Editorial Note: This article contains spoilers.
Written By: John BoyneMark Herman
Year of Release: 2008
Genre: War / Dram
“We are not supposed to be friends, you and me. We are meant to be enemies. Did you know that?”
The movie “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” directed by Mark Herman, was based on a book by John Boyne. It depicts the horrific history of the Holocaust. In 2019, the film was nominated for Best European Film, and Best International Film awards.
If I were to summarize the movie shortly, it describes the innocent friendship between a Nazi officer’s son, Bruno, and a Jewish boy, Schmuel, in a concentration camp. Bruno lived with his family in Berlin until his father was promoted, and they had to move to another place. At their new home, Bruno was not permitted to go out of the home’s yard and explore their new location. However, threats and restrictions cannot stop this little, curious boy, and he manages to go outside the yard. He runs through the forest, enjoys the limited freedom, and spots an extraordinary place and a boy in striped pajamas. They soon become friends.
Meanwhile, Bruno’s mother is also curious about one thing, the smoke coming from the camp. Later in the movie, she learns it is burnt people’s smoke. Her devastation leads to non-stop arguments with her husband, and he decides to send them back.
Having heard that Scmuel’s father went missing, Bruno decides to help his friend and enters the camp by digging a hole under the fence and wearing the same pajamas. Bruno’s mother realizes her son is missing, so everyone looks for him. Shortly, they find his clothes. Unfortunately, it is too late because Bruno and his friend are sent to the gas chamber, where there is no return.
In my opinion, this movie has a powerful message; many innocent people lost their lives because of one man’s ambition. I think describing it by making the children’s main characters makes the message even more resounding. For me, it is the details like pajamas, servants, and the innocence of children that make this movie more meaningful and sadder at the same time. These kids do not know what a concentration camp is, what race is, and what its status is. The way Bruno asks why they wear pajamas and how he believes that his father is not a soldier who would do such horrible things shows how unaware they are of what is happening.
Throughout the film, one starts to have hatred toward Bruno’s father because of the terrible things he does. However, at the movie’s beginning, he says, “the thing about being a soldier is that life is not so much about choices, it is more about duty,” and one can slightly understand that he is also worried about his family and his country. In my psychology class, we have learned that if a person is directly commanded to kill, they are likely to kill and not feel bad because they think it is their duty. That is called obedience, a social norm that can change a person’s behaviour. That is what I exactly saw in Bruno’s father. Maybe he was not as cruel as he seemed, or he was under pressure from his “Fuhrer.” Now, here I would like to mention that I am not defending what his father was doing. Instead, I am saying that one man’s ambition to create a perfect world with perfect people caused much damage. I believe this damage was not only reflected in Jews but also in Germans too. It is apparent even from the way Bruno’s mother behaves. She seems fine with the concentration camp but is terrified when she learns the truth behind the smoke.
To sum up, I think it is a great movie that tells the sad and shameful history of the Holocaust. Telling the story from the kid’s viewpoint makes it even more emotional. I would watch this movie with my friends and family, but I think this movie might be a little confusing for children.
European Studies Internship Program
Editor: Eda KURT