Mark Herman’s fascinating adaptation of this famous book is a tearful adventure of propaganda and emotion. The story is set in Germany, during the Second World War, where rich-kid Bruno (Asa Butterfield) resides with his family. Cue a sudden move to the German countryside, due to his father’s (David Thewlis) important work as a Nazi officer. Bruno is introduced to a desolate house with a peculiar “farm” across the woodland..
Not many films are as achingly depressing as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Not many endings will leave you as empty inside. This is the true intentions of the film; Mark Herman leads you through twists and turns, building up the sorrow, and at the finale you expect the release of all this sorrow, you expect resolution. It never arrives. Themes brought up throughout the film are developed exceedingly well. The treatment of the suffering, “inhuman” Jews is relentless, yet is contrasted by the rare moments of happiness felt; Shmual’s (Jack Scanion) laughter during a Checkers game with Bruno, separated by an electric fence surrounding the concentration camp, and Bruno’s mother’s (Vera Farmiga) thankfulness towards a helpful Jew who fixes Bruno’s knee.
Bruno’s innocence is also explored in depth during the film; he consistently refers to the Jewish prisoners as “farmers”, blissfully unaware about the harsh reality. Furthermore, his innocence is scarred when he betrays Schmaul, sending him back to his concentration camp with a black eye.
Heartfelt moments are few and far between; the friendship between Schmaul and Bruno is unorthodox, but works in the sense that it gives the audience momentary joy. Of course, that joy is interrupted during the final scene. In the case of emotions, this film commonly includes depression and anguish; the mother’s hate at the treatment of Jews, an outrageous funeral scene and a gut-wrenching finale all give this film a lack of any form of resolution.
Vera Farmiga is by far and away the most assured, confident actor. Her development throughout the film, the twist and turns she faces, her refusal to back down; she breaks out of her stereotype and into a model of commanding stature, having a great influence on the course of the film. David Thewlis plays his part consistently well, as the manipulative father who despite his sinister acts behind closed doors, is a loving family man, corrupt by hatred of the Jews. Asa Butterfield works well in his role, and although not as developed or emotionally disjointed as the other characters (which fits well with his innocence), does just enough to put in a solid performance. Jack Scanion flourishes in his role, with the use of long periods of silence, stretched scenes and heartfelt drama making him a character of sorrow. His maturity despite his age contrasts effectively with Bruno.
So then, what’s not to love about The Boy in the Striped Pajamas? It’s only a few nitpicks here and there; Bruno’s sister’s character feels forced, and as a result, undeveloped, while there are many implausibilities, such as how none of the soldiers didn’t notice the “secret” discussions going on between Bruno and his sister. Furthermore, the film totters on the edge of pretentiousness in a few scenes. All in all though, this is a solid film, an emotional rollercoaster with a fitting finale.
– Gus Edgar