A lesson in humanity

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Written by John Boyne & Mark Herman

Directed by Mark Herman

With Asa Butterfield, Vera Farmiga, David Thewlis & Jack Scanlon

In cinemas

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the film adaptation of the novel written by Irish author John Boyle. It depicts the friendship that develops during World War II between eight-year-old German boy Bruno (Butterfield) and Jewish concentration camp inmate Smuel (Scanlon), who is the same age, and the tragic consequences that result from this friendship.

Bruno's father Ralph (Thewlis) is an official in the Nazi regime. In one of the opening scenes of the film we see Bruno playing with friends in the streets of Berlin. In the background we witness a group of Jewish people being rounded up by soldiers to be taken to a concentration camp.

Ralph is given a promotion and soon the whole family moves out to Nazi-occupied Poland where he is to administer a concentration camp. Young Bruno soon notices what he thinks is a farmhouse, with barbed wire and farmers wearing striped pyjamas, unaware of its real purpose. He is forbidden by his mother Elsa (Famiga) to go to the camp, but disobeys her and it is here that he meets Smuel.

As their friendship develops, Bruno realises that Smuel is a Jew. At the same time he and his sister Gretel are given lessons by a tutor, Herr Liszt, who tells the kids Nazi propaganda about "the Fatherland" and "the true nature of the Jew".

Gretel enthusiastically accepts the Nazi line, up to the point of putting Hitler posters and Nazi swastikas on her bedroom wall. Bruno questions this, especially seeing as the Jews he meets, including Smuel and fellow camp inmate Pavol, are all very friendly.

It could be argued that Bruno represents humanity as he treats others kindly and shares what he has with others while Gretel becomes hateful towards Jews.

One night Bruno sees his father watching a Nazi propaganda film with his officers, designed to deceive the Red Cross about the reality of the concentration camps. Bruno, however, believes the propaganda.

At the same time Elsa's conscience is affected by what her husband is doing. Bruno, unaware of the true purposes of the camp, agrees to return to help Smuel find his father, a decision that has devastating consequences for Bruno and his family.

When seeing this film, it is difficult not to think how in times of economic crisis the capitalist system always seeks to divert popular anger onto scapegoats such as the Nazis scapegoating Jews in the Early 1930s. This ultimately led to the horrors of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

Today, we are faced with the greatest crisis of capitalism since the Great Depression. If we don't struggle to replace it with a society based on human need, capitalism will make us pay and will threaten to perpetuate similar horrors such as war, genocide and environmental destruction. It is for this reason that Boy in the striped Pyjamas contains an important lesson for humanity.