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]
Textual logo

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (released as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in North America) is a 2008 British drama film written and directed by Mark Herman. It is based on the 2006 novel of the same name by John Boyne. Set in World War II, the Holocaust drama relates the horror of a Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two eight-year-old boys: Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of the camp's Nazi commander, and Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish prisoner. It was released in the United Kingdom on 12 September 2008.


Prisoner's clothing from Sachsenhausen concentration camp

Bruno is a young boy living in Berlin in Nazi Germany during World War II. His soldier father, Ralf, an SS officer, gets promoted and relocates the family to the "countryside" (occupied Poland). Living without neighbours, far from any town, and with no friends to play with, Bruno becomes lonely and bored. After spotting people working on what he thinks is a farm – actually a concentration camp – he is forbidden from playing in the back garden.

The tutor of Bruno and his sister Gretel, Herr Liszt, pushes an agenda of antisemitism and Nazi propaganda. This, together with Gretel's infatuation with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, makes her fanatical in her support for the Third Reich, covering her bedroom wall with posters and portraits of Adolf Hitler. Bruno is confused as the only Jew known to the family, their servant-prisoner Pavel, does not resemble the antisemitic caricatures in Liszt's teachings.

Bruno sneaks into the woods, arriving at a barbed wire fence surrounding the camp. He befriends a boy named Shmuel, and their ignorance of the camp's true nature is revealed: Bruno thinks the striped uniforms that Shmuel, Pavel, and the other prisoners wear are pajamas, and Shmuel believes his grandparents died from an illness on the journey to the camp. Bruno meets Shmuel regularly, sneaking him food and playing checkers. He eventually learns Shmuel is a Jew, brought to the camp with his parents.

Bruno's mother Elsa discovers the reality of Ralf's assignment after Kotler lets slip that the black smoke coming from the camp's chimneys is from burning bodies, and she confronts him. At dinner, Kotler admits his father had left his family for Switzerland to avoid national service. Ralf tells Kotler he should have informed the authorities of his father's "treason". Embarrassed, Kotler beats Pavel to death for spilling a glass of wine.

Bruno sees Shmuel working in his home, and offers him cake. When Kotler finds Bruno and Shmuel socialising, he berates Shmuel and notices him eating. Shmuel tells Kotler that Bruno offered the cake, which Bruno fearfully denies; with Kotler then telling Shmuel they will have a "little chat" later. Bruno tries to apologise to Shmuel later, but he doesn't reappear at the fence for several days. Afterwards, Bruno clandestinely sees his father and other soldiers reviewing a propaganda film about the conditions of the camp, with them supposedly being able to play games, have meals in cafes, and attend concerts. Bruno, thinking it is real, hugs his father.

Kotler, for failing to inform the Nazi authorities about his father's defection, gets transferred to the Eastern Front. Bruno continues returning to the fence, and eventually, Shmuel reappears, with a black eye from Kotler's "little chat". Bruno apologizes and Shmuel forgives him, renewing their friendship.

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 argue after the service. Back home, Ralf tells Bruno and Gretel that their mother is taking them to live with family where it is safer; in reality, Elsa stood up to Ralf and doesn't want the children living in the vicinity of a concentration camp.

Bruno visits Shmuel before he leaves, and learns that Shmuel's father has disappeared after being transferred to a different work gang. Bruno decides to redeem himself by helping 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. He is shocked to see the many sick and frail Jews. The boys search for Shmuel’s father in one of the huts, but suddenly guards round everyone in the hut into a large changing room.

Back at the house, Gretel and Elsa discover Bruno's disappearance, and Elsa bursts into Ralf's meeting to alert him. Ralf and his men mount a search, with Elsa and Gretel following. A dog tracks Bruno's scent to his discarded clothing outside the fence, and Ralf enters the camp. Meanwhile Bruno, Shmuel, and the other inmates are told to remove their clothes in preparation for a "shower". They are packed into a gas chamber and the lights go out. As a Schutzstaffel soldier pours Zyklon B pellets inside the dark chamber, Bruno and Shmuel hold hands as the prisoners begin to panic.

Ralf sees that a gassing is taking place and, realising what has happened, he cries out his son's name in despair; at the fence, Elsa and Gretel hear his cries and fall to their knees, wailing. The final scene shows the closed door of the now silent gas chamber.



Filming was completed 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 US$13 million.[6]


Critical response[edit]

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."[7] On Metacritic, the film has a normalised score of 55 out of 100, based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[8]

James Christopher, of The Times, referred to the film as "a hugely affecting film. Important, too".[9] 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".[10]

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".[11]

Kelly Jane Torrance in the Washington Times said the film was moving and beautifully told.[12] 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".[13]

Scholarly reception[edit]

Scholars have criticised the film for obscuring the historical facts about the Holocaust and creating a false equivalence between victims and perpetrators.[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 Pajamas, 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 Best European Film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Won
Irish Film and Television Awards[22] Best International Film Nominated
Young Artist Awards[23] 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. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  2. ^ "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)". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  5. ^ "British production | The Budapest Times". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  6. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  7. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
  8. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  9. ^ Christopher, James (11 September 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Review". The Times. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  10. ^ Dargis, Manohla (7 November 2008). "Horror Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Torrance, Kelly Jane (7 November 2008). "MOVIES: A 'Boy' looks at the Holocaust". The Washington Times. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  13. ^ Burr, Ty (14 November 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  14. ^ Eaglestone, Robert (2017). The Broken Voice: Reading Post-Holocaust Literature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192525680.
  15. ^ 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.
  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. ^ "2009 Winners—Film Categories". The Irish Film & Television Academy. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  23. ^ "2009 Nominations & Recipients". Young Artist Awards. Retrieved 15 August 2019.

Further reading[edit]

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