For a little, promising while, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas seems to be a welcome, if belated, response to Life Is Beautiful. Whereas Roberto Benigni’s self-deifying exercise in Holocaust schmaltz—one of the most repugnant and false movies ever made—sincerely believes obliviousness (not imagination, as its defenders claim) can shield the innocent from horror, Mark Herman’s film understands this is not only impossible, but that any attempt to do so is unconscionably insulating and opposed to developing human awareness.
Benigni’s coddling, regressive approach toward reality deserves to be combated, but The Boy in the Striped Pajamas succeeds as a corrective for only so long until a manipulative and wrongheaded ending completely undoes everything Herman, the British director of Brassed Off and Little Voice, has worked toward.
As in much of Life Is Beautiful, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (both are Miramax films, it must be mentioned) witnesses the Holocaust from the point of view of a child, here eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the German son of a loving mother (Vera Farmiga) and a cold Nazi officer (David Thewlis, imbuing a likely caricature with multiple dimensions). Life is indeed beautiful until Bruno’s family moves from Berlin to a depressing rural patch in the middle of nowhere on which their new property neighbors a less than inconspicuous concentration camp. Not quite comprehending why the people he spies from his bedroom window wear “striped pajamas,” Bruno is kept ignorant of the truth by his parents, who tell him the death factory is a farm. Click here to read the rest of Michael Joshua Rowin’s review of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.