The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film)

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mark Herman
Produced by David Heyman
Screenplay by Mark Herman
Based on The Boy in the Striped Pajamas 
by John Boyne
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Benoît Delhomme
Edited by Michael Ellis
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios
Motion Pictures
Release dates
  • September 12, 2008 (2008-09-12)
Running time
94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $12.5 million
Box office $40.4 million[1]

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas[2][3] (released as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the United States; see spelling differences) is a 2008 British historical-drama based on the novel of the same name by Irish writer John Boyne.[4] Directed by Mark Herman, produced by Miramax Films, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, the film stars Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Amber Beattie and Rupert Friend.

This film is a Holocaust drama that explores the horror of a World War II Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two 8-year-old boys; one the son of the camp's Nazi commandant, the other a Jewish inmate.


In the film's opening, set in Berlin, in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, an 8-year-old boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is seen playing with his three friends. After arriving home he learns that his father Ralf (David Thewlis) has been promoted. After a party to celebrate the promotion (at which Bruno's paternal grandmother is shown to disapprove of Ralf's promotion and the move), Bruno, his father, his mother Elsa (Vera Farmiga), and his 12-year-old sister Gretel (Amber Beattie) relocate. Bruno hates his new home as there is nobody to play with and very little to explore. After commenting that he has spotted people working on what he thinks is a farm, he is also forbidden from playing in the back garden.

Bruno and his sister, Gretel, gets a tutor, Herr Liszt (Jim Norton), who pushes an agenda of antisemitism and nationalist propaganda. Gretel becomes increasingly fanatical in her support for the Third Reich, covering her bedroom wall with Nazi propaganda posters, much to Bruno's confusion. She flirts with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler (Rupert Friend), her father's subordinate, as her budding sexuality becomes fixated on the ideal of the German soldier. Bruno is confused about Nazi propaganda, because the Jews Bruno has seen, in particular the family's Jewish servant Pavel (David Hayman), do not resemble the caricatures in Liszt's teachings.

Bruno one day disobeys his parents and sneaks off beyond the back garden. He eventually arrives at an electric, barbed wire fence surrounding a camp and befriends a boy his own age named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), who lives on the inside and who asks for food. In the ensuing conversation, the pair's lack of knowledge as to the true nature of the camp is revealed, with Bruno thinking that the striped uniforms that Shmuel, Pavel, and the other prisoners all wear are "pyjamas" and Shmuel believing his grandparents had died from an illness contracted during their journey to the camp. Bruno starts meeting Shmuel regularly, sneaking him food and playing board games with him. Bruno eventually learns that Shmuel is a Jew and that he was brought to the camp along with his father.

Prisoner's clothing from Sachsenhausen concentration camp

One day, Elsa discovers the reality of Ralf's assignment after Kotler lets slip that the source of the black smoke coming from the camp's chimneys is the burning corpses of Jews. Elsa confronts and argues with Ralf and is disgusted and heartbroken. At dinner that night, after Bruno claims Herr Liszt won't let him read adventure books and that he mainly teaches him history, Kotler admits history was his favorite subject but that displeased his father, a professor of literature, who had moved to Switzerland. Ralf, upon hearing this, tells Kotler he should have informed the authorities of his father's disagreement with the current political regime as it was his duty. The embarrassed Kotler then uses Pavel's spilling of a wine glass as an excuse to beat the inmate to death. The next morning the maid, Maria, is seen cleaning up the blood stains.

Later that day Bruno sees Pavel's replacement; Shmuel has been ordered to the house to clean glasses because of his small fingers. Bruno offers him some cake, and they start talking. Kotler appears, sees Shmuel chewing, and accuses him of stealing. Shmuel says Bruno offered him the cake, but fearful of Kotler, Bruno denies this, stating that he has never seen Shmuel before. Believing Bruno, Kotler orders Shmuel to finish cleaning the glasses and says they will then have a "little chat about what happens to rats who steal." Bruno goes to his room distraught and decides to apologize to Shmuel, but Shmuel has gone. Every day Bruno returns to the same spot by the camp but does not see Shmuel. Eventually Shmuel reappears behind the fence, sporting a black eye. Despite Bruno's betrayal, Shmuel forgives him and renews his friendship.

After the funeral of Bruno's grandmother, who was killed in Berlin by an enemy bombing, Ralf (after another argument with Elsa) decides that Bruno and Gretel are to stay with a relative while he "finishes his work" at the camp, accepting that it is no place for the children to live. Shmuel has problems of his own; his father has gone missing after those with whom he participated in a march did not return to the camp. Bruno decides to redeem himself by helping Shmuel find his father. The next day Bruno, who is due to leave that afternoon, arrives back at the camp, dons a striped prisoners' outfit and a cap to cover his unshaven hair, and digs under the fence to join Shmuel in a search for Shmuel's father. Bruno soon discovers the true nature of the camp after seeing many sick and weak-looking Jews. While searching one of the huts the boys are taken on a march with other inmates by Sonderkommandos.

At the house, Bruno being gone is noticed. After Gretel and Elsa discover the open window Bruno went through and the remains of a sandwich Bruno was taking for Shmuel, Elsa bursts into Ralf's meeting to alert him that Bruno is missing. Ralf and his men mount a search to find him. They find the boy's discarded clothing outside the fence and the hole he dug, and enter the camp, searching for him. In the mean time, Bruno, Shmuel and the other inmates on the march are stopped inside a changing room and are told to remove their clothes for a "shower". They are packed into a gas chamber, where Bruno and Shmuel hold each other's hands. An SS soldier pours some Zyklon B pellets into the chamber, and the prisoners start yelling and banging on the metal door. Ralf, still with his men, arrives at an empty dormitory, signalling to him that a gassing is taking place. Ralf cries out his son's name, and Elsa and Gretel fall to their knees, after discovering Bruno's discarded clothes outside the gate. The film ends by showing the closed door of the now-silent gas chamber and the prisoners' discarded clothing outside it indicating that the prisoners, Shmuel, and Bruno are dead.



Critical response[edit]

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has a 63% with a 6.2/10 average rating on Rotten Tomatoes. James Christopher, of The Times, referred to the film as "a hugely affecting film. Important, too."[5] Manohla Dargis, of The New York Times, however, gave a negative review because it "trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked [the Holocaust] for a tragedy about a Nazi family."[2]

Historical accuracy[edit]

Some critics have criticized the premise of the book and subsequent film. Reviewing the original book, Rabbi Benjamin Blech wrote: "Note to the reader: There were no 9-year-old Jewish boys in Auschwitz – the Nazis immediately gassed those not old enough to work."[6] Rabbi Blech affirmed the opinion of a Holocaust survivor friend that the book is "not just a lie and not just a fairytale, but a profanation." Blech acknowledges the objection that a "fable" need not be factually accurate; he counters that the book trivializes the conditions in and around the death camps and perpetuates the "myth that those [...] not directly involved can claim innocence," and thus undermines its moral authority. Students who read it, he warns, may believe the camps "weren't that bad" if a boy could conduct a clandestine friendship with a Jewish captive of the same age, unaware of "the constant presence of death."[7]

But, according to statistics from the Labour Assignment Office, Auschwitz-Birkenau contained 619 living male children from one month to 14 years old on August 30, 1944. On January 14, 1945, 773 male children were registered as living at the camp. "The oldest children were 16, and 52 were less than 8 years of age. Some children were employed as camp messengers and were treated as a kind of curiosity, while every day an enormous number of children of all ages were killed in the gas chambers."[8][9]

Kathryn Hughes, whilst agreeing about the implausibility of the plot, argues that "Bruno's innocence comes to stand for the willful refusal of all adult Germans to see what was going on under their noses."[10] American film critic, Roger Ebert, declared that the film is not attempting to be a forensic reconstruction of Germany during the war, but is "about a value system that survives like a virus."[3]


Year Award Category Recipient Result
2008 British Independent Film Award[11] Best Actress Vera Farmiga Won
Best Director Mark Herman Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer Asa Butterfield Nominated
2009 Premio Goya[12] Best European Film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Nominated
Irish Film and Television Award[13] Best International Film Nominated
Young Artist Award[14] Best Leading Performance (International Feature Film) Asa Butterfield & Jack Scanlon Nominated


  1. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 31, 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Dargis, Manohla (November 7, 2008). "Horror Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  3. ^ a b Ebert, Roger (November 5, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  4. ^ Vilkomerson, Sara (March 31, 2009). "On Demand This Week: Lost Boys". The New York Observer. Retrieved July 4, 2011. 
  5. ^ Christopher, James (September 11, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Review". The Times. Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  6. ^ Blech, Benjamin (October 23, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  7. ^ Rabbi Benjamin Blech (October 23, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Retrieved February 11, 2013. 
  8. ^ Langbein, Hermann; Zohn, Harry (Translator) (2004). People in Auschwitz. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2816-5. 
  9. ^ Buergentha, Thomas (2009). A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy. London: Profile. ISBN 1-84668-178-2. 
  10. ^ Hughes, Kathryn (February 8, 2012). "Educating Bruno". The Guardian. 
  11. ^ BIFA 2008 Nominations at British Independent Film Awards
  12. ^ 2009 Goya Awards at Alt Film Guide
  13. ^ 2009 Winners—Film Categories at The Irish Film & Television Academy
  14. ^ 2009 Nominations & Recipients at Young Artist Awards

External links[edit]