World War 2, particularly the Nazi crusade against Judaism and the concentration camps, provides boundless material for great films and literature. Witness Schindler's List, Life is Beautiful, The Hiding Place, Treblinka, and many more. Add this to that list. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas does not have the scope of Schindler's List, but much like Life is Beautiful, looks at the Holocaust through the eyes of a child, and shows how man's involvement in the concentration camps profoundly impacts his family.
Bruno (Asa Butterfield) moves to the countryside with his family when his father (David Thewlis) gets a new post at Auschwitz. Of course Bruno, a little boy, has little concept of the war going on about him, except that his dad is a soldier, and, by default, a hero. Bruno gets a glimpse of the "farm" near their new home, but he wonders why there are no animals, why there are guards, and why the workers spend the day in their striped pajamas. When he sneaks away from the house to explore, he comes upon the fence line, and strikes up a friendship with Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy inside the concentration camp. They immediately connect, being the same age, but immediately see the differences between their worlds when exchanging names: Shmuel: "I've never heard of anyone called Bruno." Bruno: "Shmuel? No one's called Shmuel."
As the days go by at the new home, Bruno and Shmuel become close friends, but Bruno still remains clueless about the camp and its role in the war. Bruno's mother (Vera Farmiga), however, does realize it and is appalled by her husband's acceptance of and participation in its function. She becomes more and more disturbed by it at every turn. No lover of Jews, she still is uncomfortable with the camps, and can't bear the thought of burning them in ovens
Bruno's innocence and openness to anyone contrasts with the ugliness of the camp next door. His tutor, who intends to keep Bruno and his sister up on all the latest propaganda being taught in the German schools, goes on about how "The Jew" has caused countless ills in the world. Bruno asks "I don't understand. One man caused all this trouble?" He asks if there is such a thing as a nice Jew. His tutor replies, "I think, Bruno, if you ever found a nice Jew, you would be the best explorer in the world." Not only does he find Shmuel, he also finds the nice Jew who works around the house. When Bruno falls off his swing and cuts his leg, the worker cleans it up and bandages it for him. Bruno learns that he used to be a doctor, and can't understand why he would give up being a doctor to come peel potatoes at Bruno's house.
I can't recommend this movie highly enough. Four stars.