Films are a way of connecting with feelings. They allow compassion for others to seek out the complicated tangle of emotions that lay, unexpressed, within. One of the things I particularly enjoyed about The Boy In The Striped Pajamas was the compassion I felt for all the characters: a tragedy of mass proportions.
The first thing I noticed about the film was the colours. Actors milled around in the opening scene in browns and other muted colours. I wondered whether anyone wore bright colours at all during the 1940s. Were they banned? I realise there is a scene to be set but surely it would be more realistic to have some anomalies – not everyone would have dressed in exactly the same style and colour scheme. However, it’s possible the German people of the time chose to wear muted colours as an expression of their mental states. The choice of a colour scheme that states “this is a period film” separates me from the events in it. I wonder what it would be like to watch a film about events in Nazi Germany in a modern setting? What would it do to the believability? How much does style of architecture, clothes, and consumables affect how we live our lives?
Despite the fact that the story unfolds from the point of view of an eight year old German boy, it is told using English actors. And they are terribly English. What I mean to say is, they behave as we are led to believe everyone in England behaved in the 1940s: terribly upright and polite to one another. I liked this escape from reality. It was refreshing to see men in Nazi uniforms speaking in clipped British accents. There are a lot of war movies where English actors, playing Germans, speak with German accents in order to get across the fact they are German. The decision to use the actors’ native accents instead of putting on German ones helped to suspend belief. The fact that all the characters were German probably helped the decision to avoid using German accents; there was no need to distinguish the Germans from other nationalities.
Stories based on true events tend to carry a poignancy. The fact that six million humans were murdered by the Nazis during the second world war was present throughout the movie. Vera Farmiga, in her role of Mother, captured beautifully the horror of realising the extent of brutality if left unchecked. The photograph I’ve chosen to illustrate this post is taken from one of the final scenes, where Bruno and Shmuel are about to be murdered in the gas chamber. They clasp hands, supporting each other in the realisation that something scary is about to happen. Outside the gas chamber, Bruno’s father frantically searches the camp for him. It’s a beautiful irony that Bruno dies inside the extermination camp that his father is in charge of, holding the hand of the so-called enemy.
The lies that surround the extermination camp highlight the farce of inauthentic leadership. From the beginning, Bruno points out the “farm” and asks questions about it and the strange farmers wearing striped pajamas. Each question is met with avoidance or a lie. Bruno’s innocent wisdom was muted by the adults’ rigid nonsensical beliefs. It shows the importance of listening to children’s questions and letting them penetrate the hard shells we create around ourselves. Honesty, however painful, touches reality in a way that allows for healing.