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Tony Watkins

Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

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I can't believe there's no thread for this already! This incredible film releases today in the UK (USA in November).

Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is eight-year-old boy in wartime Berlin. His officer father Ralph (David Thewlis), a loving husband and father as well as a good soldier has just been promoted and a party is being held to celebrate. He has become an Obersturmbannf

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FWIW, and for the search engine's benefit, the American title appears to be The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Oh, and good to have you back, Tony!

Thanks Peter. Love the new avatar. My boys will be delighted when I show them.

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Yes, I've seen it in British books before.

I'm seeing a screening of this in October (which is why I didn't click on your spoiler text, Tony!). Glad to hear it's so good!

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FWIW, according to Wikipedia:

The word "pyjama" was incorporated into the English language from Hindustani (the progenitor language of modern-day Urdu and Hindi). The word originally derives from the Persian word پايجامه Payjama meaning "leg garment."

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Nice to have a thread that focuses on the central issue.

But this isn't it!

Here's a hint for people who've not seen the film yet: don't get too caught up on the word pyjamas/pajamas.

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You mean it's not about sleeping?

Well, it is in one sense. The Holocaust happened for many reasons, but part of the reason, surely, is that the nation effectively slept while Hitler fed them a powerfully presented pack of lies. It was easier for people to follow on with whatever they were told than to ask questions or really think about what was happening. If you wait until the end of this week or early next, we'll have published a Culturewatch.tv video on the film which includes a soundbite from Vera Farmiga talking about a line in John Boyne's novel which, for her was the key to understanding her character. The son, Bruno says of their move, 'I don't think this was a good idea.' His mother replies, 'We don't have the luxury of thinking.'

This, for me, is why this film is so important. We all - and especially younger people - need to learn how important it is not to sleep when evil begins to be tolerated by a society.

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Still processing this one having just got back. Enjoyed your insights Tony. A few things to say at this point. Firstly

what an ending. Totally expected them to get there in time but they didn't horrible

.

Secondly I love the way the filmmakers get you to side with the Germans early on. The film opens with an alluring red screen, but it gradually becomes apparent that this alluring red is part of the Nazi flagm and there's a moment of repulsion (for me at least). Then we get the fact that the accents are so quintessentially English. No German with subtitles, or English with an accent.

Also I was interested that the family maid looks like she too could be Jewish - in fact the young soldier looks a her in a suspicious way at one point. And the line about how that same soldier is unlucky to be sent away because it's his father rather than his mother that has their doubts.

Surprised to hear that it's a children's novel.

The closing scenes make this more of a 12 than a 12A in my book.

.

I was also struck by the themes of imprisonment in the new house. That odd staircase, Bruno's windows boarded up the fence surrounding the compound and so on. And some of the more eery moment are when Father makes impassioned pleas for certain things and there's a horrible and almost persuasive to what he says.

At the same time something doesn't quite ring right. All I can think of at the moment is how plausible it would be for a boy to be able to sit for so long unobserved by the fence, and whether someone from either side of the fence could

dig under it so easily.

.

Anyway.

Matt

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Secondly I love the way the filmmakers get you to side with the Germans early on. The film opens with an alluring red screen, but it gradually becomes apparent that this alluring red is part of the Nazi flagm and there's a moment of repulsion (for me at least). Then we get the fact that the accents are so quintessentially English. No German with subtitles, or English with an accent.

I thought this was very well done. Bruno and his friends pretending to be ME109s was wonderfully - though uncomfortably - normal, realising that at the same time there would have been British boys pretending to be Spitfires and Hurricanes. Straight English accents feel more authentic than English in German accents, somehow. I guess hearing the accent from actors I know are English introduces an extra layer of obvious pretence. I think I didn't appreciate at the time quite how gently we're introduced to Ralph ,because I knew the story, but we don't discover he's an officer until the party.

Also I was interested that the family maid looks like she too could be Jewish - in fact the young soldier looks a her in a suspicious way at one point.

Missed this.

And the line about how that same soldier is unlucky to be sent away because it's his father rather than his mother that has their doubts.

This is an ironic comment about Ralph's mother rather than Kotler's. The point really is that because Ralph is an Obersturmbannfuhrer, rather than a mere Obersturmfuhrer, he can get away with having a parent who is critical of the Reich. The loyalty of Ralph's father possibly comes into this too. Thewlis says that the back story that they developed for his father was that he was an arms dealer, perhaps helping to explain why Ralph has risen so far as an officer already.

I was also struck by the themes of imprisonment in the new house. That odd staircase, Bruno's windows boarded up the fence surrounding the compound and so on.

Definitely. It's a wondefully stark house (Bauhaus design? Well-chosen in terms of style and severity, but if it is Bauhaus, I would have thought it unlikely to be found in Poland where all the death camps were). And Bruno is imprisoned in the front garden. It's as if the front garden and the house itself define the boundaries of what is acceptable for people to think. Beyond it is reality.

At the same time something doesn't quite ring right. All I can think of at the moment is how plausible it would be for a boy to be able to sit for so long unobserved by the fence, and whether someone from either side of the fence could

dig under it so easily.

.

Yes. I had less problem with the first, given the pile of concrete in the corner. It is perhaps just conceivable that an 8-year-old slipping away might be tolerated by a guard who has children of his own. But the security was too light altogether. There would have been more guards supervising the work teams I would have thought. What about guards on the perimeter, watch towers, etc.? I also thought that the fence wouldn't be so close to the woods - there would surely have been a wide area outside. And yes,

Bruno was able to dig very fast - sandy soil I guess.

But I could live with these problems because of the story they made possible. John Boyne describes it as a 'fable'. Tragically, the biggest divergence from reality, according to Mark Herman, was that the children were almost always taken straight to the gas chambers when they arrived at death camps, though there are a couple of exceptions like two children at Treblinca who were kept to feed the ducks.

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Oh, man. I got out of the screening a few hours ago, and I think I'm still shaking. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything so brutal -- and without any overt violence or a drop of gore (well, hardly any). I felt exactly like I'd been hit. Man, oh, man.

Tony, for the love of heaven, don't even THINK of taking your 10-year-old to that! If I'd seen that film when I was ten, I'd have flung myself off the nearest ledge!!

Edited by Gina

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FWIW, I got an e-mail from the Canadian publicist today telling me, among other things: "The film contains several important Christian messages and tackles a difficult topic with great sensitivity." It's rare that a secular publicist comes looking for me specifically because I write for the Christian media -- usually, if a studio thinks a film might have Christian appeal, they hire a Christian PR firm like Grace Hill Media etc. to come after critics like me -- so of course, my interest was piqued. I am wondering if anyone here can comment on what these "important Christian messages" might be?

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FWIW, I got an e-mail from the Canadian publicist today telling me, among other things: "The film contains several important Christian messages and tackles a difficult topic with great sensitivity." It's rare that a secular publicist comes looking for me specifically because I write for the Christian media -- usually, if a studio thinks a film might have Christian appeal, they hire a Christian PR firm like Grace Hill Media etc. to come after critics like me -- so of course, my interest was piqued. I am wondering if anyone here can comment on what these "important Christian messages" might be?

That's why I was there -- my boss got the same sort of message from Grace Hill. (Fortunately, he went too and had to suffer with me!) I'm not sure about the specifically Christian messages, although I do know that the 10 plagues of Egypt and what happened to Pharaoh came to mind. The only person who mentioned Jesus was the nasty Nazi sister, although it was before she became a Nazi. But I did hear they're preparing a Bible study to go with it.

ETA: Giving it a little more thought, I can see how one might discern some Christian messages woven into it, such as the power of forgiveness and love, and the consequences of sin. One coworker of mine pointed out that

what Bruno does at the end reminded her of the way Jesus identified Himself with us out of love

.

Edited by Gina

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(Since this is an international discussion board, and the film has been playing in Europe for over a month already... and I hear it opened in Israel yesterday...)

Hate to say, I didn't find the film quite THAT brilliant or heartbreaking.

Well, with one exception. The scene with the potato-peeler got the tears welling up, for me. At a certain point, I knew exactly what his "secret" would be -- it was kind of inevitable, in a film like this, given how a certain scene was going. But oh, the way the actor played that scene. Oh, indeed.

I wish the rest of the film had been like that scene. But it wasn't. It's good, but not great.

My immediate reaction to the film, once it was over, was to see it as a kind of anti-Life Is Beautiful. Both films are "fables" about boys who think the Holocaust is just a game -- but there are huge, huge differences in terms of why the boys make this mistake, who is deceiving them and why, and where it all goes from there.

Thinking of the film as a "fable" in that sense makes it easier to appreciate, for me. It means I no longer have to ask if there really WOULDN'T have been any guards checking the perimeter of that camp. (If there had been, then surely the two boys could not have met so frequently, without interruption.) But it also means the film is a somewhat "lighter" experience than it arguably should be.

I know, I know, it sounds unfathomable that I should say that, given

the ending

. But honestly,

at a certain point, I realized that the story had to -- HAD TO -- end the way it did, because anything else would have felt like cheating, and anything else would have robbed the movie of its fable-like point. I daresay it even got to the point where I "wanted" the film to end the way that it did, just because it felt like the inevitable, required thing to do in a fable like this. But seeing the film in those terms deprived the ending, somewhat, of the emotional force that it really should have had

. And yes, I went through that whole thought process

while the extended montage went on, with the Jews being herded over here and the family running over there. That sequence did last quite a while -- to build suspense, I assume, but it also gave me time to THINK about the sequence and where it was headed. It gave me time to "get used to" the outcome, before it had actually happened

.

BTW, are we supposed to think that the propaganda film was shot in THIS camp? Or do the camps simply resemble each other? I ask because, last I checked, the Nazis did set up "model camps" precisely so that they could be used in propaganda films, but they never shot the films in the camps where the actual killing was happening.

MattPage wrote:

: Secondly I love the way the filmmakers get you to side with the Germans early on. . . . Then we get the fact that the accents are so quintessentially English. No German with subtitles, or English with an accent.

Interesting. Yeah, that does create sympathy, doesn't it? Especially now that David Thewlis is known for playing supportive characters in films like Harry Potter and Kingdom of Heaven. He's not the go-to bad guy that he was in the '90s any more. (Gary Oldman has gone through a similar shift in persona.)

: At the same time something doesn't quite ring right. All I can think of at the moment is how plausible it would be for a boy to be able to sit for so long unobserved by the fence, and whether someone from either side of the fence could

dig under it so easily.

.

Yeah, exactly.

Tony Watkins wrote:

: John Boyne describes it as a 'fable'.

Ah, he beat me to it.

: Tragically, the biggest divergence from reality, according to Mark Herman, was that the children were almost always taken straight to the gas chambers when they arrived at death camps, though there are a couple of exceptions like two children at Treblinca who were kept to feed the ducks.

Huh. What was the age limit on this? I seem to recall Anne Frank spent some time in the camps before dying -- she wasn't killed straight away (and she might not have been "killed", even; if memory serves, she may have died of sickness, rather than outright execution). But she was in her early teens then, I think. Maybe preteens. (Haven't checked yet.)

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MattPage wrote:

: Secondly I love the way the filmmakers get you to side with the Germans early on. . . . Then we get the fact that the accents are so quintessentially English. No German with subtitles, or English with an accent.

Interesting. Yeah, that does create sympathy, doesn't it?

Interesting that this device "works" on your side of the Atlantic too, although it's probably most effective to an English audience.

Matt

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MattPage wrote:

: Interesting that this device "works" on your side of the Atlantic too, although it's probably most effective to an English audience.

Well, keep in mind, I'm Canadian, and we Canucks have kept in better touch with our British roots than our neighbours to the south. :)

I wonder how this device will play in Valkyrie, where all the Nazi officers who conspire to assassinate Hitler seem to be played by Brits (Kenneth Branagh, Bill Nighy, etc.) -- except for Tom Cruise. Will the movie "define" the character in a way that might explain why THIS Nazi speaks with a different accent than all the other ones? Or will this just be one of those things that the movie trusts us to ignore? (And what if Hitler himself becomes a character in the film, as the trailer hints he might? How would HIS accent be handled?)

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At the risk of seeming like a heartless cur (moi?) ... the trailer for this movie makes it look like a real stinkeroo -- BECAUSE OF WINN DACHAU. I will acknowledge being the ultra-cynical type who runs fleeing from movies that inspire praise that uses the phrase "triumph of the human spirit." Test: I hate TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in all its permutations. Should I even bother?

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vjmorton wrote:

: At the risk of seeming like a heartless cur (moi?) ... the trailer for this movie makes it look like a real stinkeroo -- BECAUSE OF WINN DACHAU.

Ha!

FWIW, I gather that, in the book, the camp in question is Auschwitz, but I don't believe the movie ever specifies that.

: I will acknowledge being the ultra-cynical type who runs fleeing from movies that inspire praise that uses the phrase "triumph of the human spirit."

Has anyone actually been saying that? I didn't get that vibe off of this film at ALL.

: Test: I hate TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in all its permutations. Should I even bother?

Never seen TKaM (though I read the book in high school), so I couldn't say.

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vjmorton wrote:

: I will acknowledge being the ultra-cynical type who runs fleeing from movies that inspire praise that uses the phrase "triumph of the human spirit."

Has anyone actually been saying that? I didn't get that vibe off of this film at ALL.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5FU-yDC-uI

Going by the trailer music, by the tags "the lines the divide us" (cue Nazi salute) and "the hope that unites us" (cue hand shake thru barbed wire). Those lines also are on <a href="http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2044105728/tt0914798">the movie's one-sheet.</a> The specific phrase "triumph of the human spirit" re this film comes from the people at Truly Moving Films, in a bit that that Jeffrey Overstreet linked to (not the note that he himself reprinted).

There's also the "demystification of the father" (is there anything more cliche in this day and age) and the "SOLDIERS FIGHT WARS!!!!" yelling debates. And it's directed by Mark Herman, whose BRASSED OFF I detested as the work of a hack pamphleteer, a poor-man's Ken Loach.

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