It is so easy to think in black and white terms. The enemy is clearly identifiable -- it's them and not us. This black and white thinking can bedevil us when we are thinking about history.
There have been a number of movies recently dealing with aspects of the Holocaust that are obviously designed to trouble our binary-coloured vision.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas takes us into the heart of a German family that is torn asunder by the evil brutality of Adolf Hitler's "Final Solution".
Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is an eight-year-old German boy whose father is a Nazi soldier. His family lives in a beautiful mansion and Bruno is sheltered from the realities of the Holocaust. He looks up to his father.
Bruno's father then gets a job as the commandant of a concentration camp out in the country. But, in Bruno's innocence, he believes the camp is actually a farm. Eventually he finds an opportunity (against his parent's instructions) to go and check out the "farm" where he befriends a boy his own age through the wire of the camp. Bruno struggles to work out what the farm is about. As the reality begins to dawn in the young mind of Bruno and other members of his family, the peaceful balance of the family is permanently torn.
Nothing prepared me for the chilling conclusion of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It was so profound that noone in the nearly-full cinema moved or made a sound until at least half of the credits had rolled.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has been criticised for a number of things. One of those is the suggestion that a boy of Bruno's age wouldn't be found in a concentration camp because anyone not able to work would have been gassed. I have heard others argue that it would be possible.
But these side issues should not be allowed to distract from what is a unique and powerful perspective on the Holocaust. Viewing history from the point of view of an innocent child, somehow the horror is intensified like never before. The narrative is essentially simple but profound. The most horrifying thing about this story is the way it portrays the fact that evil is usually 'perpetrated by human beings, not monsters.' (Pete Rainer) This means that we are forced out of our stereotypes to the realisation that things are not as simple as we think. Butterfield (as Bruno) and Farmiga (his mother) are both excellent. And the finale will stay with you for a long time to come.
'And yet the great conundrum of the Holocaust is that it was perpetrated by human beings, not monsters. Few movies have rendered this puzzle so powerfully.' — Peter Rainer/Christian Science Monitor
'See the Holocaust trivialized, glossed over, kitsched up, commercially exploited and hijacked for a tragedy about a Nazi family. Better yet and in all sincerity: don't.' — Mahnola Dargis/The New York Times
Some mature thematic material involving the Holocaust