The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
- Mark Herman
- Reviewed by
- Gon Curiel a.k.a. Groucho
- Review date
- Tuesday, January 06, 2009
One wonders how it all works. Itís actually very simple, I would volunteer: everything we are, the way we think, the perspective from which we see things and the manner in which we act is a construction of paradigms that come from childhood in many cases, and become so hard to break we just simply buy them as our own. The contrast between father and son here, for example, is remarkable. Herr Kommandant, played by David Thewlis, is not a bad man, or so thinks Bruno who refuses to see him as such and to an extent so do we, but hell, he hates Jews with all his might, he believes they deserve what theyíre getting under his custody and heís just not gonna stop believing that no matter what anyone says.
So whatís Brunoís fate? Is he heroic enough to grow up differently? Certainly not. The example is perfectly illustrated through his sister, at first a child who plays with blonde dolls and later a perfect believer of the Nazi ideals who puts her dolls away and hangs propagandistic posters on her wall, dresses as a Nazi girl and falls in love with one so brutal that he can pound a Jew to death in their house with their father not doing a thing to stop him. Itís all perfectly systematic: the natural conflict arises that the father did nothing to save a human being from death; Bruno canít get that; his sister, Gretel (Amber Beattie), now struggling to become a woman with her own opinion, simply decides itís wiser to trust her dadís judgmentÖ though she doesnít really get it either.
The mother, performed in scene-stealing fashion by Vera Farmiga, is also a wonderful character: sheís immersed in the ideals but suddenly starts to wonder whatís the logic behind it and canít quite grasp it; Iím not sure how believable it is that this would happen to the mother of Bruno while heís going through a similar phase, only in reverse (struggling to stay away from horror rather than running away from it), but that theyíre mother and son, even though they never talk about these matters, is probably what makes it plausible.
The whole piece is rather neutral, as ought to be, because siding with a perspective would eliminate the poignancy of Bruno discovering the world in which he lives and the adults around interpreting it through their old paradigms. The whole thing is rather un-self-conscious, and I liked it. Even James Hornerís score, though moving, is rather restrained.
The story, scripted by director Herman from the novel by John Boyne, twists, and thatís lucky because we donít care much for the chronicle of a yet unspoiled Nazi kid growing up to be unwillingly brutal, not to say that brutality doesnít deserve a punishment but Iím a fervent believer that all sociopaths and psychopaths are sick, in many cases, beyond their control.
The twist comes as Bruno, who dreams of being an explorer, goes farther than allowed and suddenly finds himself in the camp limits where a metallic fence separates him from the horrors of Auschwitz and, more specifically, from a boy his age whoís wearing a pyjama all day long, the slothful brat. (Hold your horses! Thatís how Bruno sees him.) As their friendship evolves, the movies comes to life, and the kid, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon, who in my opinion looked healthier than he acted), isnít even much of a conversationalist, but heís the most puzzling creature Bruno could have found, and one human being he prefers above all others. How their relationship evolves and what happens in the end is probably too much to be likely, but itís something from a childís tale that canít be faulted except when seen through the morbid eye of an adult.
Bruno refuses to see reality. Somehow, the kid on the other side does too. Even though he knows and understands that being a Jew is the worst mistake anyone could make in the time and place where he lives, heís proud enough to stick to his family and repudiate those who persecute them but simply canít see why. Itís not for a kid to understand. The most valuable asset of this film, I think, is the understanding that reality is nothing but a series of interpretations and that it depends entirely on whoís telling the story. As told from the point of view of a boy who hasnít really interpreted much yet, this is priceless.
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