Director: Mark Herman
Stars: Asa Butterfield, David Thewlis, David Friend
Plot: Set against the backdrop of Word War II, Bruno, the son of a concentration camp commandant, strikes up a friendship with a Jewish boy sitting on the other side of the garden fence.
If Schindler’s List is viewed as the definitive adult perspective of The Holocaust, then The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is its innocent equivalent. The vast majority of films devoted to showing the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps have, aside from Life is Beautiful, shown how grown-ups dealt with the realisation that their lives were going to be cut cruelly short by such an evil regime.
The story concentrates on the life of Bruno (Butterfield), the son of a high-ranking German officer (Thewlis) who is promoted to a new job. As a result, the family has to move away to southern Poland. Unbeknownst to Bruno, this new post that his father has acquired is actually as commandant of the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
One day, left to his own devices, Bruno goes for a wander behind the house (even though his mother forbid him) and encounters a group of people milling about beyond a tall fence – most notably Schmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy who appears to wearing pyjamas. His new friend is actually an inmate at the camp who, along with his family, have been put to work wearing the camp uniform (the ‘pyjamas’ of the film’s title). Bruno visits Schmuel a number of times, bringing him food and water while they become friends yet blissfully unaware of what is really going on.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a curious film, because it isn’t really aimed at any age in particular. There are strong elements of family drama, yet the second half well and truly builds towards a climax that could only be comprehended by an adult audience. Having said that, it is refreshing to watch a different, knee-high perspective on a well-worn subject matter – particularly the horrifying finale that will haunt you for days afterwards.