Saturday, May 30, 2009

Evil and Innocence

I watched "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" last night.  It's staying with me.

The film, based on John Boyne's novel (which I now wish I had read before seeing the movie), presents an unusual approach to the Holocaust in two ways.

First, we see domestic details of a Nazi officer in his home setting.  Film and literature do not generally present Nazis as contented family men.  The juxtaposing of the newly-promoted commandant of a death camp as a happily married father somehow makes the deep-seated evil being perpetrated even more chilling.  The viewer watches "such a lovely family" revealed as an instrument of Hitler's Final Solution.

Secondly, the film reflects the Holocaust as seen through the prism of 8-year-old innocence.  Young Bruno, marvelously portrayed by Asa Butterfield, does not understand the spectacle of "farmers wearing pajamas" all day.  His questions go unanswered, and his fascination with the "farm" behind the barbed wire leads to his secret friendship with a fellow 8-year-old, a Jewish boy prisoner.

The movie starts slowly, but builds ominous layers that unfold with foreboding to the soul-rocking final scenes.  The performances are excellent, if you're willing to overlook a Nazi family with British accents (I was).  In addition to Asa Butterfield as Bruno, Vera Farmiga is especially wonderful, giving texture and depth to her portrayal of a wife and mother slowly coming to a horrified comprehension of the unspeakable atrocity that involves her family.

Every thinking person should see this film, especially in today's troubled world.  Perhaps if each of us could rediscover the pure simplicity and trust of our 8-year-old selves, we could at last rewrite some sections in the tired book of history that keeps repeating so many of its saddest, most shameful chapters.