The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

>> Saturday, December 13, 2008

I prefer to see movies without having read many reviews. It gives me the chance to form my opinion before I read or hear what other people may be thinking about it. But rarely do I get the chance to see a movie without knowing anything about it, like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

It's not very long, only about an hour and a half. I thought that the perspective on the Holocaust and WWII was rather interesting. I thought it's a better way to present its subject matter story-wise rather than constantly exposing an audience to a concentration camp. Because life is never so obvious the way it is in Schindler's List. There's a mix of characters in the story--Germans not entirely for the war, Germans who support the war, anti-Semites, oppressed Jews, a daughter who begins to idolize Hitler and a little boy who just wants to have fun.

I was actually quite moved by the film. I cried. Twice! So, I was a bit surprised to see that Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave it a D- and noted that it "is an appalling, jaw-dropping movie that will cause serious nightmares." Really? It's not surprising that EW readers gave the movie an A-. I think if you view the film as an after-school special for kids, yeah, you're not viewing it with an open mind, but I prefer how Roger Ebert summed it up:

Other than what "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is about, it almost seems to be an orderly story of those British who always know how to speak and behave. Those British? Yes, the actors speak with crisp British accents, which I think is actually more effective than having them speaking with German accents, or in subtitles. It dramatizes the way the German professional class internalized Hitler's rule and treated it as business as usual. Charts, graphs, titles, positions, uniforms, promotions, performance evaluations.

How can ordinary professional people proceed in this orderly routine when their business is evil? Easier than we think, I believe. I still obsess about those few Enron executives who knew the entire company was a Ponzi scheme. I can't forget the Oregon railroader who had his pension stolen. The laughter of Enron soldiers who joked about killing grandmothers with their phony California "energy crisis." Whenever loyalty to the enterprise becomes more important than simple morality, you will find evil functioning smoothly...

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" is not only about Germany during the war, although the story it tells is heartbreaking in more than one way. It is about a value system that survives like a virus.

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