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Movie Review: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

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Didn't get enough WWII-themed material last year? Check out the indie film The Boy In The Striped Pajamas.

The story takes place in Germany in WWII and concerns an eight-year-old boy whose Nazi father (literally, not the more common metaphorical "Nazi" you read about these days) gets transferred to a concentration camp. Isolated from his friends, the boy Bruno – looking for all the world to me like a mini-Bud Cort circa Harold and Maude days – looks for friends in the area and happens to come across an eight-year-old Jew behind the fence of the camp his father runs.

WWII aficionados assure me this is impossible. But, hey. I'm amused by the fact that Hogan's Heroes has made it impossible for anyone in a movie about Nazis to have a German accent. We all just think of that lovable Sgt. Shultz!

What we have here is a fable, an antithesis to Benigni's La Vita E Bella. Only instead of a father trying to keep his Jewish son unaware of the horror they live in, it's a father trying to keep his German son (and whole family) unaware of the horror they're committing.

Heavy-handed? Oh, yeah, without any of the lightness of Benigni. But what the hell else can you do? The mother is the first to figure out what's going on, and the knowledge breaks her. The sister, having a crush on her father's driver, endeavors to be a good Nazi, but even she's taken aback when she pieces it together. We don't actually know if Bruno ever figures it out.

It's not bad. There's a scene in the beginning where Bruno is playing soldier with his friends that's more than a little trite. And there's a scene in the middle where the sister has gotten rid of her dolls, and the pile looks like a bunch of dead bodies. Other than that, the director spares us most of the really weighty symbolism.

Ultimately, if there's a flaw in the story — beyond whether you can suspend disbelief this much, which is your problem, not the movie's — it's sort of that it's a morality tale, a stern warning, a scolding, ultimately directed at long-dead people.

I mean, seriously, the odds of me running a genocidal camp while my children are still young enough to be negatively impacted are pretty small. I'm not even in the genocide field so, you know, I'd have to start as camp janitor or cafeteria worker or whatever. It's just too late in life for me to change careers.

Sorry, is that in poor taste? (If you have to ask…)

It's just that the writers are in a corner. There's very little actual death in the movie, but we can't whitewash the Holocaust. Therefore more difficult and challenging endings that respect the complexity of the situation are forsaken for a tidy, less-than-happy ending that really drives home how bad the Holocaut was.

You know, in case you hadn't heard. Or maybe needed the point driven home to you. (Last year's The Counterfeiters does a pretty good job.)

I guess my point is I hate Nazis as much as the next guy, but this movie feels like it's lecturing Nazis, and I just didn't think there were many in that theater. Even when it was sold out.

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