In a year where a subpar film about the Holocaust is given awards and critical acclaim, its easy to miss out on the other film about the Holocaust that didnt get near as much press. One film is told from the point of view of a young man oblivious to the fact that his ex-lover was a Nazi guard. This film sort of glosses over the horrors of the Holocaust to focus on the relationship between the two and then ends with a literacy PSA. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is told from the perspective of an eight-year-old boy and doesnt hide from the reality of the Holocaust, making this film more horrific, more moving, than the one that Oscar loved.
Bruno (adorable newcomer Asa Butterfield) lives a life of privilege in World War II Berlin. When his Nazi soldier father (David Thewlis, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) receives a promotion, his family is forced to move to the country. Bruno is upset about leaving his home and his friends and eagerly scours his new surroundings for a new friend. One afternoon, he escapes his fenced in country home and finds a strange boy, wearing striped pajamas (another wide-eyed newcomer, Jack Scanlon), living within his own fence. The two develop a fast friendship and Bruno visits him often.
At home, Bruno inquires to his mother (Vera Farmiga, Joshua) about the strange people who live on the fenced in farm who wear striped pajamas all day. She knows of the work camp nearby, but is just as innocent as Bruno when it comes to knowing the magnitude of what is going on.
The beauty of Pajamas is in its innocence; its different perspective. The entire film is seen through the eyes of wide-eyed Bruno. Like any little boy, he looks up to his father; his father wears a uniform and tells him that hes trying to make the world a better place. As the movie progresses, Bruno learns a little bit more about what is going on at the “farm”, but he still doesnt learn too much. This perspective gives the film something new to offer. We the audience know everything that is going on and watching the movie, its difficult to understand how someone could be so oblivious, even a little boy and especially his mother. But it gives a good idea of what it would have been like to be a child of that era, in Brunos shoes.
The film looks like it may have been marketed as a childrens film, but it is really not for young children. Maybe older children, as they begin to learn about World War II and the Holocaust in school, but not elementary age children. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a powerful film because of its young perspective and is difficult to watch at times. This is a film that is moving and very touching and does just what a Holocaust film should do: keeping the images and the events fresh so that they will never be repeated again.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The video transfer is flawless bringing out the stunning cinematography by Benoit Delhomme.
The audio is Dolby Digital, but I have to say, it was very quiet at times. The extras had a louder volume than the movie itself.
Friendship Beyond the Fence – This is a behind the scenes featurette. The director Mark Herman is also the screenwriter, and a big fan of the book by John Boyne. The two worked in close collaboration on this project and you can really see the friendship here. This featurette also focuses on the two boys, Asa Butterfield (Bruno) and Jack Scanlon (Schmuel). The two talk about the Holocaust and filming and their friendship. This is a very nice featurette. (20:30)
Deleted Scenes – There are five deleted scenes that can be viewed with or without audio commentary from director Mark Herman. Some of them were scenes from the book, none of them are all that interesting or important.
Audio Commentary by writer/director Mark Herman and author John Boyne – This is possibly the most boring commentary ever. The chemistry shown in the Friendship Beyond the Fence featurette – not here at all. The two sound bored and pretty much only spout facts about what was in the book and what wasn’t. Any curiosity I might have had about reading the book is squashed now. I feel like I HAVE read it after watching this commentary.
Trailers – a no smoking commercial, a Miramax commercial, and finally, one trailer for Doubt
OK, so it’s no secret that the film I was referring to in the opening paragraph is last year’s Oscar winner The Reader. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a superior film all around. I’d even go so far to say that Vera Farmiga gives a better performance here than Kate Winslet did in her Oscar-winning role. The low extras rating is for the audio commentary track, but the behind-the-scenes featurette is great. This film is powerful, moving, and well worth your time.
Miramax presents The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Directed by: Mark Herman. Starring: David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Asa Butterfield, Sheila Hancock. Written by: Mark Herman. Running time: 94 minutes. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: March 10, 2009. Available at Amazon.com