West Chester University’s Contemporary Issues Program allowed students the chance to view and join in an open discussion of the film “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” at Philips Memorial Hall on Wednesday night, Jan. 28.”The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” is based on John Boyne’s award winning novel. The film is set in Berlin, Germany in the 1940s. Bruno is the 8-year-old son of a Nazi officer who has just been promoted and told to move outside of Berlin to the countryside. Bruno’s mother forbids him from exploring behind the house and his older sister, Gretel is too infatuated with Lieutenant Kotler to play with Bruno. While his mother is under the impression that the camp behind their house is an internment and labor camp, Bruno’s father has been sworn never to reveal that it is an extermination camp to implement Hitler’s “Final Solution.’
Bruno befriends Pavel, a Jewish kitchen worker who explains to Bruno that he used to be a doctor before he was sent to the camp. Bruno defies his mother and slips behind the house. At the fence of the camp, he meets a boy his age, Shmuel, and starts making daily trips to see his new friend.
Despite Bruno and Gretel’s tutor teaching them that Jewish people are evil, his friendship with Shmuel grows stronger. Gretel decides to cover her room with Nazi propaganda after young Kotler gives her Nazi newspapers. Kotler abuses Pavel and later reveals to Bruno’s mother the truth about the foul smelling smoke that is coming from the camp behind their home.
One day, Shmuel is sent to clean the glassware in Bruno’s house. Bruno gives Shmuel a cake to eat, and Kotler catches the two boys together and accuses Shmuel of stealing. Instead of defending his new friend, Bruno tells Kotler he has never seen him before. After Bruno is sick with guilt, he returns to the camp to apologize to Shmuel. When Shmuel finally appears at the fence, his face has been injured at the hands of Kotler.
As the relationship between Bruno’s parents becomes more distant, his father decides to send the family to Heidelberg. The news of the move comes as a shock to Bruno, who must now leave his friend Shmuel.
The day of the move, Bruno sneaks back to the camp one last time to help Shmuel. Shmuel’s father has been missing for three days and Bruno has offered to help find him, to atone for his earlier betrayal of their friendship. Once Bruno crosses into the camp, he is instantly caught up in the whirlwind and his fate is sealed, along with the others in the extermination camp.
Despite the harsh weather conditions, many students came to view the film. However, few students made a return to join in the discussion. Following the movie, many students felt the emotional impact of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”
West Chester freshman Melissa Kenney said with tears in her eyes, “The innocence of the little boy… he had no idea.”
Many students left Philips Memorial Hall in agreement, that the movie should have won a number of American movie awards.
However, panelists at the discussion did not feel the same way. Dr. William Hewitt of the West Chester Department of History mentioned the historical inaccuracy of the layout of the camp and improbability of the relationship between the two boys.
He also suggests that Bruno’s mispronunciation of certain important German words could have been a way for the author to develop empathy for the character or show developmental characteristics. Reinforcing the idea of empathy towards the characters, panelists mention many other aspects of the film that could create a false sense of the same emotion within the viewers. Low camera angles give the audience a childlike and naive view, along with giving characters British accents in order to have more relatable and identifiable relationships, were brought up by panel members.
“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” is based on the award winning novel written by John Boyne. Published in Ireland in 2006, the novel has won two Irish book awards for Children’s Book of the Year and People’s Choice Book of the Year, along with being number one for sixty-six weeks on the Irish Best seller charts. Boyne is currently still living in his birthplace of Dublin, Ireland and is working on his seventh novel.
Joli McCarthy is a third-year student majoring in English and minoring in Journalism. She can be reached at JM625940@wcupa.edu.