Innocence Lost in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas


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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is based on John Boyne's book of the same name, which I'd read a few years ago. The cover of the book gave away little of the plot, allowing the reader to discover just what it was about while they were reading it.

For instance, I don't think it's ever directly mentioned that the book is set in World War II and that the father of central character Bruno is a Nazi.

That gradual unveiling of the plot can't be done in the film - as soon as we see the swastikas in the first frame of the film, and catch a glimpse of Bruno's dad (Thewlis) we know exactly what he is. And we also know the significance of the striped pyjamas worn by the old man who peels potatoes in the kitchen.

The story starts with eight-year-old Bruno (Butterfield) annoyed to discover his father has been given a new posting, to a house in the country. He misses his friends until he spots what he believes is a farm through the woods in the backyard. But it's an odd farm, the people all wear those striped pyjamas.

Thinking there might be some children to play with Bruno asks his mother (Farmiga) if he can go and have a look. She immediately tells him he is not to leave the yard. But curiosity gets the better of him and he sneaks out through the woods to the edge of the "farm", which is surrounded by an electric fence.

Sitting on the other side is another eight-year-old, Shmuel (brilliantly played by Scanlon). The pair get talking and, soon enough, Bruno becomes a regular visitor to the fence. Until that heartbreaking conclusion.

The film is largely told from the perspective of Bruno and Shmuel, neither of whom comprehend the true nature of the farm. Indeed, neither understand much of what is happening in Germany at the time.

His parents, who most definitely do know what's going on, steer Bruno away from the ugly truth of the "farm" in their backyard.

This provides an interesting insight. The father in particular fully supports the persecution of the Jews - to him it is a normal part of life - yet prefers to change the subject rather than offering his son an explanation. It makes you wonder if it's because there's still some small part of him that doubts his actions.

Also interesting is the attitude of Bruno's mother when she sees smoke from the camp's chimneys and discovers what they're actually burning.

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She is horrified at this news and rages at her husband. Yet she had been perfectly fine with the Nazis' treatment of the Jews up to this point. Persecute them all you want, she seems to be saying, but killing them is just wrong.

It seems like a very strange place to draw the line and made me wonder if other Germans during WWII tried a similar justification.

There is a final word of warning about the film. While the central characters are two children, this isn't exactly a kid-friendly film. The ending is especially distressing and would easily frighten many children.


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