The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film)

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byMark Herman
Written byMark Herman
Based onThe Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne
Produced byDavid Heyman
CinematographyBenoît Delhomme
Edited byMichael Ellis
Music byJames Horner
Distributed by
Release dates
  • 28 August 2008 (2008-08-28) (Carnegie Film Festival)
  • 12 September 2008 (2008-09-12) (United Kingdom)
  • 26 November 2008 (2008-11-26) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
  • United Kingdom[1]
  • United States[1]
Budget$12.5 million[2]
Box office$44.1 million[3]

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (released as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in North America) is a 2008 historical drama film written and directed by Mark Herman. It is based on the 2006 novel of the same name by John Boyne. Set in Nazi-occupied Poland, the film follows the son of an SS officer who befriends a Holocaust prisoner of his age. It was released in the United Kingdom on 12 September 2008. It received generally positive reviews from critics for being touching but was panned by scholars for misrepresenting elements of the Holocaust.


Bruno, an eight-year-old German boy living in Berlin, is uprooted to rural occupied Poland with his family after his father Ralf, an SS officer, is promoted. Bruno notices an extermination camp near the back garden from his bedroom window, but believes it to be a farm; his mother Elsa forbids him from going in the back garden.

Ralf organises Herr Liszt, a private tutor, to teach Nazi propaganda and antisemitism to indoctrinate Bruno and his sister, Gretel. This combined with Gretel's crush on Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, a young colleague of her father's, makes Gretel fanatical in her support for the Nazi agenda. Bruno struggles to adjust to the rhetoric in the teaching after Pavel, a doctor-turned-family slave, comes to Bruno's aid after he sustains a minor injury.

Bruno sneaks into the woods, arriving at a barbed wire fence surrounding the camp. He befriends Shmuel, another eight-year-old boy. Both boys are completely unaware of the true nature of the camp; Bruno believes the striped uniforms that Shmuel, Pavel, and the other prisoners wear are pyjamas, while Shmuel believes he is only there temporarily and that his grandparents died from an illness on the journey to the camp. Bruno meets Shmuel regularly, sneaking him food, and learns that Shmuel is a Jew who was brought to the camp with his parents.

Elsa inadvertently discovers from Kurt that the smell from the camp is in fact burning prisoners; she angrily confronts her husband. Later that night, Kurt reveals his father left Germany for Switzerland to avoid national service and is berated by Ralf; embarrassed, Kurt viciously beats Pavel for spilling a glass of wine. Bruno sees Shmuel working in his home, and offers him cake. Kurt finds Bruno and Shmuel socialising and berates Shmuel. After seeing him eating, Shmuel informs Kurt that Bruno offered the cake, which Bruno fearfully denies. Bruno tries to apologise to Shmuel later, but he doesn't reappear at the fence for several days. Later, Bruno clandestinely watches his father and other officers reviewing a propaganda film depicting the camp's conditions as positive.

Ralf informs his family that Kurt was transferred to the Eastern Front; angered, Elsa reveals the reason for his transfer was because Kurt did not initially alert the authorities about his father. Bruno continues returning to the fence and eventually, Shmuel reappears, but with visible injuries. Bruno apologises and Shmuel forgives him. In Berlin, Ralf's mother Nathalie – who disapproves of the Nazi regime – is killed by an Allied bombing raid. At the funeral, Elsa tries to remove a wreath from the Führer out of respect for Nathalie and her beliefs, but Ralf stops her, causing them to fall out after the service.

Back home, Elsa informs Ralf she doesn't want the children living in the vicinity of the camp. In turn, Ralf then tells Bruno and Gretel their mother is taking them to live with their extended family until the war is over. Bruno visits Shmuel before he leaves, and learns Shmuel's father has disappeared after being transferred to a different work gang; Bruno decides to help Shmuel find him. Shmuel provides Bruno with a prisoner's striped outfit and a cap to cover his unshaven head, and Bruno digs under the fence to join Shmuel, but the boys are suddenly rounded up by the guards.

Gretel and Elsa learn of Bruno's disappearance, and burst into Ralf's meeting to alert him. A search is launched and a dog tracks Bruno's scent to his discarded clothing. Ralf enters the camp as the prisoners are sent to a gas chamber, where pesticide pellets are poured from a hole in the ceiling, filling the chamber with toxic gas. Bruno dies in the chamber along with Shmuel, leaving Ralf, Elsa, and Gretel distraught.



Filming occurred during 29 April 2007 to 7 July 2007, in Hungary. Locations included Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest, Sacelláry Castle in Budafok and several other areas of Budapest. Interiors were filmed at Fót Studios, Budapest.[4] Post-production was completed in London.[5] The total cost of the production was approximately $12.4 million.[2]


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
Released2008 (2008)
StudioEastwood Scoring Stage, Warner Bros. Studios
ProducerJames Horner

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack is the licensed soundtrack album to the film. The score was composed by James Horner. It was released through Hollywood Records in 2008.

Track list

No. Name Length
1 Boys Playing Airplanes 4:08
2 Exploring The Forest 2:32
3 The Train Ride To A New Home 3:30
4 The Winds Gently Blow Through The Garden 5:52
5 An Odd Discovery Beyond The Trees 2:48
6 Dolls Are Not For Big Girls, Propaganda Is... 3:40
7 Black Smoke 1:42
8 Evening Supper--A Family Slowly Crumbles 7:48
9 The Funeral 1:50
10 The Boys' Plans, From Night To Day 2:35
11 Strange New Clothes 9:50
12 Remembrance, Remembrance 5:29


Box office

The film opening on 12 September 2008 in the United Kingdom with $253,085 at the box office in 17 theatres. It later opened for a limited time on 26 November 2008 in North America.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas grossed a worldwide total of $44.1 million.[2]

Critical response

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has a 64% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 142 reviews, with an average rating of 6.30/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A touching and haunting family film that deals with the Holocaust in an arresting and unusual manner, and packs a brutal final punch of a twist."[6] On Metacritic, the film has a normalised score of 55 out of 100, based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[7]

James Christopher, of The Times, referred to the film as "a hugely affecting film. Important, too".[8] Manohla Dargis, of The New York Times, said the film "trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked [the Holocaust] for a tragedy about a Nazi family".[9]

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert gave the film three and a half stars out of four and said that it is not simply a reconstruction of Germany during the war, but is "about a value system that survives like a virus".[10]

Kelly Jane Torrance in the Washington Times said the film was moving and beautifully told.[11] In spite of some criticism, Ty Burr of The Boston Globe filed this conclusion: "what saves The Boy in the Striped Pajamas from kitsch is the cold, observant logic of Herman's storytelling".[12]

Scholarly reception

Scholars have criticised the film, saying that it obscures the historical facts about the Holocaust and creates a false equivalence between victims and perpetrators.[13][14][15] For example, at the end of the movie, the grief of Bruno's family is depicted, encouraging the viewer to feel sympathy for Holocaust perpetrators.[16]: 125  Michael Gray wrote that the story is not very realistic and contains many implausibilities, because children were murdered when they arrived at Auschwitz and it was not possible for them to have contact with people on the outside.[16]: 121–123 [17] However, according to Nazi records there were 619 male children at the camp; all female and many other male children were gassed upon arrival.[18] A study by the Centre for Holocaust Education at University College London found that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas "is having a significant, and significantly problematic impact on the way young people attempt to make sense of this complex past". However, a more recent study found that the film's reception is strongly based on the viewers' previous knowledge and beliefs.[19]: 173 

Research by Holocaust educator Michael Gray found that more than three-quarters of British schoolchildren (ages 13–14) in his sample had engaged with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, significantly more than The Diary of Anne Frank. The film was having a significant effect on many of the children's knowledge and beliefs about the Holocaust.[16]: 114  The children believed that the story contained a lot of useful information about the Holocaust and conveyed an accurate impression of many real-life events. The majority believed that it was based on a true story.[16]: 115–116  He also found that many students drew false inferences from the film, such as assuming that Germans would not have known anything about the Holocaust because Bruno's family did not, or that the Holocaust had stopped because a Nazi child had accidentally been gassed.[16]: 117  Other students believed that Jews had volunteered to go to the camps because they had been fooled by Nazi propaganda, rather than being violently rounded up and deported.[16]: 119  Gray recommended studying the book only after children had already learned the major facts about the Holocaust and were less likely to be misled by it,[16]: 131  while the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and others cited it as a book/film that should be avoided entirely, and recommendations were made that true accounts, and works from Jewish authors should be prioritised.[20]


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Result
2008 British Independent Film Awards[21] Best Actress Vera Farmiga Won
Best Director Mark Herman Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer Asa Butterfield Nominated
2009 Premio Goya[22] Best European Film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Nominated
Irish Film and Television Awards[23] Best International Film Nominated
Young Artist Awards[24] Best Leading Performance (International Feature Film) Asa Butterfield & Jack Scanlon Nominated


  1. ^ a b "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". British Film Institute. 30 December 2016. Archived from the original on 30 December 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  2. ^ a b c "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  3. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) – Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  4. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". Made in Atlantis. 24 August 2014. Retrieved 2 December 2022.
  5. ^ "British production | The Budapest Times". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  6. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
  7. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  8. ^ Christopher, James (11 September 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Review". The Times. Archived from the original on 17 September 2008. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  9. ^ "Horror Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. 7 November 2008. Archived from the original on 4 April 2023. Retrieved 1 August 2023.
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger (5 November 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  11. ^ Torrance, Kelly Jane (7 November 2008). "MOVIES: A 'Boy' looks at the Holocaust". The Washington Times. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  12. ^ Burr, Ty (14 November 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  13. ^ Eaglestone, Robert (2017). The Broken Voice: Reading Post-Holocaust Literature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192525680.
  14. ^ Szejnmann, Claus-Christian W.; Cowan, Paula; Griffiths, James (2018). Holocaust Education in Primary Schools in the Twenty-First Century: Current Practices, Potentials and Ways Forward. Springer. ISBN 9783319730998.
  15. ^ "The Problem with "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas"". Opinio Juris (blog). 4 February 2009. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g Gray, Michael (3 June 2015). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: A Blessing or Curse for Holocaust Education?". Holocaust Studies. 20 (3): 109–136. doi:10.1080/17504902.2014.11435377. S2CID 143231358.
  17. ^ Pearce, Sharyn; Muller, Vivienne; Hawkes, Lesley (2013). Popular Appeal: Books and Films in Contemporary Youth Culture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 9781443854313.
  18. ^ Gonshak, Henry (2015). Hollywood and the Holocaust. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-4422-5223-3.
  19. ^ Stefanie Rauch (2018). "Understanding the Holocaust through Film: Audience Reception between Preconceptions and Media Effects". History and Memory. 30 (1): 151–188. doi:10.2979/histmemo.30.1.06. S2CID 166075238.
  20. ^ "The Problem with 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'". Holocaust Learning. 17 September 2019.
  21. ^ "BIFA 2008 Nominations". British Independent Film Awards. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  22. ^ "Estas son las nominaciones de los - PREMIOS GOYA 2009". (in Spanish). Retrieved 3 December 2022.
  23. ^ "2009 Winners—Film Categories". The Irish Film & Television Academy. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  24. ^ "2009 Nominations & Recipients". Young Artist Awards. Archived from the original on 26 October 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2019.

Further reading

External links