Having watched the decidedly unsentimental Holocaust film Son of Saul a week previously, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a stark antidote. A young boy drives the plot in Son of Saul, but in that case, it's a boy immediately gassed upon his arrival at Auschwitz, barely survives, and then is coldly smothered by the 'doctor' on staff who refers to the child as 'it.' Mark Herman's film, adapted from the book of the same name, makes his protagonist a child, but a child of the Nazi elite, the son of a death camp commandant. This is an odd choice, not unlike telling an offensive joke. If one is going to go out on that limb, the joke better be funny. Herman takes a big risk in telling this story from the side of the oppressors, a fatally flawed premise that could be redeemed if the story is worth it. Alas, this viewer could never get over the setting, though it's not like the premise's redemption is in the film in the first place.
In the 2011 film 50/50, in which the young protagonist grapples with a cancer diagnosis, a girlfriend dumps him in the middle of the film. As the perspective is of the man suffering through chemotherapy and radiation, the now ex-girlfriend is not sympathetic, as how could a person leave someone in the midst of such a struggle? In Josh Mond's film, James White, the protagonist is the caretaker and the viewer sees what it means to take care of someone who's messily falling apart, and suddenly the ex-girlfriend in 50/50 doesn't seem so terrible.
It's continuously frustrating how some great movies become commercial flops while hacky, recycled movies rake it in. During a summer that saw Angry Birds make it past $100 million, the superb pop satire Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping made less than a measly tenth of that haul. For whatever reason, films featuring the Lonely Island trio (Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer) in front of or behind the camera all seem to struggle or fail to make their budget back, but thankfully, executives keep giving them money. If not for their generosity, the world might never have known Connor4Real (Samberg) and his ouevre of pitch perfect pieces, parodying both the Top 40 playlist and the artists themselves.
Perhaps the most intense, bleak, soul-searing WWII film since Come and See, Laszlo Nemes' Son of Saul buries the viewer in human misery and evil. There are no last second reprieves a la Schindler's List or life-saving acts of mercy a la Fury. It is black all the way through, a form of cinematic homework that found this viewer taking a breath before pressing play, knowing it was going to be an endurance test. It's a test worth taking, not only to bear witness to an adaptation of first-hand accounts of the Holocaust, but also because Nemes drops the viewer as far into historic atrocity as any work has before.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.