The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Boy in the Striped Pajamas</strong> (2008)

(On DVD, September 2018) There’s something strange about pathos to be found in extreme tragedy—when it’s overdone, it can flip in unintentional comedy even for people who aren’t normally sociopathic monsters. Or at least I’d like to believe so after short-circuiting on the incredibly tragic ending of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and finding it ridiculously overwrought nonsense. I was partially aware of at least a part of the film’s downer ending, but not the entire thing—when there’s a story of cross-fenced friendship between a German guard’s son and a concentration camp kid during a WW2 drama, it’s a safe bet that someone’s going to die by the end, but I wasn’t expecting the film to go beyond the strict minimum. But, surprisingly long before the end, it becomes obvious that the film is going for maximum carnage and viewers have a long time to wonder “are they really going to go there?” before it happens. It doesn’t really help that the characters crying their eyes out by the end of the film are, well, Nazis. (Nazis being Nazis, they deserve everything than can happen to them. Yes, even that.) There’s a severely twisted form of schadenfreude at the end of the film that’s as inadmissible as it’s real. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas doesn’t really try to hide its incredible audience manipulation, nor does it care if you don’t like it—it’s proudly going for the tear-jerker and I suppose that anyone who willingly sits down to watch this kind of WW2 drama knows exactly what they’re going for. My enjoyment of the film remains very limited: The actors are fine, the director knows what he’s ghoulishly doing, the film does have an effective portrayal of how children’s innocence doesn’t matter in an inhumane system, and the ending does go for an implacable “we hurt ourselves when we hurt others” moral lesson. Still, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas does smack of an exploitative use of familiar high-drama tropes at a time when far more nuanced and sensitive portrayals of the horrors of Nazi extermination camps have been shown. Pushing the tragedy onto the Nazi side feels as if it’s taking something away from the very real suffering of those who were targeted and killed in those camps. I’m not proud of my “oh, come on!” reaction to the ending, but sometimes you have to resist when emotional manipulation becomes too blatant.

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