The Boy in the Striped Pajamas*
The film,The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is not as bad as Manohla Dargis of The New York Times makes it out to be, nor does it deserve such derision. I suppose in “I am a good Liberal” land it is automatically PC to criticize anything written or filmed that has to do with World War II that does not depict the minute-by-minute unbearable suffering and death of millions of Jews. As if every one of us need a reminder that such history must not to be repeated. Anyone with an imagination and the hindsight of history knows the atrocities inflicted on the Jews by the Nazis during WWII were grossly evil. To comprehend the extent, a graphic presentation such as Dargis desires to “see the blood and excrement on the walls or the dead piled on the floor” is not only unnecessary, but risks sensationalizing the Holocaust for effect. Exactly what Dargis claims she does not want.
Having said that, initially I did groan when it looked as if the movie was going in the direction of humanizing the protagonist- Nazi family, — especially the father/soldier. Before the father (played by none other than David Thewlis, aka The Tormented Werewolf-Professor Lupin of Harry Potter) is semi- developed (no character in this film is fully developed), he is portrayed merely as a cookie cutter Nazi officer who goes along with the government, —the situation being to go along or risk death. At the family’s going away party, he reminds his mother (the grandmother) (The father, grandmother and grandfather are not named) of this when she begins airing opposing opinions. Although we do not hear exactly what the grandmother has to say, we are to understand she is not happy with the Nazi regime. The grandmother refuses to visit the family in the country, next to the “Concentration Camp.” Then she dies and her bastard ass son places Nazi propaganda literature on her coffin, even though his wife, Elsa tells him that he knows his mother will roll over in her grave for all of eternity as long as that piece of filthy Nazi rhetoric is shrouding her resting place. But he does not care, he has a duty to his country, hang is dead mother.
The family moves to the country in order to be closer to the Death Camp that the father commands. Yet, no one seems to be aware that the father is commanding a Death Camp instead of a typical wartime concentration camp, —except of course the father and the other Nazi officers. The ignorance is so prevalent that when the little boy, Bruno first gets a far away glance at the camp, he thinks the prisoners are farmers. Also when junior officer, Lieutenant Kotler (played by Rupert Fiend), chauffeur extraordinaire and number one Jew beater-upper says to the mother, “They smell worse when they burn” she appears genuinely confused. Nevertheless, do not fret, the movie does not turn at this point and become about a Nazi wife who takes on saving the Jews. She realizes her lack of agency. So, she decides to employ a practice of cognitive dissonance (aka, “I don’t care, just take it elsewhere!”) for her (and the children) survival and demand to spend the rest of the war with some relatives far away, probably in West Germany. In fear of upheaval, the Nazis attempted to keep their Final Solution as far away from the German populace as possible, —mostly in Poland and the far eastern parts of Eastern Germany. (Doesn’t that tidbit make me sound like I know what the fuck I am talking about?)
I had no sympathy when that nasty little chauffeur Lieutenant Kotler is sent to the front lines. The bastard seems more than willing to forget that the daughter is only twelve. Except that is not what he was sent away for. The father does not appreciate the fact that his junior officer Kotler has a professor-father who opposes the Nazis and that the lieutenant failed to disclose the information to the proper authorities. Here the editing is misleading. The dialogue-less film shots of the husband watching the wife watching the young officer departing, suggest that the husband thinks the wife is having an affair with Lt. Kotler. It is not until the wife points out to her husband that he himself did not disclose information about his mother’s anti-Nazism that we learn why Lt. Kotler is sent to the front (You have to give props to asshole officers having the power to send people they don’t like to the front. It is so Blackadder ). I hope Lt. Kotler is killed there. What he does to Pavel, the Jewish servant is unforgivable not to mention what he would have done to the daughter eventually.
The entire movie is a build up to the finale. Everything is just tedious motion biding time until the climactic whip crack ending.
Speaking of the ending, I have to wonder when writing this story in 2006 if John Boyne was influenced by Nadine Gordiner’s 1991 short story, “Once Upon A Time.”
“Once Upon A Time” was the first thing I thought of when I watched the ending of The Boy in The Striped Pajamas. In Gordiner’s short story, a white South African family (only named mother, father, and boy) slowly becomes paranoid that the black South Africans are going to come on to their property and do something to them. Therefore, they keep building taller fences topped off with sharp razor wire and installing more sophisticated alarm systems.
Until, the whip crack ending!
“One evening, the mother read the little boy to sleep with a fairy story from the book the wise old witch [LOL. Got to give it to Gordiner for poking at the stereotype of the mean old woman, mother-in-law] had given him at Christmas. Next day he pretended to be the Prince who braves the terrible thicket of thorns to enter the palace and kiss the Sleeping Beauty back to life: he dragged a ladder to the wall, the shining coiled tunnel was just wide enough for his little body to creep in, and with the first fixing of its razor-teeth in his knees and hand and head he screamed and struggled deeper into its tangle. The trusted housemaid and the itinerant gardener, whose ‘day’ it was, came running, the first to see and to scream with him, and the itinerant gardener tore his hands trying to get at the little boy. Then the man and his wife burst wildly into the garden and for some reason (the cat, probably) the alarm set up wailing against the screams while the bleeding mass of the little boy was hacked out of the security coil with saws, wire-cutters, choppers, and they carried it—the man, the wife, the hysterical trusted housemaid and the weeping gardener—into the house.” [The End]