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Ignorance is bliss
The Boy In Striped Pyjamas (DVD)
Member Name: pmcds
The Boy In Striped Pyjamas (DVD)
Advantages: Powerful and moving
Disadvantages: Hard to watch at points
This is a story about a friendship of innocence. At times harrowing and with a powerful ending, it tells of two boys who meet at a Nazi prison camp. Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is the son of a Nazi officer who has recently been promoted and moves to outside the camp. Jack Scanlon plays Shmuel, a boy prisoner inside the camp. The two meet by chance in a seemingly unguarded and secluded corner of the camp, each on different sides of the fence keeping the prisoners in. They are unaware of the gravity of the war, of the religious differences they are supposed to have, and unsure of the reasons for the segregation.
The film is shown basically through Bruno's eyes, as we follow him as he makes his way around his new house, finding a secret window through which he can escape to go and visit his new friend. It's like this that he first stumbles across the fence and Shmuel, as his mother has been careful to try and prevent him from being able to see what is going on inside the camps. As a result, Bruno believes it to be a farm, and thinks the strange striped pyjamas (the prison outfit) that Shmuel wears and the number on his shirt are merely part of an elaborate game and he is keen to play.
This innocence is a startling look at how things must have been kept somewhat covered up at the time, and with propaganda and belief making sure that people believed it was the right thing to be happening. The sheer atrocities happening in the camps, such as the mass killing of Jews systematically through a gas chamber, is a harrowing enough thought, without having the pain of innocence and youthful ignorance added to the heartstring tugging.
It's very powerful in how it depicts things happening, and there is a lot of emotion not just exuding through in the atmosphere, but also in the scenes where we see Bruno's family at home. His innocence continues here, and despite his elder sister's relative understanding of events, he still remains blinkered. The fact that their Jewish servant used to be a doctor makes Bruno think he can't have been that good, and is only exposed to the violence often associated with this era with an outburst of pent up anger from his father's junior officer. The shock we see on his face in another indication of the innocence involved here, and another powerful moment in the film.
The acting is very good from both boys, and really, this is what the film's focus is on. David Thewlis plays Bruno's father very well, and Vera Farmiga is equally impressive as his mother, but it's really the two child actors who are the stars. The way they hold their conversations as if everything was complete normality is quite daunting to watch as a viewer. The fact that two 8 year old boys can sit either side of a fence in the midst of desolation and in a war torn country, and not think anything of it other than it's a game or it's what they're told is normal, is quite a powerful tool, and credit must really go to the author of the tale here: John Boyne. I haven't read the book, and don't know exactly how closely the film sticks to it, but the general story is very well put together.
The two child actors, Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon, are impressive, too. At times, they are a little wooden, and they're also very British, pronouncing every consonant and vowel properly. It's quite confusing in a way, and it would have been more interesting to see a bit more of an attempt to remind us of their German nationality as opposed to having a British cast put on very British accents. Still, this is only a minor blip, and in general, the two boys are extremely convincing and perform their parts very well.
Overall, then, it's a very powerful film that should not be entered into lightly. It deals with sore subject matter for many, and is quite harrowing and shocking in parts. There are moments where you feel absolutely shocked, and others where you're shaking your head, wondering how true to real life the story is in terms of the conditions it describes. You can see the pain, suffering and dogged determination from some of the people on both sides of the fence, and it's almost like being blinkered whether you're an 8 year old boy or the man in charge. It's not easy viewing, but it is impressive, and I recommend giving it a go. Just don't expect much to laugh or smile about.
Summary: Two boys meet on either side of the fence of a Nazi prison camp