Dating back to 1942's To Be Or Not To Be, the Holocaust has been a mainstay topic in American cinema. From 1953's The Diary of Anne Frank and 1993's Schindler's List to the upcoming Daniel Craig drama Defiance, there seems to be no holding back in terms of the World War II nightmare. However, through all the years, very little has been said about children during this trivial time"¦until now. Clad with emotion, drama and underlying innocence, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas does more than tell a story as it engrosses your mind and soul, never letting go until days after the final scene plays out.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of Bruno, an eight year old German boy who leads a seemingly simple life in the heart of Berlin. But when his father is promoted to commander of a concentration camp, Bruno and his family must pack up their things and move to his new post. In his innocence, Bruno spots the concentration camps from his new bedroom window, mistaking it for a farm and wondering why its workers are wearing striped pajamas. Eventually Bruno makes his way down to the camp where he strikes up a friendship with a Jewish boy his age that lives on the other side of the fence.
While the emotional premise is nothing new, especially when dealing with the blunt and often depressing factors of the Nazi's during the Second World War, this film went in a different direction. Instead of harping on the cruel treatment and misunderstandings that often occupy a Holocaust centered film, here audiences are taken for a ride through the innocence and unknowing truths that lie deep within a child's subconscious mind.
For Bruno, played brilliantly by Asa Butterfield, the discrimination done toward those of the Jewish fate is beyond comprehension. He doesn't understand the unjustified demands, the unusual rules or the constant disappearance of the house staff. But most of all, he doesn't get the fence that separates him from Shuel, his new friend. The fence, which serves as a constant barrier in terms of their growing friendship and social maturing, is a reminder of the times for both boys; and while neither understands its true meaning, both wish that it wasn't in place.
Never before has a film of such emotional magnitude dared to venture into the psyche of a child. Yet, with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, director Mark Herman does just that. In the process he effectively delivers an emotional rollercoaster of a story that not only hinders on the unruly, but also on the unfortunate. Yet, amid the emotion and anguish, Herman is still able to preserve the hardening heart and cold soul of those in charge. The balance is a difficult place to hit, and a frightening place to teeter. However, with the success, Herman and company are able to deliver a symbolic story that will generate a high level of disgust and eventual controversy; something not seen or felt since The Diary of Anne Frank back in 1959. The film is emotional, depressing and tragic, that is to be expected; but more importantly, the film possesses a unique look at an otherwise forgotten topic.