Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Always Last to Bed

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Is it considered heartless to feel nothing for a film that focuses on children during the Holocaust? This is the question I struggled with after watching The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The film does everything in its power to pull on the viewer’s heart-strings, but it ultimately left me feeling cold and annoyed.

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


  1. We watched the film in school, after reading the book, and I was very disappointed, too.
    All the girls were crying at the end, and I couldn't help but feel this was a bad mixture of all the good holocaust films out there.
    Also, Shmuel looks much healthier and not-starving than Bruno...

  2. Solid movie for me. I didn't have a problem connecting with Bruno since I'm 10-year old myself (well at least mentally). I felt it dragged on a bit which made it feel longer than 90 minutes. The final twist can also be seen from 10 miles away but nonetheless, fairly poignant story.

  3. I liked this one when I saw it, but I can definitely see how it can feel a bit manipulative at times.

    I hadn't realized that Vera Farmiga and David Thewlis were in this, which probably just means that I didn't know who they were at the time I saw it!

  4. @Mette – I actually did not mind the way Shmuel looked, I just wish he had more screen time. The film would have been so much richer had they developed his character more.

    @Castor – Agree that the twist was far too obvious. It only emphasized how ridiculous the whole idea of it was.

    @NeverTooEarlyMP – It is always nice to come across works that an actor/actress made before they became a “known” name. I find I am coming across at lot of films that I had no idea Farmiga was even. She has had an interesting career so far.

  5. Hmmm I thought this one seemed interesting, but from your review it does not sound like I would like it. Nice work, i'll have to check this one out myself.

  6. It goes on a roller coaster that doesn't really put you down anywhere and you don't really care if you get there anyway. Odd for the material, but I still liked it.

  7. It does not sound like something i'd enjoy, but then again I suppose it's really not meant to be enjoyed...
    Anyway, I doubt I'll watch this one, but very good review!

  8. I disagree with several of the mentioned criticisms and enjoyed this movie very much. I thought the idea of presenting a "Diary of Anne Frank" type story but with a naive child from the other side of the fence was a great premise. With that plan in mind, it makes sense to limit the focus on Shmuel.

    Bruno's non-judgment of his Jewish counterpart explores the idea that prejudice is something that is conditioned and not something to be born with. He's not a perfectly selfless character but the same can be said for most people his age.

    James Horner's score is impressive. The man knows how to tug at the heartstrings through music.

    And perhaps it was simply a fail on my part, but I did not believe the ending was telegraphed. At least not as early as some of you are saying. There were several plausible scenarios that could have been played out. But the decided ending was probably the best.

  9. @Jack – It is a film that I personally would not recommend to others but I know the film, and the novel, have a huge fan base.

    @Ian – If you look at it from a “Diary of Anne Frank” standpoint then yes I can see why they would limit the focus on Shmuel. The problem I have is how they much the film beats you over the head with how innocent Bruno is. I understand the film wants to show how prejudice is learned/conditioned but the point is touched on early in the film. The remainder of the film consists of the director just hammering this point home over and over.

  10. Anonymous12:30 pm

    there trying to show this film from brunos perspective and show the viewers how ugly the world really was back in those days. Its a very heart breaking movie to see, its not annoying. I enjoyed it and thought the plot was very good, it brought the message out clearly to me. I think all of you need to read the book first to really get a understanding of what the director is trying to come across with.

  11. Anonymous10:15 pm

    this the best book and film and its really heart toching love it loved it


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