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The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest
Jonathan Glazer goes so all-in on the banality of evil that it’s hard to react emotionally to much that’s seen (and heard) in the film.

The Zone of Interest

Release Date: December 22, 2023
Runtime: 01:45
Synopsis:
The commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp.

Table of Contents

The commandant of Auschwitz lives with his family right next to the atrocities going on inside the concentration camp in . Rudolf Höss () is the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, who lives with his wife Hedwig () and five children at an estate that borders the fence of the camp. The two undergo their domestic lives, blissfully unconcerned about the constant sounds of gunshots or the glows of the crematorium fires.

The Zone of Interest Synopsis

The Zone of Interest is a World War II Holocaust drama written and directed by Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin), loosely based on the 2015 novel of the same name by Martin Amis. The film stars Christian Friedel (The White Ribbon) and Sandra Hüller (Anatomy of a Fall, Toni Erdmann) as Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig respectively. During the day, the couple is blissfully ignorant of what's going on in the camp, as they discuss interior decorating or take their children kayaking in the river. However, in the dark of night, one of the couple's Jewish servants secretly hides food in the labour camps.

My Thoughts on The Zone of Interest

The Zone of Interest is a film that goes all-in on Hannah Arendt's theory of the Banality of Evil during the Holocaust. Neither Rudolf Höss nor his wife Hedwig are depicted as particularly horrible people, even though they are complicit in the extermination of thousands of Jews. Jonathan Glazer highlights this with The Zone of Interest's sound design, where gunshots and other atrocities are constantly heard in the background. At the same time, the characters continue with their daily routines. In fact, the main plot thread of the film involves Rudolf getting promoted and having to transfer to Berlin, while Hedwig opts to continue the life she has built for herself and her children.

Jonathan Glazer also highlights The Zone of Interest with the experimental flourishes that were also present in his previous film Under the Skin. This includes zooming in on a flower until the whole screen turns red and the scenes of a Polish girl secretly hiding apples, shot in black and white night vision. While much of The Zone of Interest is without a proper score, when music does play, it is in a very pulsating and ominous tone.

Going in I expected to be much more affected by The Zone of Interest than I ended up being. I don't know if it's my prior knowledge of what the film was about or the fact that being on the autistic spectrum affected my response, but I found the film to be numbing on an emotional level. Perhaps, I just need something visceral to be happening on screen to truly have an emotional response. Even the ending of The Zone of Interest, which references Joshua Oppenheimer's The Act of Killing, I didn't truly understand until it was explained to me afterwards. As such, The Zone of Interest is probably a film that benefits more from multiple viewings.

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Trailer for The Zone of Interest

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.