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Film Reviews from 2007

Film Reviews
from 2006

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Boy PajamasAt the center of this new film, based on the novel by the same name by John Boyne, is a friendship between two eight year old boys:  Bruno, the lonely son of a Nazi Concentration Camp Commandant, and Shmuel, a Jewish boy in the camp.  Bruno and his family have just moved from Berlin to the large house on the edge of the camp, and Bruno does not understand who the people are.  Bruno thinks the camp that he glimpses from his bedroom window is a farm, and wonders why the farmers all wear “striped pajamas.”  He thinks the numbers they wear on their shirts are, somehow, part of a game.

Gradually, Bruno begins to hear from his father, other soldiers, and his tutor, that the people in the camp are Jewish, who are called everything from “different” to “enemies of the state” and “less than human.”  Bruno’s mother understands more than Bruno. Still she does not understand the full purpose of the concentration camp until a soldier tells her the nature of the stench from the thick smoke coming from the camp.  Horrified, she argues with her husband, and eventually demands that Bruno and his sister Gretel be taken to a “safer” location.  

In the meantime, driven by boredom and loneliness, Bruno escapes the walls of his front yard, and finds his way to the edge of the camp.  He sees Shmuel, a boy on the other side of the barbed wire fence, and begins to talk to him about his life in the camp.  Bruno still does not understand the nature of the camp or its Jewish prisoners.  Bruno begins to bring the emaciated Shmuel food, which he hands to him across the wires.  In the best scene in the film, Bruno is surprised to find Shmuel in his house one day, cleaning the crystal.  Shmuel said that they needed someone with small hands for the task.  Bruno gives him a piece of cake.  When a soldier sees Shmuel eating, he accuses him of stealing the food.  Shmuel says that Bruno is his friend, and he gave the cake to Shmuel.  When the soldier questions Bruno, he panics, and claims that he’s never seen Shmuel before, echoing Peter’s denial of Jesus.  The next time Bruno sees Shmuel across the barbed wire, he is badly bruised.  Bruno apologizes, saying he was frightened, and Shmuel accepts his apology.  The two remain friends.

I will not give away the ending, except to say that it is tragic and disturbing.  I felt numb leaving the theater.  Despite its moving elements, the film is problematic.  I found the characters stereotypical and one-dimensional.  The men are all staunch Nazis, while the women (with the exception of Gretel) question the party line.  I also could not believe that Bruno’s frequent visits to Shmuel across the barbed wire went totally undetected.  At one point, he is even able to dig under the wire and go into the camp.  Finally, as disturbing as the ending is, I found it highly implausible.

The authenticity of the film is severely hampered by the fact that many actors spoke with British accents.  Was there no dialogue coach?      

Despite its problems, when it focuses on the unlikely relationship between the two boys from different worlds, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is poignant.  Their simple friendship across boundaries offers hope in our world still torn by violence and hatred. 

Tom Condon, OP
St. Martin Province


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The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

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