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SS officer Ralf (David Thewlis) and his wife Elsa (Vera Farmiga) move from Berlin to the

countryside with their children, twelve-year-old Gretel (Amber Beattie) and eight-year-old Bruno
(Asa Butterfield), after Ralf is promoted to commandant of a Nazi concentration camp, implied to
be Auschwitz. There, confined to front grounds of the family's new home, without friends, Bruno
craves companionship and adventure, and disregards his parents by sneaking into the back
courtyard and through a window in the outer wall, where he treks through the woods, and
emerges at an isolated, unguarded corner of the concentration camp, which he initially believes to
be a farm.

There, he befriends Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), a boy of the same age. Bruno returns frequently
thereafter, bringing Shmuel food and playing games with him through the barbed wire fence.
Shmuel gradually reveals to Bruno the truth of what is behind the fence, telling him that he and
his family have been imprisoned, and forced to wear the "striped pyjamas," because they are
Jews, although Bruno does not understand the significance of this at first. Bruno and Gretel's
soon get a tutor, Herr Liszt (Jim Norton) who in reality feeds a diet of antisemitism and nationalist
propaganda.

In response, Gretel becomes increasingly fanatical in her support for the Third Reich, covering
her bedroom wall with Nazi propaganda posters, and flirting with SS Lieutenant Kurt Kotler
(Rupert Friend), her father's subordinate, as her budding sexuality becomes fixated on the ideal
of the German soldier. Bruno, however, is skeptical, as all of the Jews Bruno knows, Shmuel and
the family's servant Pavel (David Hayman), (who had once mended Bruno's knee after the latter
fell off his tire swing when he saw smoke coming from the "chimneys" and "smelling a horrid
stench"), do not resemble Lizt's teachings. He also witnesses savage, senseless acts of brutality
that conflict with the propaganda ideal of military heroism, when Pavel accidentally overturns
Kotler's wine glass at the table, prompting the furious officer to insult and then beat Pavel to
death.

After this incident, Shmuel is sent to the commandant's home to clean the house's glasses.
Bruno, unaware of the likely consequences, gives him some cake. When Kotler sees crumbs on
Shmuel's lips, and accuses him of stealing, Shmuel tells the officer that Bruno is his friend, and
Bruno gave him the cake. Frightened of Kotler, Bruno denies knowing Shmuel and claims that he
was already eating the cake when he came in. Kotler informs Shmuel that they will 'have a little
chat about what happens to rats who steal.' Bruno does not see Shmuel for several days, and
when he eventually turns up at the fence, he has got a swollen black eye from Kotler. However,
he forgives Bruno, with the two reaffirming their friendship by shaking hands through the
electrified wire fence.

When Kotler absent-mindedly remarks on the stench from the crematoriums, Elsa realizes that
Ralf presides over an extermination camp and not a labor camp as she has been led to believe.
She angrily confronts Ralf over it, and eventually, they decide that Elsa will take the children to
Heidelberg to stay with their aunt. The day before Bruno is due to leave, Shmuel reveals that his
father has gone missing in the camp.

Seeing an ideal opportunity to redeem himself for wronging Shmuel previously, Bruno digs a hole
beneath the barbed wire the following morning, changes into prison clothing that Shmuel has
stolen for him, and enters the camp to help Shmuel find his father. Inside, Bruno is horrified by
what he sees: the dehumanization, starvation, and sickness; the very antithesis of the
Theresienstadt-esque propaganda film that had shaped his prior impressions. While searching for
Shmuel's father, they get intertwined with a group of inmates going to the gas chambers. Back at
the house, Bruno's absence is noticed, and Elsa bursts into Ralf's meeting (which, ironically, is
discussing the possibility of increasing the capacity of the crematorium), telling him that Bruno is
missing.

After Gretel and Elsa discover the open window Bruno went through, Ralf and his guards enter
the camp to find Bruno, while his wife and daughter follow Bruno's trail. In the gas chambers,
everyone there, including Bruno and Shmuel, is told to remove their clothes for a "shower". Along
with the other Jews, Bruno and Shmuel are put into the gas chambers. Frightened and unknown
what might happen, they take each other's hands. In the commotion, a soldier pours some Zyklon
B pellets into the chamber. At that moment, Ralf and his guards arrive at the chambers, too late
to save Bruno. Hearing Ralf's anguished cry of "BRUNO!!" Elsa and Gretel, realizing what has
happened, break down over his abandoned clothes screaming and sobbing. The closing shot of
the movie shows the changing room of used camp clothing, a reminder that the tragedy was not
just the deaths of Bruno and Shmuel, but the deaths of the millions of people in the Nazi
Concentration Camps during the Holocaust.

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