Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Although I'd heard of this story ever since the movie came out in 2008, I had never read it or watched the film, so on Wednesday I checked it out from the library. The book, written by John Boyne, is about the friendship between a German boy named Bruno and a Jewish boy named Shmuel (who lives across the fence in a concentration camp) and the unexpected consequence of their friendship. In the book, Bruno is not very aware of the global situation at that time period nor the German prejudice toward Jews even though he is the son of an important Nazi Commandant. He befriends Shmuel with no thought to the danger that could arise or the complications of their relationship. I found the story very engaging, although the ending was tragic (I won't give away what happens, but suffice it to say that I came very close to crying). In a way it was sweet that Bruno and Shmuel were together to the end, but the actual events that brought about the ending were tragic.

Thursday night after work, I decided to watch the movie version. I'm always a little skeptical of book adaptions, but this one was rather well done. They changed the order of a few events, but otherwise it was a decent adaption of the storyline. The thing that really differed, though, was the knowledge of the characters. In the movie, everyone was more aware of what was going on than they were in the book. Bruno's parents knew that he could see the camp from his window, Bruno knew who the Jews were and their significance to Germans, and most importantly, everyone was aware of what happened at the end. In the book, no one notices that Bruno had disappeared and it takes them a year to figure out what happened. In the movie, a few soldiers and his family almost immediately realize he's gone and figure out what has happened soon after it occurred, making the last scene devastating to both them and the audience (I did cry that time).

To me, the movie is much more emotionally moving than the book. The book was written from Bruno's perspective, and so there are things left out because he doesn't understand them. In the movie, the audience is given the full view of things, and, as an older viewer, I was able to completely understand what was going on. I had the same reaction after watching the movie that I have every time I read The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom - the depths to which humanity can sink when unchecked is indescribably horrible. The soldiers in the movie truly believed that Jews were inferior humans, perhaps not even human, and so didn't even blink an eye when a soldier beat up a Jew in front of his children for no reason. 

At the end of the film, Bruno's parents realize that they've made it to the camp too late - Bruno is already gone. His mother immediately breaks down and starts crying and screaming, but his father just stands there, stunned at what has happened. Perhaps that was the first moment he realized the atrocity of his political party, or maybe he was just in shock over what had happened and how his own actions led to it. And perhaps that is the most tragic event in this story - to watch a family get ripped apart by a horrible realization that their actions led to this terrible consequence.


 “. . .only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all.” - John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas


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