that - at the end of the day, it shouldn't matter what accent they used if they were able to convey the character effectively. If the story is strong, why do accents matter? (02) The lighting. The film was accused of being over lit, but that was the whole point. The film is basically being viewed through the eyes of Bruno, a child. Everything is sunny and bright for him. It's only after a while that we start seeing the darkness below the surface. I think the brightness was indicative of what a child sees when he looks at the world - it only looks dark when its forced to look that way. (03) The ending. It was evidently 'not powerful' and 'not enough'. Wow. I can't think of a single more effective ending in recent memory. I haven't been that floored by the ending of a film in years. I just sat there, tears streaming down my face, stunned and wrecked. (04) Looked like a television movie. This is the one that boggles my mind the most. A television movie? This film looked nothing like that. From the sturdy cinematography, the steadfast direction and the incredible score from James Horner, this film had the polish of a Miramax film from the early 1990's. If this film looked like a television movie, then so must have "The English Patient" because the films were all too similar in the way there were presented visually. This felt like a classic Miramax film and I liked that.

There are also some incredible performances here. Asa Butterfield is just fantastic as Bruno. You really do grow to care for the boy and you understand the conflicts that he's having and you wonder how you would react under those circumstances. He is played with such innocence. The film very much reminded me of "Pan's Labyrinth". In that film, the child sees the world with a vivid imagination that takes a more fantastical form. Here, his imagination is portrayed by the way in which he perceives the world. A child wouldn't know how to distinguish good from evil if he had never been exposed to evil. Also strong here is David Thewlis, the underrated character actor who does such a good job with his role here. He is menacing and not sympathetic at all, but you have to take into consideration his circumstances - not justifying it, but understanding it. Vera Farmiga, whom I normally don't necessarily enjoy, was also fantastic here as the mother who suddenly has the rug pulled out from under her. All of these performances are playing in a very low key way. You don't see a lot of serious conflict between the characters because, as I mentioned, everything is in the perception of Bruno, an eight-year-old boy. We see a lot of things the way he sees them, and everyone reacts to him in a way that simplifies matters to the point of shock and awe, as when one tutor explains to him why he should hate the Jews and how there are no good ones.

So - what's left to say? I can't really understand why someone wouldn't like this film. I can understand someone not loving it. I can even understand someone not liking it a lot. But to dislike the film is just beyond words for me. It is a masterful film. It moved me more than a lot of other films to deal with the Holocaust and it kind of has the same spirit as "Life Is Beautiful". I don't know what awards chances it has - I assume strong - but here are my recommendations: James Horner for Best Original Score, David Thewlis for Best Supporting Actor and Mark Herman for Best Adapted Screenplay. Is it my favorite film of the year? Maybe. It certainly moved me and left a lasting impression that has not gone away. Is there a better judgment for a best film? I remember the first time I saw "Schindler's List" and the way it made me feel, as a human being and as a lover of film. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" made me feel the same way. I cannot recommend the film enough. If someone you know saw it and didn't like - ignore them. They're wrong.

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Greg Follender #1: Greg Follender - added 11/22/2008, 01:35 AM
I'm anxious to see this film myself... but I must admit that the overwhelming melodrama of the coming attraction left me a bit cold... as does the incredibly schmaltzy title... ugh. I get the whole "world seen through a child's eyes" thing... but please, that cutesy moniker will frighten off more filmgoers than it will encourage.

Still, I'm eager to see what this movie will hold for me... maudlin or otherwise, I look forward to the experience.

PS: Nice objective stance there, Meanie...
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