November 14, 2008, - 12:40 pm

MOVIE Of The YEAR: “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”

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.)
**** Watch the Trailer:

11 Responses

Sounds terrifically, heart-rendingly sad. Will definitely take the family to see it.
We’ll probably have to head up to Annapolis or DC to find a theater that will be showing it — but that’ll be worth it.
Never forget.

deMontjoie on November 14, 2008 at 2:36 pm

A good reminder of the horrors of a sick ideology. A movie I wll see this year. The second one, actually. Perhaps the makers of this film can make another movie to show what the future holds if another ideology isn’t exposed for what it really is.

KrazyKafir on November 14, 2008 at 3:15 pm

I have to go into Chicago in the next couple of weeks, and this is definitely on my list to see!
KrazyKafir has a good point. I would love to see a “islamofascist” Red Dawn, or a movie prequel to the events in “Prayers for the Assassin.”

cirrus1701 on November 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Miss Schlussel, Et Alii:
Do you reckon they’ll schedule this movie for the SHOWTIME or HOME BOX OFFICE cable television channels?
I never go to public movie theatres.
Why pay all that money?
For what?
Going to the movies used to be fun, but that was many years ago.
But, if they have this on SHOWTIME or HOME BOX OFFICE, I’ll sure watch it (unless I cancel my cable subscription – – – which I’m seriously considering).
Mox nix.
I’m sure it’ll be available on DVD, or maybe even on an Internet web site.
Thank you.
John Robert Mallernee
Official Bard of Clan Henderson
Armed Forces Retirement Home
Washington, D.C. 20011-8400

writesong on November 14, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Debbie, I will probably avoid this film and then see it in a few years like I always do. I don’t like watching Holocaust movies and I think most people draw the wrong lessons from them. BTW, I miss the old school Jewish characters we used to get like Mickey Goldmill in “Rocky,” Dr. Cohn in “Madeline”, Krusty the Clown, and Princess Leah is “Star Wars”.

Anonymous1 on November 14, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Miss Schlussel, Et Alii:
When talking about the Nazis, one of the great ironies is how much we have become like them.
The definition of “Nazi” is National Socialism, which is government control of all financial and commercial establishments.
We’ve had that in America for many years, even before the recent “bail outs”, which would insure even stricter total government control of major corporate institutions.
Just like the Nazis, we exhibit total disregard for the sanctity of human life, as we enthusiastically demand abortion and euthanasia legislation.
Just like the Nazis, our government mandates racial preferences and racial quotas, with a double standard imposed regarding behavior of individuals within selected racial groups.
The preferred racial identity might be different, but the principle remains the same.
Just like the Nazis, we practice “political correctness” in our speech and communications, and we clamor for more and more “hate speech” and “hate crime” legislation.
Just like the Nazis, we use the public school system and the Hollywood media to indoctrinate children with the approved propaganda of selected social issues.
And why wouldn’t the average German citizen want to go along with the Third Reich?
Look what the average German had to endure after the First World War.
They were desperate, and frightened that the Bolshevism of Russia would overtake their society also.
So, how are we any different, or any better?
Here’s something else to consider:
What do you think is the effect of forcefully indoctrinating generation after generation of German youths with shame and self hatred?
Don’t you think there might eventually be a rebellion against such thoughts?
What would be the result of such a youthful rebellion against that compulsory indoctrination?
Hmmmm – – – maybe a – – – “Neo-Nazi” movement?
Does anyone stop to think about what we’re NOW doing, as a contemporary society?
For so long now, we’ve been sold this bill of goods that we’re supposed to be “tolerant”, and “celebrate diversity”, and that it’s wrong to be “racially prejudiced”.
(I’m a White man living in an all-Black city, and I’m DEFINITELY racially prejudiced – – – and with no apology!)
Well, I think the pendulum of social change may be starting to swing back the other way.
Certainly, if the economy completely crashes, and government agencies become totally impotent and unable to function, then we can expect a return to night riding vigilantes who want to clean up the mess and preserve something for posterity.
Come to think of it, that was the reason the Ku Klux Klan got started, in reaction to the awful tyranny of Reconstruction.
But, that’s yet another story, for some other time.
So, what does our future bode?
Does government, or society, create its own enemies?
Thank you.
John Robert Mallernee
Official Bard of Clan Henderson
Armed Forces Retirement Home
Washington, D.C. 20011-8400
NOTE: “My unpopular and controversial personal opinions are independent of my Scottish clan.”

writesong on November 14, 2008 at 5:10 pm

There is nothing quite like seeing good movies at the theater. Especially if they show them on the “IMAX” screen. Movies are expensive, but there are ways to keep the cost down and still enjoy them. Certain days and times are much cheaper, and eat before you go, so you don’t buy anything from the snack bar/concession stand. The amount of money they charge for things like popcorn and pop is outrageous. It can easily cost more than what you paid for the movie ticket.

Ron Taylor on November 15, 2008 at 12:39 am

I just finished reading the book. It was insightful, to say the least. I am curious about the end of the movie, however. Does the movie say anything about the fate of the father? Email me at monkeedo1956 (at) aol (dot) com please and let me know. The book was a little vague.

monkeedo1956 on November 15, 2008 at 5:28 am

Monkeedo – They didn’t have anything about the father after the climax.
I saw this movie over the weekend and it was one of the most difficult movies I’ve ever had to sit through. I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for a long time. That said I did have two or three issues with it.
1. While I can understand the boy might have not fully understood the depth of the situation I am surprised he confused the place as a farm and not just simply a prison.
2. It is hard to believe that the two could have interacted as they did day in and day out without the guards noticing. Seems to be a bit of a plot flaw.
3. Considering the situation I have some difficulty having sympathy for the father and mother.

Joe on November 16, 2008 at 9:05 pm

I just came across this headline: Israel, Germany reportedly develop missile warning system.
Very ironic.

californiascreaming on November 16, 2008 at 11:59 pm

In anticipation of the release of the movie, I read the book yesterday and I did not like it at all. An extended discussion is here:
Basically, I found it very unbelievable. Bruno was too naive. The story only hinted at the true evil at the camp. If you didn’t know the history of the Holocaust, as many kids don’t, you wouldn’t understand what is being suggested. Even the ending isn’t clear without knowing about the “showers” at Auschwitz.
From this review, it seems that the movie moved the Commandant’s house. In the book, Bruno could look out his bedroom window and see the fence less than 50 feet away. Wouldn’t he have seen guards shooting prisoners? No. He only saw a guard shoot a dog.
Much better fiction books about the Holocaust include The Book Thief (Markus Zusak), Number the Stars (Lois Lowry), and Briar Rose (Jane Yolen).

meeshlr on November 20, 2008 at 3:00 pm

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