It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Mark Herman's "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" depends for its powerful impact on why, and when, it transfers the film's point of view. For almost all of the way, we see events through the eyes of a bright, plucky 8-year-old. Then we begin to look out through the eyes of his parents. Why and when that transfer takes place gathers all of the film's tightly wound tensions and savagely uncoils them. It is not what happens to the boy, which I will not tell you. It is -- all that happens. All of it, before and after.
Bruno (Asa Butterfield) is a boy growing up in a comfy household in Berlin, circa 1940. His dad (David Thewlis) goes off to the office every day. He's a Nazi official. Bruno doesn't think about that much, but he's impressed by his ground-level view of his father's stature. One day Bruno gets the unwelcome news that his dad has a new job, and they will all be moving to the country.
It'll be a farm, his parents reassure him. Lots of fun. Bruno doesn't want to leave his playmates and his much-loved home. His grandma (Sheila Hancock) doesn't approve of the move either. There seems to be a lot she doesn't approve of, but children are made uneasy by family tension and try to evade it.
There's a big house in the country, surrounded by high walls. It looks stark and modern to be a farmhouse. Army officials come and go. They fill rooms with smoke as they debate policy and procedures. Bruno can see the farm fields from his bedroom window. He asks his parents why the farmers are wearing striped pajamas. They give him one of those evasive answers that only drives a smart kid to find out for himself.