The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is one of the most moving films I've seen in a long while. I doubt the critics will acknowledged it as they should but it is a four-star film to me. (Rotten Tomatoes gave it a 64% rating, which is pretty good for the ratings of professional critics!) Only one other film that deals with the Holocaust from the perspective of a child's viewpoint comes remotely close. Life Is Beautiful (1998), starring Roberto Benigni. It has ranked as my favorite such film but now I have to put this new Disney film in the same genre and give it just as high a rating. This film is good enough to see in the theater before it comes out on DVD. It has already received a Heartland "Truly Moving Picture Award" and deservedly so. It is family approved for ages 12 and above. I think this is about right. Young children could not handle the dark side of the Holocaust presented here without some emotional problems but everyone else will be moved in a way that is truly human. When the film ended I sat in the last row of a fairly packed theater audience and quietly wept. I felt my usual anger at the Nazi's but I also felt in a very deep sense the reality that children see things we do not readily see and experience life in a way that we must all seek to learn again.
The film's story line is situated in the 1940s. A German officer, with his wife and two children (ages 8 and 12), are moved to the country from his work in Berlin. The children, and the wife, soon realize that they are in the midst of a Jewish death camp. Bruno (Asa Butterfield, an eleven year old actor), the son of the German officer, begins to realize that life is very different here than he ever imagined in the city of Berlin. He has no friends and grows bored. Bruno is curious, as all such boys will be at eight. He wants to explore the farm but his mother forbids it. Eventually he slips out and finds a barbed wire encampment. Here Bruno establishes a friendship with a little Jewish boy, Shmuel, who is also eight years old. He is delighted to make a new friendship. He visits his friend every day. This is where the title of the movie comes from since Shmuel lives in "striped pajamas" behind barbed wire in the extermination camp. Day after day the two boys talk and play building a close friendship. I will not tell you more about where the story goes since to say more will give away too much.
The story line is arresting, the theme is truly touching, and the ending is gripping and chilling. You will be hard pressed to leave the theater without being touched very deeply. The central point, seeing and experiencing evil from a child's perspective, is the whole point. Don't allow critic's comments about British accents in a Nazi film put you off. See it. The film is a comfortable 94 minutes in length and well directed with beautiful scenes and solid adaptations.
The film is based on the book, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne. The book was published in 2006 and immediately won awards. In Ireland it won two prestigious awards and was voted the children's book of the year. It was a bestseller in the United Kingdom and eventually made it as a best-seller on the New York Times list. Boyne, born in Dublin, studied literature at Trinity College, Dublin, and is now working on his seventh novel. I intend to read more of his work based upon seeing the screen adaptation of this fine story.