Movie Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

I didn’t really enjoy this movie.  Not because of its subject matter, but because I didn’t think it was a good movie.  Let me explain in a bit, given that the movie is otherwise well-directed and acted out in crisp-sounding English accents.

Bruno is a young boy in World War II Germany, whose father is highly placed in the German military.  Bruno’s father gets a promotion and moves his family to the country, where he’s managing a concentration camp.  Only Bruno doesn’t know this.  He’s bored stiff, missing his friends in Berlin, and is forbidden to explore the woods behind the house.  Of course, being a forbidden territory, Bruno sneaks into the woods and finds a fenced off ‘farm’ where he meets with another boy his own age behind an electric fence, Shmuel, the titular ‘boy in the striped pyjamas’.

What lets the movie down for me is the excessive naivety/dumbness of the central protagonist. He doesn’t pick up on the fact that there’s something ‘bad’ about the ‘farm’.  The Jewish kid in his little striped pyjamas is kind of vague about what’s going on as well.  I could buy Bruno being a bit slow/sheltered, by Shmuel as well?  Essentially, the movie becomes a J-horror film – a slow build-up to a shocking climax, helped along by the narrative contrivance of the central protagonist’s thickness.  You want to yell at the screen: “Bruno, you moron!” the same as you would yell at stupid teenagers in horror films who split off from the party to investigate a strange sound they heard outside and never return.

For me, the actions of the main protagonist don’t feel plausible, rather gratuitous, as if the filmmakers had this great ending in mind and then had to jump through hoops to drive the plot there.  You could also argue that the film is a fable for the naivety of German citizens in World War 2 about what was going in the concentration camps, but that argument works a lot better with ‘the Reader’, which succeeds on both a plausible, narrative level and its own allegorical level.  This one doesn’t.

 

2/5 stripes from me.

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