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Directed by Mark Herman Produced by David Heyman Screenplay by Mark Herman Based on The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne Starring Asa Butterfield Jack Scanlon David Thewlis Vera Farmiga Rupert Friend Music by James Horner Cinematography Benoît Delhomme Editing by Michael Ellis Studio BBC Films Heyday Films Distributed by Miramax Films Release date(s) September 12, 2008 (United Kingdom) November 7, 2008 (United States) Running time 93 minutes Country United Kingdom United States Language English Budget $12.5 million Box office $40,416,563
Berlin, 1942. SS officer Ralf (David Thewlis) and his wife Elsa (Vera Farmiga) move from Berlin to the countryside with their children—twelve-year-old Gretel (Amber Beattie) and eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield)—after Ralf is promoted to commandant of a Nazi concentration camp, implied to be Auschwitz. Bruno is confined to the front grounds of their new home and craves companionship and adventure.
He disobeys his parents by sneaking out and trekking through the woods to an isolated, unguarded corner of the concentration camp, which he initially believes to be a farm.
He befriends Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy his own age and returns frequently thereafter, bringing Shmuel food and playing games with him through the barbed wire fence. Shmuel gradually reveals to Bruno the truth of what is behind the fence, telling him that he and his family have been imprisoned, and forced to wear the "striped pyjamas", because they are Jews, although Bruno does not understand the significance of this at first.
Bruno and Gretel soon get a tutor, Herr Liszt (Jim Norton) who pushes an agenda of antisemitism and nationalist propaganda. Gretel becomes increasingly fanatical in her support for the Third Reich, covering her bedroom wall with Nazi propaganda posters and flirting with SS Lieutenant Kurt Kotler (Rupert Friend), her father's subordinate, as her budding sexuality becomes fixated on the ideal of the German soldier. However, she still remains good natured and protective of her brother.
Bruno remains skeptical, as all of the Jews Bruno knows, including the family's servant Pavel (David Hayman), do not resemble Liszt's teachings. He witnesses acts of brutality (that conflict with the propaganda ideal of military heroism) when Pavel accidentally overturns Kotler's wine glass at the table, prompting the furious officer to insult and then beat Pavel to death.
After this incident, Shmuel is sent to the commandant's home to clean glasses. Bruno, unaware of the likely consequences, gives him some cake. When Kotler sees crumbs on Shmuel's lips, and accuses him of stealing, Shmuel tells the officer that Bruno is his friend, and Bruno gave him the cake. Frightened of Kotler, Bruno denies knowing Shmuel and claims that he was already eating the cake when he came in. Kotler informs Shmuel that they will "have a little chat about what happens to rats who steal." Bruno does not see Shmuel for several days, and when he eventually turns up at the fence, he has got a swollen black eye. However, he forgives Bruno and the two reaffirm their friendship.
Elsa disagrees with the antisemitic Nazi thinking but is too scared to voice her opinion, though she protested Kotler's cruel treatment of Pavel. When Kotler absentmindedly remarks on the stench from the crematoriums, she realises that Ralf presides over an extermination camp and not a labour camp. She confronts Ralf about it and they decide that Elsa will take the children to Heidelberg to stay with their aunt.
The day before Bruno is due to leave, Shmuel reveals that his father has gone missing in the camp. Seeing an ideal opportunity to redeem himself for wronging Shmuel previously, Bruno digs a hole beneath the fence, changes into prison clothing that Shmuel has stolen for him, and enters the camp to help Shmuel find his father. Bruno is horrified by what he sees: the dehumanization, starvation and sickness is the antithesis of the Theresienstadt-esque propaganda film that had shaped his prior impressions.
While searching for Shmuel's father, they get intertwined with a group of inmates being taken to the gas chambers. At the house Bruno's absence is noticed and Elsa bursts into Ralf's meeting, telling him that Bruno is missing. After Gretel and Elsa discover the open window Bruno went through, Ralf and his guards enter the camp searching for Bruno, while his wife and daughter follow shortly behind.
In the gas chambers, the inmates—including Bruno and Shmuel—are told to remove their clothes, amidst speculation it is only for a shower. They are put into the gas chambers, where they take each others' hands. A soldier pours some Zyklon B pellets into the chamber. The prisoners start yelling and banging on the metal door. Ralf, still with his guards, arrive at an evacuated dormitory, signalling to him that a gassing is taking place. Ralf cries out his son's name and Elsa and Gretel fall to their knees, screaming with sorrow and clutching Bruno's abandoned clothing…
The film has a 64% with a 6.2/10 average rating on Rotten Tomatoes. James Christopher in The Times referred to it as "a hugely affecting film. Important, too".Conversely, Manohla Dargis of The New York Times summed it up as "the Holocaust trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked for a tragedy about a Nazi family". Some critics have called the very premise of the book and subsequent film—that there would be a child of Shmuel's age in the camp—an unacceptable fabrication. Reviewing the original book, Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote: "Note to the reader: There were no eight-year-old Jewish boys in Auschwitz—the Nazis immediately gassed those not old enough to work." But, according to statistics from the Labour Assignment Office, Auschwitz-Birkenau contained 619 living male children from one month to fourteen years old on August 30, 1944. On January 14, 1945, 773 male children were registered as living at the camp. "The oldest children were fifteen, and fifty-two were less than eight years of age." "Some children were employed as camp messengers and were treated as a kind of curiosity, while every day an enormous number of children of all ages were killed in the gas chambers." However Roger Ebert proposes that the film is not a forensic reconstruction of Germany during the war, but "about a value system that survives like a virus." Reception ←
PG-13 Positive messages: Extensive discussion of the German attitude toward and treatment of Jewish prisoners during World War II, including deliberate, dehumanizing language. Discussion of anti-Semitic philosophies and ideas. Discussions of duty to one's country and race. Violence: Guards brandish guns; prisoners are threatened with guns, clubs, and dogs. A beating is administered off screen. Discussion of a supporting character dying during an English bombing raid. The mechanisms of mass extermination are seen in action, including a sensitively shot yet still devastating sequence in which a room crammed with concentration-camp prisoners is gassed. Sex: Affection between a long-married couple; non-sexual, waist-up male nudity as concentration camp prisoners strip for a "shower." Language: One non-sexual use of "f***ing" extensive use of "Jew" as an epithet. Drinking, drugs, & smoking: Characters drink hard liquor, champagne, and wine and smoke cigarettes and cigars (accurate for the time period). Which Category? ←
British Independent Film Award: Best Actress - Vera Farmiga Chicago International Film Festival: Audience Choice Award - Mark Herman British Independent Film Award: Best Director - Mark Herman Most Promising Newcomer - Asa Butterfield Premio Goya: Best European Film Accolades ←
Music: Goldmund - Evelyn Goldmund - Nihon
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