This 2008 movie offers a different take on the holocaust- that of a child. This was sort of taken by 1998’s award-winning Life is Beautiful. It focused on the father, and the lies he told to his son. That movie was not so beautiful to me as I was struggling in my relationship with my father at the time.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas focuses on the perspective of Bruno as he tries to sort out what is going on in the “farm” behind their new home. His dad is the new Commandant of the camp. His father’s parents are split on the morality of the German government. His father & grandfather basically have a “my country is always right” attitude (which is pretty much always dangerous- as dangerous as the “my country is always wrong” attitude).
Bruno misses his friends and the isolation is difficult for him. After an accident on the swing, the strange old man who peels potatoes patches up his knee. In a sad yet amusing discussion (amusing because he tries poorly to put the facts together) he learns this pitiful old man before him used to be a doctor. (The swing is an important prop in the film and may be a metaphor for his own shifting opinions.)
Bruno disobeys his parents and explores the woods behind the house. There he discovers Shmuel, a broken little boy on the other side of the fence. Bruno, hungry for company, keeps returning and slowly building a relationship with the Jewish boy. He’s oblivious to all that is going in the world at the time. But he slowly, and painfully, loses that innocence.
The longer they live there, the more the family is torn apart over what is happening in the camp. Bruno’s mom begins to hate what she sees, and the brutality of her people against the Jews. His older sister, wanting the affection of the handsome yet cruel driver, becomes the perfect Aryan princess. She has posters of Hitler on the wall as if he were a pop singer.
Bruno begins to see the cruelty, but can’t quite figure it out. Why did Pavel, the potato-peeling doctor, disappear? What are they burning over the that smells so bad? His father lies to him to cover up the truth.
One day Bruno discovers Shmuel cleaning glasses in the house. He offers a famished Shmuel some food from the table. It is at this moment that the driver/assistant appears. Stricken by fear, like any 8 year-old, he lies about knowing and feeding Shmuel. Little does he understand the gravity of the situation. Finally he sees a bruised and battered Shmuel again. There are tears, confessions and … amazingly, forgiveness. (more…)