The film is an emotional experience highlighting the tragedy of innocence, using the point of view of an eight-year-old German boy to expose the raw psychological devastation of the era. It’s an unnerving film with a knockout punch for an ending, but it feels more acceptable as an educational piece than a profoundly rewarding work of drama. This movie is based on a book that goes by the same name, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, written by John Boyne.
Director Mark Herman did very well and I loved the movie.
Herman did a great job in capturing the main character Bruno’s childish innocence, while reaping the brutalities and cruelty of World War II. It is indeed a light movie about a heavy subject. And although this war has been a cinematographic favorite for a long time, Boyne and Herman brought out a new and fresh perspective. The movie, as I see, projects Bruno’s (Asa Butterfield) social being can be exemplified to Lev Vygotsky’s Social Development Theory that asserts 3 major themes: Major themes: 1.
Social interaction plays a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development.
In contrast to Jean Piaget’s understanding of child development (in which development necessarily precedes learning), Vygotsky felt social learning precedes development. He states: “Every function in the child’s cultural development appears twice: first, on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people (interpsychological) and then inside the child (intrapsychological). ” (Vygotsky, 1978). 2. The More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). The MKO refers to anyone who has a better understanding or a higher ability level than the learner, with respect to a particular task, process, or concept.
The MKO is normally thought of as being a teacher, coach, or older adult, but the MKO could also be peers, a younger person, or even computers. 3. The Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The ZPD is the distance between a student’s ability to perform a task under adult guidance and/or with peer collaboration and the student’s ability solving the problem independently. According to Vygotsky, learning occurred in this zone. Vygotsky focused on the connections between people and the sociocultural context in which they act and interact in shared experiences (Crawford, 1996).
According to Vygotsky, humans use tools that develop from a culture, such as speech and writing, to mediate their social environments. Initially children develop these tools to serve solely as social functions, ways to communicate needs. Vygotsky believed that the internalization of these tools led to higher thinking skills. But since Bruno’s eyes opened into the world of darkness and awe, he failed to embrace the youthful living just like anybody else. He resorts to somehow way too different life among the other kids. Here, is a synopsis of the movie: Berlin, 1940s.
Eight year-old Bruno returns from playing with his school friends to find his home bustling with preparations: his father, a Nazi officer, has just been promoted and his mother is planning a party. Bruno sees no cause for celebration; his father’s new job is outside Berlin and the whole family will be moving to the countryside, forcing him to leave the home and friends he loves. His fears of loneliness are confirmed when the family arrives at their dreary, isolated new house. Bruno finds it difficult to settle into his new life and quickly grows bored.
There are no other children to play with and his mother forbids him from exploring behind the house. His older sister Gretel never bothers to talk to him anymore: she is too busy organizing her dolls, or talking to one of her father’s men, the handsome, menacing young Lieutenant Kotler. Bruno is intrigued by the existence of an odd sort of farm he can see from his bedroom window, where all the residents seem to be wearing striped pyjamas. When he tries to find out more about the ‘farm‚’ he is told not to concern himself with it and certainly not to go near it.
We know what Bruno does not, that the ‘farm’ is an extermination camp. His mother is also in ignorance – she believes that they are living next to an internment or labour camp; her husband has sworn under oath never to reveal its real purpose as a killing factory designed to implement the ‘Final Solution’, the systematic eradication of the Jewish people. Bruno befriends a kitchen worker called Pavel, a sorrowful, shuffling man who wears striped pyjamas under his apron. When Bruno falls from a garden swing and cuts his knee while his mother is out, it is Pavel ho takes care of him and dresses the wound. Pavel tells Bruno that he once practiced as a doctor and manages a smile when the boy replies that he couldn’t have been very good at it if he needed to practice. After weeks of hanging around the house, Bruno finally defies his mother and sneaks out through the back garden in search of adventure. Wandering through the woods, he arrives at a barbed wire fence. On the opposite side, a small boy in striped pyjamas is emptying rubble from a wheelbarrow.
Thrilled that he has finally found someone his own age to play with, Bruno starts making daily visits to his new friend Shmuel, all the while keeping their meeting secret from his parents and sister. Over the coming weeks, Bruno becomes increasingly troubled by what he sees and hears at home and what he learns from his secret life at the fence with Shmuel. While his tutor tells him all Jews are evil, his bond with Shmuel becomes stronger. He witnesses the brutal beating of Pavel the kitchen helper at the hands of the volatile Lt Kotler.
Moreover, his mother has started to unravel after a repulsive joke made by the young lieutenant reveals the true source of the foul smoke from the camp’s chimneys. Bruno is also unnerved by the changes in his sister who, indoctrinated by their tutor’s lessons and her crush on Lt Kotler, has taken to papering the walls of her room with Nazi propaganda. The deteriorating atmosphere of his family home coupled with the stories Shmuel tells him make Bruno question whether something sinister is happening on the other side of the fence and whether his father really is the good man he always thought him to be.
Bruno is surprised to find Shmuel cleaning glassware at his house and gives him a cake but they are caught together by Lt Kotler who accuses Shmuel of stealing food. Instead of defending his little friend against the bullying soldier, Bruno tells Lt Kotler that he has never seen Shmuel before. Later, sickened with remorse, Bruno makes repeated trips to the fence to apologize to his friend but the boy in the striped pyjamas does not appear. When Shmuel returns at last, his face bears a nasty wound from Lt Kotler’s fist and Bruno’s shame is profound.
Shmuel forgives him, however, and their friendship resumes. Meanwhile, the relationship between Bruno’s mother and father has become so strained that his father decides to send his family away to an aunt in Heidelberg. The move, something Bruno desperately wanted when he first arrived, comes as a huge blow when he realizes he will be separated from his new best friend. On one of their final meetings, Bruno learns that Shmuel’s father has been missing for three days. Bruno promises to help his friend to look for his father – he sees it as an opportunity to atone for his earlier, shameful betrayal.
On the day of the move to Heidelberg, Bruno sneaks out to meet Shmuel, armed with a shovel and ready to embark on a last adventure. But once having crossed over, Bruno is swiftly caught up in a monstrous clockwork, sealing his fate along with that of his friend and countless fellow innocents on the other side of the fence. The way The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas ends will leave you cold. This subtle film is embedded with undertones, but because we see the journey through Bruno’s eyes, we allow ourselves to float along the surface with him in his bubble.
The juxtaposition only serves to enhance the huge punch in the stomach at the end. You are not expecting to see this inhumanity. The human story really brings the brutality of the history alive. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas does not preach; it does not elongate horrific scenes. In fact, because the film tries to cover up the truth, it makes the audience want to peek behind the curtains; to see what his father is covering up. Even right up to the last scene you cannot believe the enormity of evil will indeed go ahead. But the reality –and that is the reality of what happened- will chill you to bone.
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