The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

four stars out of five Is there anything new to be said about WW2? Don’t we know its every minutest detail by now, thanks to endless documentaries and dramas?

Apparently there is more and in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas we see one aspect of the Nazi story through the eyes of a young boy.

When Bruno, the son of an SS Officer and his family are moved from Berlin to a new house in the country as part of the father’s promotion, the boy is bored. He misses his friends and is lonely.

His parents have some strict rules about where he can & can’t go. He is forbidden from going to the ‘farm’ that he can just glimpse from the house. Naturally, being a kid, the temptation to explore and the desire to find new playmates outweighs these concerns. This leads the boy into a meeting with Shmuel, the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas of the title and to the subsequent unravelling of events.

Some suspension of disbelief is required though. Would a concentration camp really only be protected by a chainlink fence. No guards at this part of the perimeter? Wouldn’t a kid brought up in Berlin be a bit more streetwise than Bruno, even though he’s only 8?

The USP of this film is that because it’s told from the boy’s point of view, we get to share his quite innocent observations e.g. the cruelty of some of the Nazi officers, the propaganda films. We also share his childish misunderstandings of the thin, ill-looking people who occasionally work in the house kitchen and, most significantly, of Shmuel’s life on the ‘farm’.

As adults, of course, we are invited to see beyond Bruno’s viewpoint. We can understand very well the lies told to him by his parents about the ‘farm’ and why he must not play there. We glimpse adult conversations that go over Bruno’s head – but we can appreciate their significance and we also get the sense of danger that Bruno can’t see until it’s far too late.

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