Weighty Conversations

When Ron Carter, a Nottingham professor, set out to write the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, he used a billion-word database to survey how words are being used today. In the midst of the study, Carter found something unsettling about how conversation, in general, is evolving. Conversations are becoming shorter, with the speakers changing subject after just two or three speaking turns.

I think the study reflects a wider trend. We’ve lost our ability to talk about the ideas that matter most. And in losing this ability, we’ve also lost one of the most important means of both pre-evangelism and spiritual discipleship.

Sometimes conversations falter for lack of a common starting point. That’s why so many conversations may default to discussing the weather and sports. It’s rare that these conversations take us to anything of much weight or substance. But one place where we can still find a starting point for deeper conversations is at the movies.

That’s one reason why I want to encourage you to go see the recently released film, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. The film is brilliantly told through the eyes of 8-year-old Bruno, a young German living in Nazi Germany. And while the film is told through the eyes of a child, I must warn you, this film, rated PG-13, is not appropriate for children.

The film begins with the promotion of Bruno’s father, an SS officer whom Bruno clearly adores. The family moves away into the countryside, settling into a large house at the edge of some woods. Being young, innocent, and largely left in the dark, Bruno has no way of making sense out of what he sees one day when he stumbles across a complex of dingy buildings behind an electric fence.

Seeing a little boy about his age behind the wire, Bruno wonders why the boy, Schmuel, is wearing striped pajamas in the middle of the day. Bruno also wonders about the strange place where Schmuel lives, and why its inhabitants look so sickly.

As Catherine Barsotti and Robert Johnston say in their helpful book, Finding God in the Movies, “Successful movies do not merely transplant us somewhere new; they inspire us to become one with one of the characters.” And this film certainly does that. We look at the Holocaust through the eyes of an 8-year-old whose country and family would have him believe that the Jews were enemies and were getting what they deserved. But Bruno’s childlike identification with Schmuel tells him otherwise.

While the film’s conclusion will certainly leave you in stunned silence, once you recover your composure, there will be a lot to talk about. You may notice how much worldview matters in the scene where a Nazi tutor comes to teach young Bruno and his sister about history. You’ll find biblical allusions, like the virtual recreation of Peter’s denial of Christ. And you’ll find references about duty and human nature, good and evil-and what a world without hope looks like.

So take a neighbor or a friend to see The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. This movie is emotionally jarring, and its implications are profound. But after watching it, you and your friends will no doubt want to go out and grab a cup of coffee and sit down for a real conversation-about what really matters in life.

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