Bruno can’t understand why Shmuel seems so morose, but after learning that Shmuel hasn’t seen his father since they first arrived together at the camp, he hatches a plot to dig under the fence that separates the two boys and help Shmuel find his father within the camp. The resolution of that plan, which comprises the final third of the movie, hurts the film. Not only do the subtleties of the first hour—the most interesting portion of the film—give way to Hollywood-style histrionics (ominous music and rapid cross-cutting are used to build suspense), but the fate of the two boys and others in the work camp, while discreetly portrayed, is a punishing thing for viewers to experience.

What are we to take away from this film that we haven’t already learned from earlier filmed depictions of the Holocaust? This time we see the horrors of that part of history through the eyes of a young German boy, but in having us identify with that boy’s tragic experience, the film loses sight of the enormity of the Holocaust, which, after all, resulted in the deaths of millions of Jews. The merit of seeing those events through the eyes of a naïve gentile boy is akin to the experience of watching those aforementioned stories about African Americans through the eyes of white protagonists. Something just isn’t right, and considering the scope of the horrors of the Holocaust, we’re left to wonder why this particular take on history needed to be told. Moreover, the film is, in the end, so grim that it does more to pulverize the soul than provoke thoughtful questions.

However, the film is by no means a total loss. Although the storyline about Bruno’s parents feels underdeveloped, the acting, especially from the young boys, is excellent, and the film is quite striking on a visual level. For an hour, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas serves as a good introduction to the Holocaust for younger viewers who may be unfamiliar with the event.

The movie’s final half hour is enough to merit a strong warning to those young viewers, and to adults who are thinking of seeing this film with them:  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas has its merits, but viewers will have to ask themselves if the outcome of the story, and the perspective from which it’s told, are necessary in light of the many films about the Holocaust that have already been made. Those who do choose to see the film might also want to watch some of the acclaimed Holocaust documentaries of recent years (try Shoah) to gain a greater sense of what the Jewish people underwent during that time.

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  • Language/Profanity:  None.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Smoking and drinking.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence/Disturbing Imagery:  Most of the violence is implied, not shown; boys play guns with make-believe weapons; a boy is shown with a bloodied eye after a beating; an older man delivering vegetables looks exhausted, a boy falls from a tire swing; black smoke rises from crematories; a German attacks a Jew; a brother and sister overhear their parents arguing; people are herded into a gas chamber.