CAUTION plot spoilers.
Yesterday I went to see The Boy in Striped Pyjamas at the shiny new Showcase cinema in Leicester. It wasn't cheap, even with my student discount (evidence carefully checked by someone half my age!) it was £5.50 but the seats were comfortable, with enough leg room (if you're 5'4", not so sure if you're 6'4") and the experience was pretty positive. Unusual to be shown to you seat by an usher(-ette) complete with torch and even more surreal to be asked afterwards 'did you enjoy the movie?' by another one whose job was clearly to ensure we all left! She seemed a bit thrown when I said "well, I don't think'enjoy' is the right word" so I added "it was a good experience"
The film reflects its certification - at 12A it isn't going to show too horrendous, and maybe in an odd way that is a strength. In an age where we have become accustomed to seeing extreme violence, explicit sex and every second word expletive, there was something refreshing about the resort to implication. The review in the Baptist Times a week or two back seems to have been very fair - the Hollywood thunderstorm signifying encroaching menace wasn't really necessary, indeed I can't help feeling a clear blue sky might have heightened the tragedy that any adult viewer would have been anticipating; afterall in real life tragedy doesn't wait for the right weather conditions. Seen mainly through the eyes of an eight year old boy (who reminded me somewhat of the younger of my brothers at that age; maybe that's the idea) there are one or two moments that are really striking - such as his observation about the Jewish doctor working as a household servant "he used to be a doctor but he gave it all up to peel potatoes." The image of the mother kneeling in the rain and mud, clutching his clothes and weeping uncontrollably brought to mind words from Matthew 2/Jeremiah 31: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more." The irony of course is that this was not a Jewish mother, but the wife of an army officer, a woman who struggled with what the final solution meant and what was happening to those she loved as a result of the third reich.
The film didn't quite cut as deeply as I'd hoped it might, but it did raise questions about the demonisation of 'otherness' and it is very rare that a film renders the audience so silent that no one speaks as they leave - at least until the usher asks 'did you enjoy the movie.'
Stepping out into bright autumn sunshine and a busy multi-cultural city he contrast was stark. Muslim men still dressed for Friday prayers chatted at a taxi rank, office workers clutched take away Starbucks coffee, mothers chastened their toddlers, some black evangelical Christians announced tomorrow was a great day when they would be telling people what God really thought of them (!) and a young man told his partner that he didn't have the f*ing money to pay for a new skirt. Asian, African, black, white, fundamentalist, liberalist, agnostic, atheist, theist, young, old all mixed up together in a British city. But who is 'other' for them? And do we poison our children's minds as we seek to protect ourselves? And who are the Rachel's of our day?
Watching or reading accounts of the Shoah (final solution) always challenges me and reminds me of my Jewish grandmother and my rabbi great-great-grandfather (is there a preaching gene perhaps?). It also reminds me of my Scottish forebears, which include both Campbells and MacDonalds - both sides in a bloody and destructive campaign. I find myself reminded of the words of another rabbi 'whoever has no sin, let them cast the first stone' and realise that for all my desires otherwise I, too, am guilty and there, but for the grace of God, go I.