November 14, 2008, - 12:40 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Although it will be dwarfed at the box office by the new James Bond “Quantum of Solace” flick (read my review here), this weekend’s best new release is “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” (also called, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”).
It’s also the best movie of the year, and I can’t say enough good things about it. This poignant film should be must viewing for everyone interested in preserving our freedoms and civilization as we know it.
If you can only see one movie this year, this is it. It’s touching, moving, and a great discussion starter to teach your kids.
Based on a best-selling fiction novel for kids of the same name, “Striped PJs” is about Bruno, the eight-year-old son of a rising Nazi officer. His father gets promoted to the position of Commandant of a concentration camp, and the young boy must leave his friends for a large, cold, dark house a mile from the camp.
Without any young children his age and sheltered, naive, and unaware of the true horrors afflicted on Jews interned very near the home, Bruno soon finds himself in contact with “the strange people from the farm”–the cover story he’s told about the camp by his parents to protect his innocence. Pavel, a Jewish doctor, is now the gaunt servant in striped pajamas who must serve this Nazi family. And soon, wandering the woods, Bruno arrives at the edge of the camp, where he meets Shmuel, an eight-year-old Jewish concentration camp prisoner.
Some might wonder about the accuracy and credibility of some of the movie–since the Nazis exterminated most children immediately upon arrival at the death camps, and since it seems a guard tower in the distance is not too watchful over Shmuel at the fence of the camp, though he is somewhat hidden. However, the book on which the movie is based apparently takes place at Auschwitz–where some young kids were allowed to live so that the evil Dr. Mengele could experiment on and torture them. In the movie the name of the camp is not revealed.
At first, I thought this movie did not show enough of the brutality of the Nazis perpetrated on six million Jewish victims (and millions of others). But, in fact, you do see the brutality–how Jewish servants are treated and the demise they meet. The end of the movie is the ultimate in showing what happens. And the movie–while very much appreciated by this adult and suited for all audiences above the age of ten–is, again, based on a book for teens and young adults, so it is not as graphic as say “The Pianist.”
Some of my friends–children of Holocaust survivors–worried that the movie would show this Nazi family as too civilized. Don’t worry about that. We see Bruno’s 12-year-old sister modeling herself as a junior Eva Braun, and their home-schooling German teacher instructing them on the evils of the Jews. “They’re not people”, and “they’re not human”, are pronouncements Bruno is constantly taught by his teacher, sister, and father, but can’t quite understand, given his naivete, innocence, and secret friendship with Shmuel and the liking he’s taken to Pavel. And we see the violence and brutality against Jews within Bruno’s earshot.
The movie presents the irony of the Nazis–Germans who thought they were so refined, wore the finest clothes, and listened to the most culturally-uplifting classical music. Yet, they were the ultimate barbarians and uncivilized animals and savages. Bruno’s mother is disgusted by the stench and what is going on in the camps, but she knows full well why these people in striped pajamas are peeling her potatoes, are scarred from beatings, and gaunt from starvation and lack of sleep. She pretends to be disturbed, but is mostly just bothered by the smell of the ashes from the ovens, circulating in her air and how it will affect her children. She is selfish, not morally upright.
If they were all really so bothered about what was happening, they would have prevented the Holocaust. But they did not. Like the Commandant’s wife, they just held their noses and continued to let their kids learn that Jews are “subhuman.” They had all the luxuries and accoutrements of high culture and civilization. But they were not civilized at all.
A warning: This movie is very sad. The ending is disturbingly so, but then so are so many parts of it, in a subtle way. I cried at the treatment of the Jews working in the Nazi home. It reminded me of the many stories my late grandfather told me of how, as a young adult, he managed to survive the brutality of camps like Dora and his constant cheating of the certain jaws of death, and how he overheard neighbors who hid him for a day, brag to their friends that they were about to turn him over to the Nazis for a bottle of whisky.
The movie is only an hour and twenty minutes–always a plus in my book. It’s a tight, well-written script, well-shot movie, with beautiful and effective cinematography and excellent acting. As a member of the Detroit Film Critics Society, I plan to vote for the precocious, magnificent young Asa Butterfield, who plays Bruno, for “Best Newcomer”. And–unless I see anything better this year, which I doubt I will–I will vote for this movie as “Best Picture.”
Rush to the movies and see this. And take your whole family. You don’t want to miss this excellent, important, and moving film, best viewed on a giant screen in a dark theater. (It is shown mostly at arthouse theaters.)
FOUR REAGANS PLUS
**** Watch the Trailer: