Friday, December 12, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Rhoades)

‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’ Is Holocaust Reminder

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

What if someone told you a story about a naïve eight-year-old boy who lives next to a farm? And he makes friends with a boy who lives on the other side of the fence – a boy wearing stripped pajamas.

A tale of sweet childhood nostalgia, right?

Not exactly – when you learn that the farm is actually a concentration camp during the German Holocaust, and the boy in the pajamas is a Jewish detainee. What’s more, the first kid learns that his father is the Nazi commandant in charge of the camp.

This British-made film – “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” – opens today at the Tropic Cinema.
The story is told through the eyes of Bruno (played by first-time actor Asa Butterfield). His newfound friend is a kid named Shmuel (portrayed by young Jack Scanlon). Excellent performances by both.

The film was an education for the young actors. “I knew a little bit about the Holocaust and concentration camps and Hitler,” says Asa Butterfield, “but I knew more about it after making the film.”

The hardest scene for him? “Probably when I was in the concentration camp towards the end of the film. It was weird because it was not like any of the other scenes in the film. All of the other scenes for me were usually in the house or playing outside. Here it was really hot and it was crowded with all the extras who played the concentration camp prisoners. That made it even more scary.”

Predictably, it’s a sad story, one that will leave the audience in stunned silence at its shattering ending. As one moviegoer said, “This is the first film I have ever seen in which the whole audience were silent from beginning to end, and then, when the film ended, not a single person moved for a long time afterwards.”

Based on the book by John Boyce, this is a tale about loss of innocence in the same vein as Robert Benigni’s Oscar-winning “Life Is Beautiful.”

Directed by Mark Herman (“Hope Springs,” “Little Voice”), “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” also features veteran actor David Thewlis as the father, Vera Farmiga as the mother, and Amber Beattie as the strong-willed sister.

This small film was produced by David Heyman, who also did most of the “Harry Potter” movies. Despite a seeming disparity between this tragic story and those lighthearted romps through Hogwarts Castle, Heyman sees parallels.

“Within Harry Potter there are the Death Eaters and Voldemort who are interested in a pure blood race and are deeply opposed to anything else,” he explains. “They don’t like people who are ‘others’. They do not care for Muggles or Half Blood or Mud Blood, they believe in the purity of the race and I think that is clearly very much in the vein of the Nazis. Harry Potter is very much about the characters who are unable to see the other side. Harry and Ron and Hermione are all outsiders and so, in ‘The Boy In The Striped Pajamas,’ is Bruno.”

Once while traveling through Germany, I made a side trip to visit the remnants of Dachau, one the Nazi death camps. The wire fence was till standing, separating the buildings from me standing outside by my rental car. Situated at the edge of a piney woodland, mist rose from the ground like disembodied spirits. It was an eerie landscape – not just because I knew its history.
Thinking back, I find it unlikely that a couple of kids could dig a hole under the electrified fence unnoticed. The guard towers dotted the parameters like lighthouses seeking passing ships. But I’m willing to forego any quibbling about the plotline, for the story is too powerful to be sidetracked by reality. Perhaps I’m as naïve as young Bruno, in that I find it difficult to grasp man’s inhumanity to man. But this little film reminds us of that fact. And we should never forget its lesson.
[from Solares Hill]

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