Monday, November 24, 2008

The Boy In The Striped Pajamas

As mentioned previously, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was sold out Saturday evening when The Boy suddenly up and decided he wanted to go see something. But we returned for the last show, never to be daunted by the fair-weather moviegoers who sometimes inhabit our cinema.

The story takes place in Germany in WWII and concerns an eight-year-old boy whose Nazi father (literally, not the more common metaphorical "Nazi" you read about these days) gets transferred to a concentration camp. Isolated from his friends, the boy Bruno--looking for all the world to me like a mini-Bud Court circa Harold and Maude days--looks for friends in the area and happens to come across an eight-year-old Jew behind the fence of the camp his father runs.

WWII afficianados assure me this is impossible. But, hey. I'm amused by the fact that "Hogan's Heroes" has made it impossible for anyone in a movie about Nazis to have a German accent. We all just think of that lovable Sgt. Shultz!

What we have here is a fable, an antethesis to Benigni's La Vita E Bella. Only instead of a father trying to keep his Jewish son unaware of the horror they live in, it's a father trying to keep his German son (and whole family) unaware of the horror they're committing.

Heavyhanded? Oh, yeah, without any of the lightness of Benigni. But what the hell else can you do? The mother is the first to figure out what's going on, and the knowledge breaks her. The sister, having a crush on her father's driver, endeavors to be a good Nazi, but even she's taken aback when she pieces it together.

We don't actually know if Bruno ever figures it out.

It's not bad. There's a scene in the beginning where Bruno is playing soldier with his friends that's more than a little trite. And there's a scene in the middle where the sister has gotten rid of her dolls, and the pile looks like a bunch of dead bodies. Other than that, the director spares us most of the really weighty symbolism.

It is in danger of being regarded as important, mind you, like Crash or Babel or any of the other Oscar-baiting crap one sees. But I think Benigni had the harder task.

Ultimately, if there's a flaw in the story--beyond the whether-you-can-suspend-disbelief-this-much, which is your problem, not the movie's--it's sort of that it's a morality tale, a stern warning, a scolding--ultimately directed at long dead people.

I mean, seriously, the odds of me running a genocidal camp while my children are still young enough to be negatively impacted are pretty small. I'm not even in the genocide field so, you know, I'd have to start as camp janitor or cafeteria worker or whatever. It's just too late in life for me to change careers.

Sorry, is that in poor taste? (If you have to ask....)

It's just that the writers are in a corner. There's very little actual death in the movie, but we can't whitewash the Holocaust. Therefore more difficult and challenging endings that respect the complexity of the situation are forsaken for a tidy, less-than-happy ending that really drives home how bad the Holocaut was.

You know, in case you hadn't heard. Or maybe needed driven home to you. (Last year's The Counterfeiters does a pretty good job.)

I guess my point is, I hate Nazis as much as the next guy, but this movie feels like it's lecturing Nazis, and I just didn't think there were many in that theater. Even when it was sold out.


  1. Man if you are going to introduce the Boy to movies about Nazi's you should start out with the big three.

    The Sound of Music.
    The Great Escape.
    Stalag 17.

    Then go from there.

  2. Troop,

    It's hardly an introduction. Half the movies we see seem to be about Nazis.

    The Great Escape is on TCM, tho'; I'm trying to get that going. (Three hours!)

    I think he's seen Stalag 17.

    And I haven't seen The Sound of Music believe it or not. I have some...issues...with it.

  3. What you are afraid you family will want to start a singing group?

    It's a lot of good clean all american fun. Or Austrian fun. Or German fun. Or Achluss fun. Whatever it is fun.

  4. At the end of every wedding my wifes cousins act out the goodbye song. The first time was charming. The second time was cute. The third time was ok. We are up to the twenty second time. Nails on a chalkboard.

  5. The only thing worse is when all of the guys and girls get on oppisite sides of the dance floor and sing and act out Meatloaf's "Paradise by the Dashboard Light."

    It's enough to make you want to hang yourself.

  6. Hey the Great Escape is a great movie. I mean you got Steve McQueen and James Garner and James Coburn and Charles Bronson as the miner who is claustrophobic. And a bunch of Brits like Richard Attenborough and didn't they have the butler guy from upstairs downstairs. That's real entertainment. The time will fly by. And the Boy gets to see what cool really is when he sees Steve McQueen.

  7. The music was cliché by the time I was in a position to see it.

    I can sing the songs; some of my earliest memories are of singing those songs.

    I won't say I hate the songs, but they sure got worn out.

  8. What there are songs in the Great Escape?

  9. Hey you know what is a great WW2 movie for you to get to watch with the Boy. The Devils Brigade with William Holden and Cliff Robertson and Vince "Ben Casey" Edwards and Claude Atkins. And Richard Dawson of Family Feud in I think his only legit acting role. It is great.


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