When Bruno’s Nazi father moves their family from the city to the countryside, Bruno (Butterfield) fears he won’t make new friends. This proves to be true in their desolate neighborhood, so Bruno puts his childlike curiosity into action. In an attempt to find new playmates, he explores the back garden and discovers Shmuel (Scanton), a child captive in the nearby concentration camp who wears “funny striped pajamas.”
- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
The two embark on a friendship, each envying the other’s mysterious life behind the electrified fence. Bruno believes the camp is a leisure paradise filled with kids and games. And Shmuel knows of Bruno’s perpetually full stomach and soldier father.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas provides an interesting angle on the mentality that engendered the Holocaust. We see the world through Bruno’s eyes, and so understand the confusion that many Germans must have felt during World War II. While he sees the downtrodden humanity in the few Jewish people he encounters, he must reconcile his own experience with the teachings of his pro-Hitler family members.
With his ingenuous attitude and piercing ice-blue eyes, Butterfield makes Bruno convincingly clueless. He sees everything, but understands almost nothing. He doesn’t get why his friend always looks so miserable; he doesn’t comprehend why the people around him look down on Jewish people. All he understands is that Shmuel is his only friend and that he also happens to be Jewish. Contrasting with Bruno’s naivete is the intolerant and supercilious attitude of Lieutenant Kotler (Rupert Friend). In his small but haunting role, Friend displays the unbending and brutal behaviors that evoke the Gestapo ways.
Because the narrative is depicted primarily from the perspective of an eight-year-old, Boy is a Holocaust history lesson that’s accessible to children. The movie acts as a primer for kids, introducing them to the horrors of the Holocaust without being disturbingly graphic. With a little pre-film background and some post-film discussion, Boy can provide a solid jumping-off point to inform kids of the Nazi regime.