What You Need To Know:
Based on a popular novel, the book’s transformation into a movie produces a disappointing, depressing, hopeless, one-note story. Although the acting and production quality are good, the story is too slow, too preachy and too clear about the points it tries to make. It leaves no room for imagination. From the beginning, the movie is weighed down by an impending sense of doom.
(BB, C, L, V, S, N, A, D, M) Strong moral worldview in a pronounced morality story, with the message that evil destroys itself, where Nazi concentration camp commandant loses his son to the evil system he helped establish with some Christian prayers and a funeral but they are made by or focus on the NAZI villains; one light profanity and comments saying “dirty Jew” and other anti-Semitic slurs; off-screen violence with intense sounds of beating a Jewish servant and showing the impact of a beaten Jewish boy, skinned knee, and a gas chamber scene with cyanide pellets being dropped on naked men and boys, then sounds of people trying to get out of the gas chamber; no sexual behavior, although a few light references; upper male nudity from the back; alcohol use; smoking; and, lying, deception, propaganda movie about concentration camps, and betrayal.
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS opens with 8-year-old Bruno playing with his friends on the streets of Berlin while National Socialist Swastika flags wave in the breeze. When he gets home, his father, a Nazi officer, says he has just been promoted. He tells Bruno and his sister, Gretel, that they will be leaving their beautiful home in Berlin.
Bruno does not want to leave his friends. His mother throws a big going away party. The next day, they travel to a lonely mansion in the middle of nowhere. Through his window, Bruno can see a farm nearby where all the residents are wearing striped pajamas. His father is the commandant of the concentration camp, but all the commandants are sworn to secrecy not to tell anybody what they do.
Bruno is very bored. Being an explorer at heart, he eventually sneaks over to the concentration camp, where he talks through the electrified barbed wire to a Jewish boy named Shmuel. Bruno and Shmuel become fast friends. Bruno steals food from his own kitchen to give to Shmuel.
Bruno’s sister, by the way, takes an interest in a handsome young lieutenant, who is a hyper anti-Semitic National Socialist. An old Jewish man who works in the kitchen takes care of Bruno when he falls and skins his knee. He turns out to be a doctor. The lieutenant beats the man to a pulp when he makes a mistake serving the family at dinner.
Bruno’s mother becomes increasingly depressed, and the lieutenant lets slip that the burning smoke stacks smell bad because they smell worse when they are burned than when they are alive. Their father and the tutor try to teach Bruno and Gretel how vile and evil Jews are, but Bruno cannot believe it because of his best friend Shmuel.
Eventually, the mother becomes so depressed and the family becomes so strained by their proximity to the extermination camp, that the father decides to send them away. Feeling guilty that he’s already betrayed his friend Shmuel once when he let Shmuel take a beating for a cupcake Bruno gave him, Bruno decides to dig his way into the extermination camp to help Shmuel find his father. In the camp, the mechanical clockwork of the business of extermination sweeps Bruno along toward the inevitability of the gas chamber.
THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS is based on a best-selling children’s book. In the press notes, David Heyman, the producer behind the Harry Potter franchise and Mark Herman, the screenwriter, both discuss how difficult it was to make the book into a movie. The book is intended to help children remember the Holocaust. It is a morality story proving the biblical principle that the wages of sin are death.
However the story works as a book, its transformation into a movie produces a disappointing, depressing, hopeless, one-note film. Although the acting and production quality are good, the story seems slow at points because, as they say, it is on the nose or too obvious, too preachy and too clear about the points it is trying to make. It leaves no room for imagination. From the beginning, the story is weighed down by an impending sense of doom.
Books are hard to turn into movies. THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMSAS has a good message and a good heart and may get an A for effort. But, it’s hard to imagine people will want to go to a movie to be slowly depressed.