The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film)

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mark Herman
Produced by David Heyman
Screenplay by Mark Herman
Based on The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas 
by John Boyne
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Benoît Delhomme
Edited by Michael Ellis
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Release dates
12 September 2008 (United Kingdom)
26 November 2008 (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Budget $12.5 million[1]
Box office $44 million[2]

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas[3][4] (released as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the United States; see spelling difference) is a 2008 British historical period drama based on the novel of the same name by Irish writer John Boyne.[5] Directed by Mark Herman, produced by Miramax Films, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, the film stars Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis, Asa Butterfield, and Jack Scanlon. It was released on 12 September 2008 in the United Kingdom, and on Thanksgiving 2008 in the United States.

The 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 (Butterfield), the other a Jewish inmate (Scanlon).


An 8-year-old boy named Bruno (Asa Butterfield) lives with his family in Berlin, in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust. He learns that his father Ralf (David Thewlis) has been promoted, due to which their family, including Bruno's mother Elsa (Vera Farmiga) and 12-year-old sister Gretel (Amber Beattie), relocate to the countryside. Bruno hates his new home as there is no one to play with and very little to explore. After commenting that he has spotted people working on what he thinks is a farm in the distance, he is also forbidden from playing in the back garden.

Bruno and Gretel get 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. Bruno is confused as the Jews he has seen, in particular the family's Jewish servant Pavel (David Hayman), do not resemble the caricatures in Liszt's teachings.

One day, Bruno disobeys his parents and sneaks off into the woods, eventually arriving at an electric barbed wire fence surrounding a camp. He befriends a boy his own age named Schmuel (Jack Scanlon), who lives on the inside and asks for food. The pair's lack of knowledge on the true nature of the camp is revealed: Bruno thinks that the striped uniforms that Schmuel, Pavel, and the other prisoners wear are pyjamas and Schmuel believes his grandparents died from an illness during their journey to the camp. Bruno starts meeting Schmuel regularly, sneaking him food and playing board games with him. He eventually learns that Schmuel is a Jew and was brought to the camp with his father.

Prisoner's clothing from Sachsenhausen concentration camp

One day, Elsa discovers the reality of Ralf's assignment after Lieutenant Kurt Kotler (Rupert Friend) lets slip that the black smoke coming from the camp's chimneys is due to the burning corpses of Jews. She confronts Ralf, disgusted and heartbroken. At dinner that night, Kotler admits that his father had left his family and moved to Switzerland. Upon hearing this, Ralf 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 prove his support of the regime. The next morning the maid, Maria, is seen scrubbing the blood stains.

Later the next day, Bruno sees Schmuel working in his home. Schmuel is there to clean wine glasses because they needed someone with small hands to do it. Bruno offers him some cake and willingly Schmuel accepts it. Unfortunately, Kotler happens to walk into the room where Bruno and Schmuel are socializing. Kotler is furious and yells at Schmuel for talking to Bruno. In the midst of his scolding, Kotler notices Schmuel chewing the food Bruno gave him. When Kotler asks Schmuel where he got the food, he says Bruno offered the cake, but Bruno, fearful of Kotler, denies this. Believing Bruno, Kotler tells Schmuel that they will have a "little chat" later. Distraught, Bruno goes to apologize to Schmuel, but finds him gone. Every day, Bruno returns to the same spot by the camp but does not see Schmuel. Eventually, Schmuel reappears behind the fence, sporting a black eye. Bruno apologizes and Schmuel forgives him, renewing the friendship.

After the funeral of Bruno's grandmother, who was killed in Berlin by an enemy bombing, Ralf tells Bruno and Gretel that their mother suggests that they go live with a relative because it isn't safe there. Their mother suggests this because she doesn't want her children living with their murderous father. Schmuel 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 Schmuel find his father. The next day, Bruno, who is due to leave that afternoon, dons a striped prisoners' outfit and a cap to cover his unshaven hair, and digs under the fence to join Schmuel in the search. Bruno soon discovers the true nature of the camp after seeing the many sick and weak-looking Jews. While searching, the boys are taken on a march with other inmates by Sonderkommandos.

At the house, Gretel and Elsa discover Bruno's disappearance, and Elsa bursts into Ralf's meeting to alert him that Bruno is missing. Ralf and his men mount a search and find Bruno's discarded clothing outside the fence. They enter the camp, looking for him; Bruno, Schmuel and the other inmates 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 Schmuel hold each other's hands. An SS soldier pours some Zyklon B pellets inside, and the prisoners start yelling and banging on the metal door. When Ralf realizes that a gassing is taking place, he cries out his son's name, and Elsa and Gretel fall to their knees in despair. The film ends by showing the closed door of the now-silent gas chamber, indicating that the prisoners, Schmuel and Bruno, are dead. The shadows of their corpses are visible.



Critical response

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."[6] 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."[3]

Historical accuracy

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."[7] 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."[8]

But, according to statistics from the Labour Assignment Office, Auschwitz-Birkenau contained 619 living male children from one month to 14 years old on 30 August 1944. On 14 January 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."[9][10]

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."[11] In the Chicago Sun-Times Roger Ebert, says the film is not a reconstruction of Germany during the war, but is "about a value system that survives like a virus."[4]


Year Award Category Recipient Result
2008 British Independent Film Award[12] Best Actress Vera Farmiga Won
Best Director Mark Herman Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer Asa Butterfield Nominated
2009 Premio Goya[13] Best European Film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Nominated
Irish Film and Television Award[14] Best International Film Nominated
Young Artist Award[15] 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 31 July 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) - Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved June 13, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dargis, Manohla (7 November 2008). "Horror Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 August 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ebert, Roger (5 November 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 25 June 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Vilkomerson, Sara (31 March 2009). "On Demand This Week: Lost Boys". The New York Observer. Retrieved 4 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Blech, Benjamin (23 October 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Blech, Benjamin (23 October 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Retrieved 11 February 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Langbein, Hermann; Zohn, Harry (Translator) (2004). People in Auschwitz. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-2816-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Buergentha, Thomas (2009). A Lucky Child: A Memoir of Surviving Auschwitz as a Young Boy. London: Profile. ISBN 1-84668-178-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Hughes, Kathryn (21 January 2006). "Educating Bruno". The Guardian. Missing or empty |url= (help); |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. BIFA 2008 Nominations at British Independent Film Awards
  13. 2009 Goya Awards at Alt Film Guide
  14. 2009 Winners—Film Categories at The Irish Film & Television Academy
  15. 2009 Nominations & Recipients at Young Artist Awards

See also

External links