The movie tells the story of Bruno, an eight year old boy, whose father is a high ranking Nazi officer newly appointed to be in charge of a concentration camp.
The family leaves Berlin (shot in Budapest, by the way) for a place somewhere in the country, near a concentration camp. The story is purely seen through the eyes of the little boy which creates some very uneasy moments.
I believe that the major theme of this movie is knowing and knowledge. We do know what happened during the third Reich. We know what Endlösung – The Final Solution – means. We know about concentration camps and extermination camps. Watching this movie with all this background information makes for a lot of discomforting moments. All the signs, the chimneys and the smoke, the people in the striped pyjamas… We know what to make of them. Bruno does not. And neither does his mother as it would seem.
The crucial moment is when Bruno meets the boy behind the barbed wire, the boy in the striped pyjamas, Shmuel. An impossible friendship begins. Bruno understands after a while that this boy is a Jew; at the same time he is taught by a fanatic private tutor that Jews are vermin.
Boyne says in an interview that he wanted to tell a different story, add something new to a topic that has been taken up so many times. He is very successful. One thing is for sure, no one who watches The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is going to forget it easily. The whole way it is told plus the more than atrocious end is by far too unusual to be forgotten.
I am sure it is one of the best movies to teach children the Holocaust.
To be honest, I am still a bit speechless. The whole film and especially the ending are like being kicked in the gut. I am quite awed by the little actors. Asa Butterfield, who plays Bruno, is amazing. This little kid has a way of talking with his eyes that is rarely found in grown up actors. To cut a long story short: Watch it!
See also Children in War Movies: A List