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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Updated: Jul 7, 2022

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Oh, those young lads. 
They're sly, inquisitive, sloppy, and adventurous. 
Because of their kids' misadventures, most mothers of boys have at least a few grey hairs. Boys can sometimes cease fidgeting at the table and squirming throughout service. 

They can even resist the urge to torture their sisters on occasion.

They seldom, if ever, can ignore the all-consuming want to explore—and this thirst for adventure might bring them into danger.

8-year-old Bruno

The opening titles appear on a billowing red backdrop.

It's a rich crimson, aesthetically pleasing, and suddenly the camera pulls back, revealing that we've been staring at a Nazi flag the entire time.

On a bright spring day late in the war, the flag is one of the dozens hanging from a government building overlooking a Berlin square.

Children have fun, while adults are going about their daily lives.

Only the presence of swastikas changes what would otherwise be a peaceful, welcoming picture into something far more complicated and frightening.

It's a disorienting cinematic time travel experience: we are presented with the unsettling sensation of actually being there, on that street, on a pleasant day during an iniquitous age, moments into "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas."

The film immediately immerses the spectator in the minds of anonymous, average (non-Jewish) Germans of the period, individuals who want to go on with their lives and avoid the gaze of history.

But we know they won't be able to flee.

We know what's going to happen.

Mark Herman

8-year-old Bruno, an imaginative and curious little German who enjoys reading adventure stories and exploring whatever is outside, is the protagonist. 

Ralf, a high-ranking military commander, had recently accepted a vital job within the Nazi war in the early 1940s.

The family relocates from their city home in Berlin to a country residence near what Bruno perceives to be a peculiar farm.

Bruno is oblivious to what is going on in his new environment, especially why his 12-year-old sister, Gretel, abandons a prized doll collection and decorates her bedroom with Nazi youth posters. 

He doesn't understand why elderly Pavel, a "farmer" who works in the kitchen, gave up his career as a doctor to peel potatoes.

He also doesn't understand why Pavel and the other "farmers" wear striped pajamas.

Bruno, in particular, is troubled by his mother's command to stay inside their uninteresting, walled-in front yard.

After all, he imagines the "farm" beyond the trees in the rear to be full of excitement, food, animals, and prospective playmates.

As a result, when his tiresome instructor, Herr Liszt, and the dull life indoors become too much for him to bear, he begins to sneak away. 
He dashes through the woods to the "farm," where he encounters Shmuel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, who lives behind a massive electric fence.

Herr Liszt

Mark Herman's child's-eye tour of the Holocaust walks such a delicate line that its fate remains uncertain until the very end.

The acting is sincere, but the picture is laden with conceits that cause it to oscillate between the harsh and the tender, the nuanced and the simplistic.

It knuckles down, creeps on its belly, and moves in the most unexpected direction.

Bruno's naiveté and inquiring spirit appear even more innocent when set against the horrors of the Holocaust.

The boy's incapacity to comprehend prejudice and murder, as well as his innate, uncomplicated ability to perceive Jews as actual human beings, stand in sharp contrast to Nazi cruelty, clearly revealing the bloodshed's viciousness and absurdity.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is, then, another piece of the puzzle that eventually builds the image of who we were, who we are, and who we don't want to become.

Author: Akash R. Ekka

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