The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Based on the best selling novel by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas explores the friendship between two eight year-old boys, Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and Shmuel (Jack Scanlon). Bruno is the son of an SS officer, Ralf (David Thewlis) and Shmuel is a prisoner in a concentration camp. Too young to truly understand the enormity of World War II, Bruno assumes Shmuel is merely living on a farm with other the pyjama wearing farmers. Separated by a fence, the two boys become good friends despite their individual circumstances. However, it is only a matter of time before the horrors of the world shatters their innocence.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a film that would have benefited from more time to flesh out the story. Running at a scant 93 minutes, the film feels like it was adapted from Cliff-Notes, instead of an actual novel due to lack of character depth. While the increasing strained relationship between Ralf and is wife, Elsa (Vera Farmiga), is interesting, director Mark Herman does not take the time to truly explore the dynamics of their relationship. Instead he spends most of his time focusing on the weakest character in the entire film, Bruno.
Herman is so concerned with beating the audience over the head with Bruno’s innocence that Herman neglects to make him an interesting character that the audience wants to follow. Bruno’s naïve characteristics get increasingly annoying, and somewhat insulting, as the film progresses. Although Herman wants the audience to believe the boys are simple unaware of how the grown up world works, Bruno is clearly aware that his life is more privileged than Shmuel. An example of this comes when Bruno lies to save himself despite knowing Shmuel will be punished as a result. This is especially apparent when the film reaches its climax. It is tough to believe that Bruno would make the choices he does for Shmuel. The final scenes are meant to be a stark awaking for both the characters and the audience, but it fails to connect on an emotional level.
Part of the problem is due to the lack of time Herman spends on Shmuel. A more balanced display of the vastly different lives the two boys are leading would have made for a far more compelling film. Shmuel is often nothing more than a convenient plot point to allow Herman to move from one point to the next. It is likely that the Shmuel, and the rest of the characters, were developed in greater detail in the novel. However from a cinematic standpoint, the film feels like its only purpose is to manipulate the audience into crying every twenty minutes. Unfortunately this is hard to accomplish when there is so little in the film for the audience to truly connect to with.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is part of our "The Must See List" series. The film was recommended by HKB