I watched it again on Monday. I asked people at work if they had seen it. I emailed my brother and told him to rent it. And now I am recommending that you, dear reader, do the same.
This is a tale about the Holocaust unlike any other: as experienced through the eyes of a child. It is a story of innocence lost and innocence kept. It is a story about friendship and loyalty. And I believe it is also a story about the little things that give God great pleasure in the midst of so much evil.
Year: 2008 (Rated PG-13)
Directed by Mark Herman, based on the novel by John Boyne.
Starring Asa Butterfield and Jack Scanlon.
Setting: Nazi Germany.
Content warning: There is no profanity whatsoever (not even a pseudo-profanity in the form of a word that may be questionable). Violence is implied, but not shown. Subject matter concerning the lives of children during the Holocaust may be upsetting to some viewers (particularly young children and anyone who has ever been addressed as "Mom"). Therefore I would advise everyone to please heed the PG-13 rating. The film has a shocking ending.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1. The Symbolism of the Dolls. Pay close attention to Gretel, the older sister, during the first 30 minutes of the film. Notice how tightly she hugs her dolls to her chest. Watch her care for each of her dolls by tying ribbons in their hair. See how she surrounds herself with the dolls she loves. Then notice how tightly she hugs the Nazi literature she is given. Her bedroom now covered with posters of Hitler, the dolls abandoned to a mass grave in the cellar. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)
2. Love, Repentance, and Forgiveness. We could all learn a lesson in relationships from Bruno (Asa Butterfield) and Schmuel (Jack Scanlon). If only we could all move past our interpersonal conflicts without holding onto grudges or beating ourselves up over our trespasses against one another. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
3. Friendship Rooted in Loyalty. Loyalty is a dying virtue in this day and age. How can we call ourselves friends when we refuse to make and honor commitments to one another? Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. (1 Samuel 18:3)
4. Indoctrination vs. Innocence. Children are so impressionable and I believe much of their innocence is stolen from them before they have a chance to outgrow it naturally. We need to be so vigilant when it comes to what our kids are learning at school. But Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 19:14)
5. The Agony of a Guilty Conscience. Compare the guilt Bruno suffers for his betrayal of Schmuel with that of his mother, who must keep silent about the gas chambers in their own backyard. "When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer." (Psalm 32:2-4, NASB)
6. God Will Have His Day of Vengeance. When I saw this film for the first time, three Old Testament stories came to mind in the last 20 minutes of the film. One of them was the story of David and Jonathan. Can you guess the other two?
Vera Farmiga won the 2008 British Independent Film Award for Best Actress. The film also picked up two nominations for Best Direction (Herman) and Most Promising Newcomer (Butterfield).
To the best of my knowledge, this is NOT based on a true story.
The official website does include a spoiler, so visit with caution if you have not yet seen this film. The official trailer is below: