The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (film)

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (released as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in the United States) is a 2008 historical tragedy film set in World War II, based on John Boyne's 2006 novel of the same name.[4] Written and directed by Mark Herman, produced by BBC Films and Heyday Films, and distributed by Miramax, the film stars Jack Scanlon as the title role. It was released on 12 September 2008 in the United Kingdom.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
UK theatrical release poster
Directed byMark Herman
Produced byDavid Heyman
Screenplay byMark Herman
Based onThe Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne
Music byJames Horner
CinematographyBenoît Delhomme
Edited byMichael Ellis
Distributed by
Release date
  • 28 August 2008 (2008-08-28) (Carnegie Film Festival)
  • 12 September 2008 (2008-09-12) (United Kingdom)
  • 26 November 2008 (2008-11-26) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
  • United Kingdom[1]
  • United States[1]
Budget$12.5 million[2]
Box office$44.1 million[3]
Textual logo

The Holocaust drama relates the horror of a Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two 8-year-old boys; Bruno (Asa Butterfield), the son of the camp's Nazi commandant, and Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a Jewish inmate.

The film has drawn criticism from some Holocaust educators for its factual inaccuracy.


The film opens with the quote "Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows", by John Betjeman. A young boy named Bruno lives in Berlin, in Nazi Germany during World War II. His father Ralf is promoted, and relocates the family to the "countryside" (occupied Poland). Living without neighbours, far from any town, Bruno becomes lonely and bored. After spotting people working on what he thinks is a farm in the distance – actually a concentration camp – he is forbidden from playing in the back garden.

Bruno and his sister Gretel’s tutor, Herr Liszt, pushes an agenda of antisemitism and Nazi propaganda. This, together with Gretel's infatuation with Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, makes her fanatical in her support for the Third Reich, to the point of covering her bedroom wall with posters and portraits of Adolf Hitler. Bruno is confused, as the only Jew he has seen, the family's servant Pavel, does not resemble the antisemitic caricatures in Liszt's teachings.

Bruno sneaks into the woods, arriving at a barbed wire fence surrounding the camp. He befriends a boy named Shmuel, and their ignorance of the camp’s true nature is revealed: Bruno thinks the striped uniforms that Shmuel, Pavel, and the other prisoners wear are pyjamas, and Shmuel believes his grandparents died from an illness during their journey to the camp. Bruno meets Shmuel regularly, sneaking him food and playing board games. He learns Shmuel is a Jew, brought to the camp with his father and mother.

Prisoner's clothing from Sachsenhausen concentration camp

Bruno’s mother Elsa discovers the reality of Ralf's assignment after Kotler lets slip that the black smoke coming from the camp's chimneys is due to the burning corpses of Jews, and she confronts Ralf. At dinner, Kotler admits that his father had left his family for Switzerland. Ralf tells Kotler that he should have informed the authorities of his father's disagreement with the current political regime. Embarrassed, Kotler violently beats Pavel for spilling a glass of wine.

Bruno sees Shmuel working in his home, and offers him some cake. When Kotler finds Bruno and Shmuel socialising, he berates Shmuel, and notices him chewing. Shmuel explains that Bruno offered the cake, which the fearful Bruno denies, and Kotler tells Shmuel they will have a "little chat" later. Bruno goes to apologise to Shmuel, but finds him gone. He returns to the fence every day, and eventually Shmuel reappears, sporting a black eye. Bruno apologises and Shmuel forgives him, renewing their friendship.

After the funeral of his grandmother, killed in Berlin by an Allied bombing, Ralf tells Bruno and Gretel that their mother suggests they live with a relative where it is safer; in truth, Elsa does not want her children living with their murderous father. Shmuel’s father has gone missing after participating in a march, and Bruno decides to redeem himself by helping Shmuel find his father. Donning a prisoner’s striped outfit and a cap to cover his unshaven head, Bruno digs under the fence to join Shmuel. He is shocked to see the many sick and weak-looking Jews, and the boys are taken on a march with other inmates by Sonderkommandos.

At the house, Gretel and Elsa discover Bruno's disappearance, and Elsa bursts into Ralf's meeting to alert him that Bruno is missing. Ralf and his men mount a search, with Elsa and Gretel following behind. A dog tracks Bruno's scent to his discarded clothing outside the fence, and Ralf enters the camp. Bruno, Shmuel, and the inmates are taken to a changing room and told to remove their clothes for a "shower". They are packed into a gas chamber, as a Schutzstaffel soldier pours Zyklon B pellets inside, and the prisoners begin panicking. When Ralf realises that a gassing is taking place, he cries out his son's name; at the fence, Elsa and Gretel hear Ralf's cries and fall to their knees in despair. The film ends by showing the closed door of the now silent gas chamber, indicating that all prisoners, including Bruno and Shmuel, are dead.


Filming was completed during 29 April 2007 to 7 July 2007, in Hungary. Locations included Kerepesi Cemetery in Budapest, Sacelláry Castle in Budafok and several other areas of Budapest. Interiors were filmed at Fót Studios, Budapest.[5] Post-production was completed in London.[6] The total cost of the production was approximately US$13 million.[7]



Critical responseEdit

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has a 63% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 135 reviews, with an average rating of 6.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "A touching and haunting family film that deals with the Holocaust in an arresting and unusual manner, and packs a brutal final punch of a twist."[8] On Metacritic, the film has a normalized score of 55 out of 100, based on 28 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[9]

James Christopher, of The Times, referred to the film as "a hugely affecting film. Important, too".[10] Manohla Dargis, of The New York Times, said the film "trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked [the Holocaust] for a tragedy about a Nazi family".[11]

In the Chicago Sun-Times, Roger Ebert said the film is not simply a reconstruction of Germany during the war, but is "about a value system that survives like a virus".[12]

Kelly Jane Torrance in the Washington Times said the film was moving and beautifully told.[13] In spite of some criticism, Ty Burr of the Boston Globe filed this conclusion: "what saves 'The Boy in the Striped Pajamas' from kitsch is the cold, observant logic of Herman's storytelling".[14]

Scholarly receptionEdit

Scholars have criticized the film for obscuring the historical facts about the Holocaust and creating a false equivalence between victims and perpetrators.[15][16] For example, at the end of the movie, the grief of Bruno's family is depicted, encouraging the viewer to feel sympathy for Holocaust perpetrators.[17]:125 Michael Gray wrote that the story is not very realistic and contains many implausibilities, because children were murdered when they arrived at Auschwitz and it was not possible for them to have contact with people on the outside.[17]:121–123[18] This is untrue. According to Nazi records there were 619 male children at the camp; all female and many other male children were gassed upon arrival.[19] A study by the Centre for Holocaust Education at University College London found that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas "is having a significant, and significantly problematic impact on the way young people attempt to make sense of this complex past". However, a more recent study found that the film's reception is strongly based on the viewers' previous knowledge and beliefs.[20]:173

Research by Holocaust educator Michael Gray found that more than three-quarters of British schoolchildren (ages 13–14) in his sample had engaged with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, significantly more than The Diary of Anne Frank. The film was having a significant effect on many of the children's knowledge and beliefs about the Holocaust.[17]:114 The children believed that the story contained a lot of useful information about the Holocaust and conveyed an accurate impression of many real-life events. The majority believed that it was based on a true story.[17]:115–116 He also found that many students drew false inferences from the film, such as assuming that Germans would not have known anything about the Holocaust because Bruno's family didn't, or that the Holocaust had stopped because a Nazi child had accidentally been gassed.[17]:117 Other students believed that Jews had volunteered to go to the camps because they had been fooled by Nazi propaganda, rather than being violently rounded up and deported.[17]:119 Gray recommended studying the book only after children had already learned the key facts about the Holocaust and were less likely to be misled by it.[17]:131


Year Award Category Recipient(s) Results
2008 British Independent Film Awards[21] Best Actress Vera Farmiga Won
Best Director Mark Herman Nominated
Most Promising Newcomer Asa Butterfield Nominated
2009 Premio Goya Best European Film The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Nominated
Irish Film and Television Awards[22] Best International Film Nominated
Young Artist Awards[23] Best Leading Performance (International Feature Film) Asa Butterfield & Jack Scanlon Nominated


  1. ^ a b "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". British Film Institute. 30 December 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  2. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 31 July 2014.
  3. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008) – Financial Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 13 June 2011.
  4. ^ Vilkomerson, Sara (31 March 2009). "On Demand This Week: Lost Boys". The New York Observer. Archived from the original on 7 December 2009. Retrieved 4 July 2011.
  5. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  6. ^ "British production | The Budapest Times". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  7. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas". Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  8. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  9. ^ "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 12 June 2016.
  10. ^ Christopher, James (11 September 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Review". The Times. Archived from the original on 30 August 2009. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  11. ^ Dargis, Manohla (7 November 2008). "Horror Through a Child's Eyes". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 August 2009.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger (5 November 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  13. ^, The Washington Times. "MOVIES: A 'Boy' looks at the Holocaust". The Washington Times.
  14. ^ Burr, Ty (14 November 2008). "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  15. ^ Eaglestone, Robert (2017). The Broken Voice: Reading Post-Holocaust Literature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192525680.
  16. ^ Szejnmann, Claus-Christian W.; Cowan, Paula; Griffiths, James (2018). Holocaust Education in Primary Schools in the Twenty-First Century: Current Practices, Potentials and Ways Forward. Springer. ISBN 9783319730998.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g Gray, Michael (3 June 2015). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: A Blessing or Curse for Holocaust Education?". Holocaust Studies. 20 (3): 109–136. doi:10.1080/17504902.2014.11435377.
  18. ^ Pearce, Sharyn; Muller, Vivienne; Hawkes, Lesley (2013). Popular Appeal: Books and Films in Contemporary Youth Culture. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 37. ISBN 9781443854313.
  19. ^ Gonshak, Henry (2015). Hollywood and the Holocaust. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. p. 272. ISBN 978-1-4422-5223-3.
  20. ^ Stefanie Rauch (2018). "Understanding the Holocaust through Film: Audience Reception between Preconceptions and Media Effects". History and Memory. 30 (1): 151–188. doi:10.2979/histmemo.30.1.06.
  21. ^ "BIFA 2008 Nominations". British Independent Film Awards. Archived from the original on 16 December 2013. Retrieved 30 December 2016.
  22. ^ "2009 Winners—Film Categories". The Irish Film & Television Academy. Retrieved 15 August 2019.
  23. ^ "2009 Nominations & Recipients". Young Artist Awards. Retrieved 15 August 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • Gray, Michael (3 June 2015). "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas: A Blessing or Curse for Holocaust Education?". Holocaust Studies. 20 (3): 109–136. doi:10.1080/17504902.2014.11435377.

External linksEdit