I have never read this book before and I know nothing about this film apart from the fact that it is set during World War II. Ok I lied, Rupert Friend (who played Peter Quinn in political thriller series Homeland) and David Thewlis acted in this show and they form part of the reason why I watch this movie.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a simple movie to understand. There is nothing too complicated and nothing fanciful going on but it just has this ability to move you emotionally. At the beginning, the young 8 year-old Bruno and his family are reallocated to the “countryside”, which turns out to be Poland, so that his dad, a Nazi high-ranking officer can carry out his ‘job’ more smoothly. That ‘job’ as we later know it is the burning of the Jews.
It was not the hostility towards the Jews nor the foredoomed concentration camps that left me stupefied; it was the fact that the Nazi propaganda was so capable of influencing young minds. Bruno knows what a Jew is only by the teachings of the Nazis. His first encounter with a Jew is with the family servant, Pavel, who bandages his wounds after the boy falls off his swing. He’s both ignorant (to the situation around him) and innocent here as he assumes Pavel is just another grownup who cannot decide what he wants to do with his life. I mean this boy naively accepted the idea that the concentration camps are actually farms and the prisoner uniforms pyjamas.
Bruno’s and Shmuel’s first interaction is a rather awkward one. The German boy is standing on his feet as he speaks to Shmuel who sits by himself near the electric fence. Bruno scoffs at his name and complains on how the boy on the other side gets to play the number game with his friends all day. Bruno thinks the prisoner number is a game and he even has a ball game with Shmuel over the electric fence. Though they are the same age, it is clear that Shmuel has a better common sense here. But Bruno is an innocent boy too. When Shmuel reveals his race to Bruno, Bruno does not shun away from him and continues playing with him the next few days. The common belief that Jews are evil and odd is shared among his family but Bruno is unable to understand this.
But Bruno is no saint too. Their friendship is momentarily broken when Bruno denies handling Shmuel some pastries reserved for the family or guests, provoking an antisemitism and violent Lietutenant Kotler who punches the boy in the striped pyjamas. Bruno is guilty of this and very tragically, his chance of redeeming this friendship would later cost the both of them their lives when they are brought in to the gas chamber. I was awaiting a happy or at least one where Bruno, Gretel and his mother would depart from Poland to somewhere safer and I was honestly not prepared for this horrific twist to the story.
I am not a history expert so I will refrain from making any comments on the portrayal of the concentration camps but this movie does shed the grave impact of childhood education and childhood innocence. As like the film has quoted,
Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.John Betjeman