Friday, March 20, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Eight-year-old Bruno is upset in the opening shot when he finds out that the whole family has to move. It's a good thing: his father, an officer in the SS in Germany, got a promotion. But the bad thing is that he has to leave all his friends.

The family moves out to what appears to be farm territory, and the farm workers, to Bruno, appear to be wearing striped pajamas. The family decides not to tell Bruno and his older sister that the "farm" is actually a concentration camp, and those wearing those "striped pajamas" are prisoners in the camp.

But Bruno is very lonely in his new house. There are no kids to play with. He gets to know a few of the workers, those who work around the house, in those striped uniforms, and they seem very kind. He also gets to know a few of the young Nazi soldiers, who seem quite arrogant. He is not allowed past his yard, for some odd reason. But we know eventually he'll go there, because we know 8-year-old boys. He finds a way out a window into a field next to the "farm," and befriends a boy his age, named Schmuel, on the other side of the fence.

This is a slow and plodding movie, but all to good purpose. We see the details -- yes, often boring -- of Bruno's life, knowing full well the drama that's just a few feet away. And the rising horror of his mother, who realizes when they move in that they are a bit too close to the camp, and finally, when she sees the smoke burning and senses the outrageous smell, realizes exactly what's going on. And that her family is right in the middle of it.

The parents, even Bruno's dad, are not monsters here. But it's hard to explain away the Commandant's feelings that these "helpers" around the house, and those prisoners in the camp, are not human. He looks like a military officer, but when Bruno sees him, he's a father, a caring one. David Thewlis does a wonderful job in this role. (You'll recognize Thewlis from the Harry Potter movie series.) And Vera Farmiga, as the mother, is amazing.

This is an ordinary family in an extraordinary situation. Well, except that the family isn't quite ordinary in the fact that their father is the Commandant of Auschwitz.

I could guess that young Smuel is not going to find a marvelous outcome. I could not guess, however, at the emotional impact the ending would deliver.

Thumb's up.



At 9:58 AM, Blogger Melinda said...

I'm sure this is a good film but too depressing for me to watch... :-(.....


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