The Boy in the Striped Pajamas takes us back to Germany at the outset of World War II. The film's protagonist is Bruno (Asa Butterfield), an 8-year-old boy who's smart, brave, and adventurous but mostly confused by what's going on in the world and at home. His father (David Thewlis), a high-ranking SS officer, has taken a promotion that relocates the family away from Berlin, to the Polish countryside. The family's change in scenery mirrors another, much more sinister one: the moving of the Jews into a concentration camp.
Bruno's bored in his new setting, especially because his mother (Vera Farmiga) forbids him from exploring the woods behind the home. Bruno can see a strange sort of "farm" through the trees, where the "farmers" wear striped pajamas. He befriends a boy about his age named Shmuel (Jack Scanlon) on the other side of the fence. Bruno's emotions are a swarm of conflicts, and what truths he's told by his parents and tutor (Jim Norton) don't align with what he's seeing with his own eyes. That the lies come from his own father and that his mother is increasingly upset compound his predicament. His sister, Gretel (Amber Beattie), is no help: She embraces Hitler Youth to such a degree that she even has Nazi posters on her bedroom wall like they're pin-up Tiger Beat heartthrobs.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is rated PG-13 and is based on the YA novel by John Boyne. What's happening in the film is no surprise to adults and probably isn't for most young teens. It's as brilliantly effective a movie about the Holocaust as I've seen. A pile of discarded dolls masterfully metaphors the real atrocities, but the film eventually literalizes — it has to, really — for Bruno and the audience what genocide looks like. The horror is so massive it's hard for any adult to comprehend it — as we have been trying to do for seven decades and counting — so I'm not sure what chance a kid would have.
The 2008 film was originally marketed as a Holocaust movie for younger audiences. Thirteen is probably about right for the youngest viewers. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas completely destroyed me. I don't know that I would recommend it for anyone Bruno's age.