'Striped Pajamas': Genocide In His Backyard

Asa Butterfield as Bruno i i

Adapted from John Boyne's 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells a Holocaust story through the innocent eyes of Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the 8-year-old son of a concentration-camp commandant. David Lukacs/Miramax Films hide caption

itoggle caption David Lukacs/Miramax Films
Asa Butterfield as Bruno

Adapted from John Boyne's 2006 novel, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells a Holocaust story through the innocent eyes of Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the 8-year-old son of a concentration-camp commandant.

David Lukacs/Miramax Films

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

  • Director: Mark Herman
  • Genre: Drama, History
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

Rated PG-13 for some mature themes.

Jack Scanlon as Shmuel and Asa Butterfield as Bruno i i

Lonely and isolated, Bruno makes friends with camp inmate Shmuel (Jack Scanlon, left) — without quite understanding that Shmuel is a prisoner. David Lukacs/Miramax Films hide caption

itoggle caption David Lukacs/Miramax Films
Jack Scanlon as Shmuel and Asa Butterfield as Bruno

Lonely and isolated, Bruno makes friends with camp inmate Shmuel (Jack Scanlon, left) — without quite understanding that Shmuel is a prisoner.

David Lukacs/Miramax Films

The 8-year-old son of a concentration-camp commandant befriends a Jewish child in this fable-like adaptation of the 2006 novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

John Boyne wrote the story to increase British schoolchildren's awareness of the Holocaust, and the film's wide-eyed, studiously oblique storytelling likewise feels aimed at impressionable youth.

When young Bruno (Asa Butterfield) moves from Berlin to the countryside with his family, he asks about the "farm" he sees from his new bedroom window, wondering why all the farmers wear black and white pajamas. Everyone around him adopts a decorous, plummy-Brit-accented, Masterpiece Theater-ish air of detachment.

Mother (Vera Farmiga) may frown a bit about the shuffling Jewish prisoner who brings vegetables to her kitchen, and Father (David Thewlis) may close his door for meetings with the death-camp guards, but nothing much seems amiss until Bruno scoots out an unguarded back door at his residential compound and visits the camp's back fence — where he discovers title character Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) sitting quietly in a corner.

Actually, to Bruno, who needs to be more than mildly incurious for Boyne's plot to work, warning bells still don't go off, which makes him appear dim to the point of utter cluelessness.

The faux-naive point of view probably worked better in the novel; the literalness of film renders certain of the story's conceits overly precious — say, that death-camp nook where kids can play checkers unobserved, through an electrified fence.

And adult viewers may also chafe at the script's odd symmetry, in which every viewpoint gets scrupulously countered — a Nazi grandfather balanced by a more sympathetic granny, a brutal soldier given a family secret that makes him seem as much fearful as cruel.

Though the performances are fine, and the filming handsome, with comparatively little onscreen violence and only the vaguest sense of a German society in crisis, the story — provocative final twist included — is likely to seem most plausible to kids about Bruno's age.

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