Through the eyes of a child
The Boy in Striped Pajamas is a heart-breaking World War II film that is shown through the eyes of a young boy, Bruno (played by Asa Butterfield). The fact that the story focuses on a German child makes the film unlike most war stories. Don’t be fooled, though. The Boy in Striped Pajamas is certainly touching, but that doesn’t mean it was done flawlessly. It lacks direction. It seemed as if screenwriter and director Mark Herman was trying to make this film look like a traditional war film, but he was not successful. Despite this major issue, the screenplay itself is still one worth talking about. Not only does Butterfield’s acting keep the audience engrossed with his character, but by the end of the film, his story leaves you close to tears.
Bruno’s father is played by David Thelis — yes, the same actor that plays Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter films — who is a German soldier running a Nazi concentration camp. After his family moves to the country so his father can run the camp, Bruno has nothing to do with his time. Being an 8-year-old boy and looking for an adventure, he decides to explore, despite the fact that his mother (played by Vera Farmiga, who is best known for her role in The Departed) forbids him to do so. While Farmiga’s acting is polished, she seems to have difficulty speaking with a German accent, so she decides that a British accent will be sufficient for the role. Unfortunately, it isn’t.
While Bruno is exploring, his sister Gretel (played by Amber Beattie), who is only 12, has issues of her own — like falling in love with a German soldier and becoming obsessed with the war. One day, during exploration, Bruno finds the concentration camp and befriends Shmuel (played by Jack Scanlon), a prisoner. As Bruno and Shmuel’s friendship grows, Bruno finds himself in more danger. By the end of the film, we find Bruno in the concentration camp with Shmuel.
It is pretty obvious in The Boy in Striped Pajamas that Herman is a much better screenwriter than director. The dialogue was gripping and poetic, while the direction was amateurish. Most of the scenes, especially when Mother and Father were arguing, were shot in an extremely awkward fashion. The focus of the camera seemed to be on the door, which made this scene not nearly as powerful as it could have been. Also, Bruno enjoyed playing on a tire swing, but every time this is shown in the film, it feels as if it’s the same exact shot that was shown previously.
Despite this film’s obvious problem with direction, it is still a moving story. Butterfield might be young, but he carries this story from beginning to end. Though this is one of many World War II films that will be in theaters in the next year or so, there probably won’t be another like this. Herman gives us something most screenwriters don’t: He shows us a tragedy and an atrocity through the eyes of a child.