When his father, a World War II SS officer, is promoted to oversee the events at Auschwitz, 8 year old Bruno befriends Shmuel, a Jewish boy on the other side of the concentration camp fence.
Based on the 2006 John Boyne novel of the same name, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas deals with a subject that has been covered in films countless times, The Holocaust, but does so from a different angle. This is a child’s perspective, and a German child at that. Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is completely oblivious to the horror going on around him, perhaps symbolic of many Germans during the war. Through a child’s innocence, the terrors of Auschwitz seem even greater; each and every detail seeming that more grotesque leading up to the frankly chilling climax.
However, a major downfall of the film is the fact that it’s in English. The filmmakers may have had good reason to make it in English, but it’s a film that is desperate to be made in the characters’ mother tongue. The English accents of the German characters make it doubly confusing when you consider it’s the British that the Germans are fighting against. It detracts from the story somewhat and may confuse slightly younger viewers.
Once you’re over that hurdle, there’s an interesting story but one that suffers from a slightly poor script, particularly in regards to Bruno and Shmuel’s relationship. Considering that’s the crux of the story, there isn’t much progression in their friendship over the shortish runtime, which could have given so much more. Despite that, it’s an interesting take on a WWII story; as viewers with historical knowledge of the situation, we always know more than Bruno, which turns out to be both a blessing and a tragedy.
Words: Chris Thomson