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Mark Herman’s “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’, is a wonderfully crafted film with an emotionally riveting & wrenching end,  captures the innocence of childhood and secret friendship between two boys juxtaposed with a grim landscape of adults that is filled with hatred, racial abuse and horrifyingly senseless human destruction, the darkest chapter of human tragedies. The film is based on the best selling novel by John Boyne.

 

This film is about Bruno, an eight-year old German boy {precocious, curious and explorer by tendency} who befriends Shmuel, an eight-year old Jewish boy {gloomy, weighed down in spirit} in a nearby concentration camp, blissfully unaware of the atrocities, the ordeals that people are going through, and the enormity of the human destruction behind the fence. theboyinthestripedpajamas-21Set in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the film journeys through a sunny, cheerful, warm and comforting childhood of Bruno {whose father is a high ranking Nazi officer promoted from a Berlin based position to be the head of a concentration camp that is used to house and eventually dispose of Jews} to reach the country side breathing out grim and bleak terminating songs of human lives. The film’s intention to engage with the complexity of the holocaust in a manner that could influence children as profoundly as adults begins from this point. Bruno who is not that enthused about this sudden move (away from his friends in Berlin to an isolated cold & distant looking mansion in the country side) notices a farm surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence with farmers and children dressed in striped pajamas milling about, a delightful discovery for the kid who wants a playmate. But he fails to understand the sudden frosty tension between his parents when he articulates his desire to play with the kids in the farm, and why he is  forbidden to visit the farm where  ‘strangers – not like them’ people live. Thus captured how naïve Bruno is and how far away is the endearing world of children from the meaninglessly destructive existence of adults. Despite constantly being under the watchful eyes of his mom and the housekeeper, and many other restrictions, he keeps himself engaged with exploring the woods in the backyard. On one of his daily adventures he reaches an unguarded barbed wire fence where he meets Shmuel, an amiable & starving young Jewish boy, and thus begins a secret & very unlikely friendship speckled with Bruno bringing him food, playing Checkers with him from the other side. A rendezvous where the sunny and cheerful side of childhood {albeit with a narrow worldview} bruno-2boyinthestripedpajamas-1collides with a grim childhood burdened with an incomprehensible sadness, insecurity coupled with confusion over  mysterious disappearance of elders in the family {hardened childhood}.theboyinthestripedpajamas-3 At home,  Bruno’s mother {who has no clear idea about what her husband actually does in the countryside, until she sees the smoke coming from the stacks and is made aware of the atrocity behind the smoke and the smell that accompanies it* a young soldier callously remarks on the stench of burning bodies*, one amongst a few difficult scenes in the film} presents a distinct German point of view on the Nazi’s mission to destroy a  human race.

 

The film tracks gradual changes in Bruno’s perception about the world around … at first hopelessly naïve …a sense of wonderment and admiration for his father being a great man who is defending the country in the war… the concentration camp is a farm.. Jews are strange people wearing striped pajamas, …{to} the numbers on those pajamas are part of a game, …{to} his inability to understand why that elderly Jewish helper in the kitchen/house gave up being a doctor to become a domestic servant who peels potatoes in the kitchen, why should one hate Jews {through careful indoctrination}, why is it so difficult to find a good Jew, why can not he be friends with Shmuel, the conflict between the lessons he receives and the reality he faces : Jews are supposed to be bad & yet Shmuel is nice, why can not Shmuel play freely like him…{to} a painful realisation of the fact that his father did not make any effort to save the elderly Jewish man from a humiliating punishment… {to} a pang of guilt for not being able to declare Shmuel as his friend on a specific occasion…{to} a quick reflection about the real/actual concentration camp that looks so painfully grimly & different from the ‘Concentration camp with positive working conditions, a cafeteria, and various kinds of entertainment avenues for the comfort of Jews’ that’s being propagated by the Nazis. As the film progresses, we see both Bruno and Shmuel losing their innocence and growing up too fast & too quickly {much to their discomfort} to come closer to the reality of their circumstances. One of the boys is free and the other is trapped in the concentration camp. The most compelling and brutal yet real ending of this film starts creeping on us when Bruno slips into a striped uniform (shirt, pajamas and a cap), enters the concentration camp to help Shmuel in his search for his papa who mysteriously disappeared, and in the process of which he loses his German identity & becomes part of the human march towards some deadly and abrupt a termination that usually involves thousands of Jews being herded like animals into a gas chamber, where naked men and children huddle …..

I came across quite a few intellectual and adultish debates on this film, how can an eight-year old boy be so naive and ignorant of those disturbing developments around him etc etc. TIME’s review says the looming presence of starkly factual Anne Frank’s Diary, Primo Levi’s recollections of the death camps, Schindler’s List in our minds renders this film ludicrous. A quick snap at this set of folks – ”KGOY – Kids Growing Older Younger’ is a phenomenon in the recent times.

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