Sunday, November 30, 2008
Boy In The Striped Pajamas
movie like this can really only be compared to one other - Schindler's List. However, it is very different from Schindler's List in many ways. Boy In The Striped Pajamas tells a riveting story in a manner that can't help but draw the audience in. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this film and it did not disappoint. Well, one thing disappointed me. This film was only available at one of the ten theaters near me...an independent theater. That is a travesty. Many people will unfortunately not be exposed to this great work of art.
In my first life, I was a soldier. A Marine. There's a thing that we do as soldiers, and as a people, that de-humanizes our enemies. We give them names. Terminology is seditious. It has a way of convincing us that we have the moral high ground. In the military we used to call the "moral high ground" a good place to sight in artillery. Terms like Kraut, Kyke, Redskin, Yank or Nip remove the humanity from our opposition creating an equivocation that provides a moral ambiguity behind which we can hide. A deficiency that allows us to commit atrocities while good people look the other way. The words of Edmund Burke express it best, "All that is necessary for evil to succeed is that good men do nothing."
Boy In The Striped Pajamas exposes this mythology by telling the story through the eyes of the executioner. Well, more accurately, through the eyes of his son. Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is not unlike any other eight year old. In the middle of a war, he and his friends enjoy playing Army with finger pistols and extended arm airplanes. The fly freely around Berlin until Bruno's father (David Thewlis) receives a promotion. His promotion takes the family out to a country home which is tightly guarded, restricting the freedom of movement in an interesting contrast. The boy's mother (Vera Farmiga) feels mounting stress as she discovers that the concentration camp her husband has become Commandant of has been tasked with burning detainees. Bruno wants to be an explorer when he grows up, and feels confined within his courtyard. He discovers a way out through an out-building, and runs freely through the forest.
Bruno has seen a farm through his window, where he observes the farmers wearing strange striped pajamas. As Bruno runs through the forest, the woods open up to a small creek beyond which is the farm. He seems startled at the sight of the large barb wire fence looming on the other side of the creek. As Bruno scales the other side of the creek he sees a boy his own age on the other side of the fence. He learns the boys name is Schmuel (Jack Scanlon) who is also eight years old. The two boys develop an unusual relationship through the electrically charged wire. This relationship leads to betrayal and reconciliation.
Boy In The Striped Pajamas is a stark reminder of the human aspect of war. That behind atrocities lie people. Behind people there is often compassion. Small things, like thanking a prisoner for patching a boy's scraped knee. When we see the visible struggle of the Commandant's family, the obvious opposition of his own mother (Sheila Hancock) and the mental breakdown of his wife, the story hits home. This is not about "them" it's about US. It is the other side of the same coin. The fierce brutality has a human face with no misleading monikers attached.
Boy In The Striped Pajamasadapted from John Boyne's novel by the Writer/Director Mark Herman. The story is compelling. The characters are the strength of this movie. They are eerily real, removing the barrier that we might try to construct between reality and our own sanitized system of beliefs. The characters touch us with their plausibility forcing us to face our own capacity for darkness. The depth and dimension of the characters, like the ability to make a death camp Commandant human, creates a strong storyline. The plot winds out towards inevitable disappointment, which it delivers. If you want happy endings, this is definitely not the movie for you. It is poignant, dark and brooding. As I stated in my title, this film left me gasping for air.
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