Shot in 2008, “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is a historical drama film by the British director Mark Herman on the Holocaust during the World War II. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by John Boyne. The theme of a fine line between those who happened to be on the aggressor’s side and those on the victim’s side won the audience’s hearts and made the film noticeable among others dedicated to the World War II. The movie stars David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga and Rupert Friend. “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is produced by David Heyman, and the production company is “Miramax Films”.
The runtime of the movie is 94 minutes; it is a film of color shot by panavision cameras and lenses in the spherical and digital intermediate cinematographic process. The film is shot in Budapest, Hungary. “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” was nominated for Premio Goya and Irish Film and Television Award. Vera Farmiga won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress.
“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is a story of a friendship of two kids who happened to be on the opposite sides of the war. Bruno is a German boy whose father’s military career is going well. Though his family is wealthy, he has a kind heart and he does not feel comfortable about everything he is taught during the lessons of History; he does not understand the cruelty of his father. Being bored in the countryside with his family and no school, he wanders around and one day finds the border where his carefree world ends and the unknown begins – he is not allowed to go and see what there is behind the electric barbed wire fence. Bruno meets Shmuel, the Jewish boy of his age. The kids spend a great time together in spite of being on different sides until one day Bruno wears the striped uniform, digs under the fence and enters his friend’s world. While his parents were desperately looking for him, Bruno and Shmuel together with dozens of Jews are led to the gas chamber where they are all murdered.
Robert Herman chose a very special and touching way to tell his audience the complicated story of the Holocaust. The story seen from the kid’s perspective demonstrates the cruelty of the Germans and numerous real-life situations suffered by the Jews during the World War II. The first historically accurate thing Herman shows in his movie is the fact that the Jews were taken to the concentration camps where they were forced to work and live in the subhuman conditions. In the movie, Herman highlights the Nazi’s cruelty by choosing the kid’s naïve perspective of what is going on. “Jews () had no place in the New World Order of Adolf Hitler and his stormtroopers. (The Jews) were rounded up and shipped off to die as the Nazi regime () set about the systematic “cleansing” of the country” (Hall, 2013, p. 1). It is hard to believe that millions of people all over Europe were forced one day or another to stop their normal life and for some reasons be tortured and murdered. Herman highlights the absurd idea of genocide by the touching monologues of Shmuel.
The second huge historical truth of “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is the fact that if the German knew someone who disagreed with the current political regime, it was his duty to inform the authorities about that. It was impossible to have another point of view while kids had nowhere to find other information. “All teachers had to be careful about what they said as children were encouraged to inform the authorities if a teacher said something that did not fit in with the Nazi’s curriculum for schools” (Trueman, n.d., p. 1). In the movie, soon after Ralf finds out Lieutenant Kurt Kotler did not inform the authorities about his father being not loyal to the regime, he is sent to the front.
It is impossible not to mention the famous Nazi “showers” which in fact, were basically the gas chambers. In the movie, the director does not show any death but the audience knows that people were dying in the showers by hearing the noise behind the black door which soon transforms into complete silence. The fact that they were burnt afterwards is highlighted by the picture of a thick smoke from the fox hole. “When the doors shut, a Nazi would pour Zyklon-B pellets into an opening () which would turn into poison gas once it contacted air” (Rosenberg, n.d., p.1).
“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is not perfectly historically accurate, and in spite of admiration of the critics all over the world, there are those who are even offended by the lack of real horror of the concentration camps in the movie. Indeed, there are several scenes portraying the situations which were absolutely impossible during the World War II. The most important is the fact that the Jewish child would never stay alive in the concentration camp if he was unable to work. Shmuel obviously had a lot of free time and more freedom than the Jewish people used to have in the concentration camps. In fact, the idea of Bruno sneaking through the fence so easily is absurd in those circumstances – the boy would immediately be electrified. As a son of a Nazi, Bruno had to know what was going on behind the fence so this part of the movie is a huge historical inaccuracy. And finally, the small Jewish boy who really saw all the horror of the concentration camp would definitely speak plainly about his situation so that Bruno would not imagine a farm behind the fence. But still, the film is not a documentary and what it aims to show is the atmosphere of friendship and unity even on the different sides of the fence. Mark Herman demonstrated another approach to the cruel reality, another life position and philosophy – he offers the complicated sense of war with the simple words of the kid.
The movie made me cry and I am grateful to the director for the emotions he gave me. In spite of some historical inaccuracies, the movie is well done in its genre. It creates the atmosphere and the overall impression of the phenomenon of the holocaust, and those who are curious can later look for the details in the encyclopedias and documentaries (as I did). As a feature film, it is perfectly shot; its message is absolutely clear to the audience. Of course, the film is highly recommended to those who are interested in cinematography and the world history.
Hall, Allan (2013). The little ones that got away: Incredible stories of Jewish children who survived the Nazi holocaust. Daily Mail.
Rosenberg, Jennifer (n.d.). “Auschwitz Concentration and Death Camp”. Retrieved from http://history1900’s.about.com
Trueman, C.N. (n.d.). “Nazi Education”. Retrieved from http://historylearningsite.co.uk