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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mark Herman
Produced by David Heyman
Written by Screenplay:
Mark Herman
John Boyne
Starring Asa Butterfield
Vera Farmiga
David Thewlis
Jack Scanlon
David Hayman
Rupert Friend
Music by James Horner
Cinematography Benoît Delhomme
Editing by Michael Ellis
Studio BBC Films
Heyday Films
Distributed by Miramax Films
Release date(s) United Kingdom:
September 12, 2008 (2008-09-12)
October 30, 2008
United States:
November 7, 2008
Running time 94 minutes
Country United Kingdom
United States
Language English
Budget $12.5 million
Gross revenue $40,034,748

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the United States) is a 2008 British film based on the novel of the same name by Irish writer John Boyne.[1] Directed by Mark Herman and produced by David Heyman, it stars Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, and Vera Farmiga.

A Holocaust drama, the film explores the horror of a World War II extermination camp through the eyes of two eight-year-old boys, one the son of the camp's Nazi commandant, the other a Jewish inmate.



Prisoner's clothing from Sachsenhausen concentration camp

SS officer Ralf (David Thewlis) and his wife Elsa (Vera Farmiga) move from Berlin to the countryside with their children, twelve-year-old Gretel (Amber Beattie) and eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), after Ralf is promoted to commandant of a Nazi concentration camp, of which he refers to as "Out-With", although later in the movie his sister keeps protesting that his pronounciation is incorrect, which brings us to the conclusion that is probably Auschwitz.

Confined to the grounds of the family's new home, without friends, Bruno craves companionship and adventure. He eventually escapes through the window of an outhouse, treks through the woods, and emerges at an isolated, unguarded corner of the concentration camp, which he initially believes to be a farm. There, he befriends Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy of the same age. Bruno returns frequently thereafter, bringing Shmuel food and playing games with him through the barbed wire fence. Shmuel gradually disabuses Bruno of the idea that the people in the camp are farmers; he tells Bruno that he and his family have been imprisoned, and forced to wear the "striped pajamas," because they are Jews.

Bruno and Gretel's tutor, Herr Liszt (Jim Norton) feeds the children a diet of antisemitic bigotry and nationalist propaganda under the guise of teaching them history. In response, Gretel becomes increasingly fanatical in her support for the Third Reich. She covers her bedroom wall with Nazi propaganda posters, and flirts with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler (Rupert Friend), a mean and nasty Nazi unlike Ralf, as her budding sexuality becomes fixated on the ideal of the German soldier. In contrast, Bruno is skeptical of Liszt's teachings. The Jews Bruno knows, Shmuel and the family's kindly servant Pavel (David Hayman), do not resemble the tutor's antisemitic stereotypes. He also witnesses savage, senseless acts of Nazi brutality that conflict with the propaganda ideal of military heroism. One night, when Pavel accidentally overturns Kotler's wine glass at the table, the furious officer drags Pavel out of the room. Through the ajar door to the kitchen, we see Kotler's jackboot delivering vicious kicks, and are led to presume that the elderly man dies from the brutal beating.

After Pavel's death, Shmuel is sent to the commandant's home in the role of a houseboy. When Bruno comes across the hungry boy cleaning glasses in the house, he gives him some cake. When Kotler sees crumbs on Shmuel's lips, and accuses him of stealing, Shmuel tells the officer the truth: Bruno is his friend, and Bruno gave him the cake. Terrified, Bruno betrays Shmuel, saying that he has never seen the boy before and that Shmuel stole the cake. Some days later, a remorseful Bruno finds Shmuel at the fence, with his eye badly beaten. Shmuel forgives Bruno, and the boys shake hands through the fence.

From a comment of Kotler's about the stench from the crematoriums, Elsa learns that Ralf presides over an extermination camp, not a labor camp as she has been led to believe. Thereafter, the couple argue repeatedly about Ralf's role at the camp and the children's proximity to it. Eventually, they decide that Elsa will take the children to their Aunt Lotte's in Heidelberg. But the day before Bruno is due to leave, Shmuel reveals that his father has gone missing in the camp. Seeing an ideal opportunity for a final adventure, Bruno digs a hole beneath the barbed wire the following morning, changes into prison clothing that Shmuel has stolen for him, and enters the camp to help Shmuel find his father. Inside, Bruno is horrified by the dehumanization, starvation, and sickness; the camp is the very antithesis of the Theresienstadt-esque propaganda film that had shaped his prior impressions.

As the boys search fruitlessly for Shmuel's father, they become intertwined with a group of prisoners who are being herded toward the gas chambers. Inside, everyone is instructed to undress for a "shower." A soldier wearing a gas mask pours Zyklon B granules into the chamber. Bruno and Shmuel grasp each other's hands tightly as the lights go out.

Back at the house, Elsa discovers that Bruno is missing, and raises the alarm. Using tracking dogs, Ralf and other soldiers follow the boy's trail through the woods. When they discover his discarded clothing at the camp's perimeter, and see the hole dug beneath the fence, Ralf races inside, searching desperately for his son. Seeing the gas chamber doors locked, Ralf realizes what has happened and cries out in anguish; hearing him, Elsa and Gretel fall to their knees sobbing over Bruno's clothes. The family is left to face the tragic irony that Bruno has become a victim of the Nazi death camp run by his own father.


The film was shot in Budapest, Hungary.

Regarding shooting the final scene, "that was just a nightmare on so many levels," says Herman. "You've probably got more lawyers there than filmmakers. You had all the legalities of kids in amongst grown-up naked people."[2]


The original score for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was composed by James Horner. It has been released exclusively at iTunes and as a download only. The track listing is as follows:

  1. "Boys Playing Airplanes" – 4:13
  2. "Exploring the Forest" – 2:36
  3. "The Train Ride to a New Home" – 3:34
  4. "The Winds Gently Blow Through the Garden" – 5:57
  5. "An Odd Discovery Beyond the Trees" – 2:51
  6. "Dolls Aren't for Big Girls, Propaganda is..." – 3:43
  7. "Black Smoke" – 1:43
  8. "Evening Supper – A Family Slowly Crumbles" – 7:53
  9. "The Funeral" – 1:54
  10. "The Boys' Plans, From Night to Day" – 2:36
  11. "Strange New Clothes" – 9:53
  12. "Remembrance, Remembrance" – 5:31


The film has a 64% with a 6.2/10 average rating on Rotten Tomatoes with a 62% among "Top Critics." It has broadly welcomed by the popular press in both the USA and Europe. For example, James Christopher in The Times referred to it as "a hugely affecting film. Important, too".[3] However, it also had many detractors, including Manohla Dargis of The New York Times who summed it up as "the Holocaust trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked for a tragedy about a Nazi family".[4]

Elsewhere, even the very premise of the book and subsequent film—that there would be a child of Shmuel's age in the camp—is, according to critics, an unacceptable fabrication that does not reflect the reality of life in the camps. Reviewing the original book, Rabbi Benjamin Blech writes: "Note to the reader: There were no eight-year-old Jewish boys in Auschwitz - the Nazis immediately gassed those not old enough to work."[5] John Boyne is actually closer to the truth on this point. According to statistics from the Labour Assignment Office, Auschwitz-Birkenau contained 619 living male children from one month to fourteen years old on August 30, 1944. On January 14, 1945, 773 male children were registered as living at the camp. "The oldest children were fifteen, and fifty-two were less than eight 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."[6] Such alleged falsification of history has important consequences, say critics, for the way that the victims of the Holocaust might be remembered and commemorated, and the Holocaust itself historicised, thus reviving arguments that were previously aired about Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List and the manner in which that film too was seen to sanitise and falsify aspects of life in the concentration camp.[7]

Craig Detweiler published a study guide to the film, which asks viewers to answer some of the same hard ethical questions raised by rabbinical critic Benjamin Blech.[8]


  1. ^ Vilkomerson, Sara (March 31, 2009). "On Demand This Week: Lost Boys". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved April 5, 2009. 
  2. ^ Applebaum, Stephen (September 11, 2008). "Disney's 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' - The stuff of nightmares". The Scotsman. Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  3. ^ Christopher, James (September 11, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Review". The Times. Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  4. ^ Dargis, Manohla (November 7, 2008). "Horror Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  5. ^ Blech, Benjamin (October 23, 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 
  6. ^ People in Auschwitz, by Hermann Langbein, translated by Harry Zohn, Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c.2004. ISBN 0807828165; A lucky child : a memoir of surviving Auschwitz as a young boy, by Thomas Buergenthal, London : Profile, 2009. ISBN 1846681782.
  7. ^ Spielberg's Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on Schindler's List, edited by Y. Loshitzky, Indiana University Press, 1997
  8. ^ Detweiler, Craig. "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – A Study Guide". Archived from the original on August 30, 2009. Retrieved August 30, 2009. 

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