Directed by Mark Herman and based on the historical Holocaust novel written by John Boyne, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is set during World War II and is told from the perspective of eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of a high-ranking Nazi commandant, whose family is forced to move to Auschwitz when Bruno’s father (David Thewlis) is promoted. Away from his friends and growing increasingly bored, Bruno ventures outside of his backyard, defying his mother’s (Vera Farmiga) rules, in search for something to do. Here, Bruno meets Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a young Jewish boy who, unbeknownst to Bruno, is an inmate in a concentration camp, which Bruno believes to be a farm. Their friendship grows with Bruno’s frequent visits, but their innocent secret quickly sets into motion a tragic and devastating sequence of events.
The following post is a review of the film only. You can read my review of the book on its own here or my comparison of the film to the book here.
I first watched this film after a friend had seen a stage production of the story, telling me how harrowing it was, so I quickly put the film and my ‘to watch’ list. And she wasn’t half wrong.
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is a heartbreaking story that deals with its setting and subject matter in a unique and arresting manner. It may not have a heavy historical feel to it or really focus on the brutality of the situation, using the Holocaust as merely a backdrop to this family drama, but what it does do excellently is to experience a haunting situation through the eyes of a young boy, taking us on what can only be described as of the most uncomfortable children’s adventures of all time.
As Bruno’s innocent actions lead to devastating results, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas has one of the saddest and shocking twists ever written, and it is for this ending that many people will read the book and subsequently watch the film in the first place.
I didn’t particularly enjoy the way this ending was written in the book, with the book and the film handling the scene very differently (I will go into this better in my list of differences in the film compared to the book below), but the way the film reduced me to tears is the reason why I will watch it over and over again.
There are moments in the middle where the film feels like it’s losing its way a little, but when it all comes to a close you’ll know why you stuck around.
As well as this tear-jerker of an ending, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas is filled with fantastic performances. Asa Butterfield is phenomenal in the lead role alongside Jack Scanlon, two very impressive actors for their age. But the casting of Mother and Father is spot on, too, with Vera Farmiga and David Thewlis making the story more powerful and its characters easy to engage with.
It is these performances and the emotion that they emanate that make this film such a breathtaking watch.