Film Review: The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas has always been something of an enigma to me. I have always been drawn to it whenever I have seen it: sitting on a shelf, in a TV guide, listed on demand. And yet, for one reason or another I have never committed to it.

But last night I was running late and so, faced with an option of either having a late night or simply picking a shorter film. I decided to go with the shorter film option; and with The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas available through the Curzon Home Cinema service, an early night seemed like the perfect reason necessary to finally watch the film that has stalked my life for the last few years.

I knew a little about the plot behind the film as I settled in to watch it, and I remember well the comparisons that had been made between it and The Book Thief when it came to viewing life within Germany during the Nazi led era of the 2nd World War as seen through the eyes of a child; but after that, I was at a loss as to where I was about to be taken.

The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas-cover

All I can say is that I didn’t expect the film to be anything like what I received. It created such a mixed bag of emotions within me, I am almost at a loss as to where best to start summing it all up. The world in which this film is set is: harrowing, dissatisfying and hard to stomach. I should have thought more closely, about the striking image that adorns the cover of the box, why exactly two boys would be divided by a barbed wire fence? And what exactly, in Nazi Germany, those pyjamas really meant. But I didn’t and as the answers to my unasked questions became obvious, it loomed large just how naively I had approached the subject.

There can be no question that the one thing this film does well is handle Nazism, what it stood for and how repulsive the actions it was capable of driving it’s followers to were. The longer the film went on, the stronger the realisation of the horrors it brought upon the Jewish population and the senseless brainwashing of younger generations of it’s own people in false national pride and fake xenophobic lies became. The more this film brought back to life these actions, the stronger and stronger my absolute hatred grew.

Asa Butterfield - The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

And I think one of the reasons for these feelings growing so strongly within is through the lead performance of Asa Butterfield, as Bruno. He really does manage to convey the innocence of youth and the naivety of imagination combined brilliantly. He makes you instantly remember what it is like to be a child who doesn’t have a mind clouded by preconceived ideas or beliefs. A mind that simply sees the world in it’s true shades of grey. He reminds you why, when everything is said and done, removing the barriers and never judging a book by it’s cover is the only real route to simplistic happiness. To an inner peace.

Credit must also go to David Thewlis and Henry Kingsmill who really do look the part playing the members of the German military. They bring that stern, almost plasticated sharpness to their respective characters in terms of both visual appearance and structured living. And really do shape the clinical drive and determination that kept Nazism marching blindly in search of it’s warped core beliefs.

David Thewlis - The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas

For its hard hitting plot, and emotionally intense subplot, I cannot overlook the fact that for me, the film failed to handle it’s setting at all. We have a world that looks, feels and acts German. And then we are treated to dialogue and phraseology that is so “cucumber sandwich and a cup of afternoon tea” British that for the first few minutes of the film I truly didn’t know exactly what was going on. Honestly, Richard Johnson: looks, acts and sounds more like a private school graduate walking through the halls of a closed doors members club in London than the father of a German commandant. However, the longer the film goes on and the more Asa Butterfield dominates the screen time, the less of an issue this becomes.

Also as the film rounds the final bend and it’s dramatic, shocking and almost unnecessary climatic ending draws into focus the more I was torn by how I felt about it. There can be no doubt, it created some seriously strong emotions in me throughout, but they came and went. It never lets them linger for very long. And I couldn’t help but feel that it’s plot while clever from the point of view of how it allows the themes and subtexts of the story to be developed, could never really happen in real life as it plays out. It just doesn’t feel accurate to history.

There can be no mistake though, I can see why it draws comparisons to The Book Thief, but honestly, they are chalk and cheese apart. This is much, much, more emotional, but less and less plausible.

8 out of 10 stars (8 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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