Movie Review for The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

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Review #712 of 365
Movie Review of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) [PG-13] 94 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $14.25
Where Viewed: United Artists Denver Pavilions Stadium 15, Denver, CO
When Seen: 1 December 2008 @ 5:15 pm
DVD Release Date: Unscheduled (please check back)
After the Credits: There is Nothing

Soundtrack: Download now from James Horner - The Boy In the Striped Pajamas (Score from the Motion Picture) - or - order the CD below

Directed by: Mark Herman (Hope Springs)
Screenplay by: Mark Herman (Hope Springs)

Based on the Book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Featured Cast (Where You Might Remember Him/Her From):
Asa Butterfield (Son of Rambow) • Jack Scanlon ("The Peter Serafinowicz Show" ) • Vera Farmiga (Joshua) • David Thewlis (HP: Order of the Phoenix) • Amber Beattie (Empathy ) • Cara Horgan (Ladies and Gentlemen) • David Hayman (Trial & Retribution) • Rupert Friend (The Last Legion) • Richard Johnson (The Raven) • Sheila Hancock (Fallen Angel)

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If you've read the book upon which The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Pyjamas in the British English) then you know, but if you have not, then it's only fair to forewarn you that this film has one of the most unexpected, horrifying, and utterly devastating endings imaginable. So, if you are expecting something uplifting that soars and reinstates your faith in humanity, you'll be rendered practically emotionless instead. By way of personal history, I first learned about the Holocaust in 10th grade history. As the pages of WWII unfolded, several things happened in my mind, first I wondered how on earth something so incredibly diabolical could have ever been conceived let alone executed. Second, I wondered how the world mostly sat back and let it happen either by turning a blind eye or by being oblivious, either seemed impossible. Therefore, every time I see a film that in any way relates to Hitler's Germany, I'm reminded that we can never be reminded too many times of the ease with which he almost succeeded. I think to myself, as many movies as I've seen which are but a fraction of those that have been made, and as terrible as it is to think about this happening which most everyone would probably prefer never to have known about, it's so terribly important that we NEVER FORGET. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas written and directed for the screen by Mark Herman and based on the Irish author, John Boyne's book of the same name, is the story of a young boy, Bruno (Asa Butterfield), whose father (David Thewlis) is a high ranking German solider in WWII who gets promoted to run a Jewish concentraion camp made to look, in films for the outside like a wonderful summer camp in the Rocky Mountains with arts and crafts and camp shows with a excellent mess hall with all the latest delicacies. Of course, Bruno, his mother (Vera Farmiga) and his sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) are clueless to the real purpose and operational function of the camp as is the intention of not just father but all of Germany. Bruno has little desire to leave his school and Berlin friends, while Gretel considers this opportunity an adventure. As they and their nanny Maria (Cara Horgan) settle into their new manor home, which unfortunately affords a birds eye view of what Bruno decides must be a farm, they meet Lieutenant Kotler (Rupert Friend) and their Jewish servant wearing what Bruno perceives to be striped pajamas, Pavel (David Hayman). Paval speaks only when spoken to, peels potatoes, and cares for the grounds. Bruno is immediately curious about Pavel, his pajamas, their estate grounds, and how he might get to play with the children on the farm. Gretel, meanwhile, at the ripe old age of 12 going on 13 develops a head over heels crush on the dashing Lieutenant who seems to have no issues fulfilling her desires to swoon over him while he washes the family car in his undershirt. Mother settles in enjoying the new home and taking the car into town for shopping. All the while, Father is serving the Fatherland in the most devastating of ways. His home office serves as the nerve center for the plans for the most efficient extermination camp in all of Germany with four fully operational crematoriums—the foul smelling ashes of which blanket the area and attract even more curiosity from Bruno. This is all very fascinating as every attempt to humanize this family as being as perfect and perfectly normal as possible is made. This is furthered, however, when Bruno finally figures a way out of the estate and into the forests beyond. He follows the stream until he comes upon a fence and a small boy (Jack Scanlon) wearing the same striped pajamas he's seen on Pavel on the other side. They have an "I'm Bruno" / "I'm Shmuel" / "No one is named Shmuel" / "No one is named Bruno" / "I'm 8." / "I'm 8, too!" exchange and become fast friends.

… haunting, tragic, and poignant.
Their friendship, it would turn out, could be at their mutual peril, and sometimes Bruno's heart races with excitement and intrigue as he ventures out with food stolen from the kitchen to feed his obviously starving friend who devours it like he's not eaten in weeks. All the while, back at home things are growing more tense as the Lieutenant slips up and spills the beans on the real purpose of the camp to Mother who immediately sinks into a dark depression and rage that can only be satisfied with an agreement to move her and the children far from the operation for which she truly wants no part. The events that ensue would only be revealed in our spoiler but suffice it to say now that whatever terrible things happening you could imagine, quadruple it and then triple it again. There's no way to prepare except to be forewarned. The sequence is haunting, tragic, and poignant. There are morality lessons in there, but there's also a sense of unrequited vengeance that's quite utterly horrible—the kind you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy or would you?

All that said, there are a few parts that are either unbelievable from a technical standpoint or explained away out of arrogance. The fact that the two boys, and a later detail revealed only in the spoiler, interact aside this electrified fence for weeks without being noticed or caught is hard to imagine as probable let alone possible. Of course, it could be explained as noted by the arrogance of those in charge of the camp. After all, if you've so mentally demoralized and physically denigrated your prisoners, they might not even think to try to escape, and therefore there would be no need for constant monitoring of the fence line and the whereabouts of each and every prisoner. As it is a British made film, the actors are British, with the exception of Vera Farmiga who is, of course, from New Jersey, but there is no attempt for the actors to utilize German accents in their English (which is odd). The film, I hate to say, would have been a few times better had it been in German with subtitled. I know, I know, USAers don't do subtitles. Well, there are two options, folks, learn more languages—something our nation avoids like a disease—or deal with subtitles. You know that Chinese teens who study English from 2nd grade, learn the vast majority of their English (especially the lingo, jargon, and such, from watching movies without subtitles!). But, as usual, I digress, it is a fact that this film would have been stronger had it been in German despite being written in English by an Irishman in the first place. There is something to be said for the realism. At least, these trained actors could have given German accents to their English if nothing else. Aside from these two now certainly overstated issues (and the one from the spoiler), the story is a brilliant morality play. Every single person in the world, but especially the seemingly growing number of people in the USA, fueled by their ideologically driven, profit-driven talk radio and cable television hosts and non-journalistically trained hate-mongering bloggers, who charges forward with a 'Hate Agenda' disguised as what ever they want to disguise it, needs to see this film and be reminded of what happens when a nation is empowered by those with 'superiority complexes' and their deep opinions that they know what's best and better for everyone else. Those who poored their millions in support of Proposition 8 or insane adoption laws in Arkansas, those who hide behind the Bible as their shield seemingly ignoring their religious faith is based on the life of a man who preached tolerance toward the different, begged we turn the other cheek; and, at the very least, gave of his unmarried self to the hungry and the needy. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas serves as a necessary reminder that all that bottled up hatred fueled by a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing, charismatic leader can take a nation, a people, down a path toward terror and evil unlike the world has ever known. We must not teach our children to hate or fear that which we do not know!

Mark Herman has deftly translated the book to the screen with readers proclaiming it an entirely very successful rendition. The cast is superb led so well by the young Asa Butterfield who carries the film and gives it the essential view as seen through the eyes of a child. Surely, however, Jack Scanlon's performance as Shmuel should not be overlooked, though less sophisticated than Butterfield, his thoughtful portrayal was essential to building the climax. For the most part, the adults in the film are archetypal, as are the performances, with the exception of Pavel.

… an entirely very successful rendition… inexplicably grief-inducing, paralyzing…
David Hayman's performance is most definitely worthy of a best supporting actor nomination. Vera Farmiga will get kudos, but the complexity of the role is so overshadowed by the enormity of the circumstances as to diminish the value of not just her role but that of David Thewlis's, Bruno's father, as well. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and you should try to convince yourself to see it, will stick with you for a long time. The haunting score and inexplicably grief-inducing, paralyzing ending may trap you in your seat for a time. That's ok. Thus is the power of well-made, compelling film.

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Other Projects Featuring The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Cast Members
Asa ButterfieldJack ScanlonVera Farmiga
David ThewlisAmber BeattieCara Horgan
David HaymanRupert FriendRichard Johnson
Sheila Hancock
Mark Herman
Mark Herman

Review-lite The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) [max of 150 words]
Be prepared for the inexplicably paralyzing and horrifyingly tragic ending as screen writer / director Mark Herman adapts John Boyne's haunting The Boy in the Striped Pajamas for the screen. Starring Asa Butterfiled as Bruno, the boy whose Nazi father is selected to head a concentration camp, the film reminds us of the evil created out of a massive hate and superiority campaign the likes of which we can only pray the world will never see again.

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1 comment:

jack said...

Wow! Really awesome post! :)