The Zone of Interest will make you ask “Could I have been a Nazi?”

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“The Zone of Interest” will make you ask: “Could I have been a Nazi?”

February 23, 2024 -

Barbed wire above a fence, reminiscent of Aushwitz, on a dark, cloudy day. By Buyan/stock.adobe.com

Barbed wire above a fence, reminiscent of Aushwitz, on a dark, cloudy day. By Buyan/stock.adobe.com

Barbed wire above a fence, reminiscent of Aushwitz, on a dark, cloudy day. By Buyan/stock.adobe.com

The Zone of Interest is mundane, understated, and has almost no plot, yet I couldn’t have pulled my eyes away from the screen if I’d wanted to.

It’s about an average family of seven in a big house with a beautiful garden, living their dream life. Mostly, the movie shows them doing run-of-the-mill things like pulling weeds, tending to their crying baby, or going for a family picnic.

However, the father, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), just happens to be the Nazi commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, the Nazi death camp that murdered over one million Jewish men, women, and children. The Höss family home’s backyard shares a wall with the camp.

In The Zone of Interest, you never directly see any of the atrocities.

But you do hear them.

Is “The Zone of Interest” historical?

Director and writer Jonathan Glazer paid great attention to historical detail. The Zone of Interest is loosely based on a novel of the same name but was made more historical in the film’s production.

The film has no special lighting. The entire movie is in German. The set designers replicated the Höss’ real, idyllic home. They filmed through multiple cameras without people manning them to capture a more authentic portrayal. They wrote the script based on firsthand accounts of the Höss’ servants.

In short, the movie is simplistic, plain, and real to life.

Cinematographically, I’ve never seen anything like this film. Watch the trailer and witness it for yourself.

The Zone of Interest’s harrowing sound design

The director says there are two movies, the one you see and the one you hear.

The sound designer did extensive research into the correct, period-accurate noises. The sounds include low, ambiguous yells, whip cracks, gunshots, machinery, furnaces, and the trains transporting Jews into the camp. Watching the Höss family ignore the sounds of daily thousands upon thousands of murders next door horrifies the audience—until you realize halfway through that you’ve likewise begun to ignore the sounds too.

Sound designer Johnnie Burn aptly says, “Sound is not something you can rationalize as easily as a picture, and that gets under your skin.”

One reviewer aptly describes the feelings of the audience: “The film ends with the audience typically in stunned, shell-shocked silence as a closing musical track.”

It’s no wonder this movie is nominated for five Academy Awards. One filmmaker remarked it’s “probably the most important film of the century.”

Better than any movie I’ve seen, it depicts what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

The Zone of Interest begs a disturbing question

Would you have been a Nazi?

Watching this movie makes you feel like someone has chained you to your seat. It forces you to look headlong at this fact: the Holocaust happened.

The Nazis were not cartoon villains or mythologized bad guys. They had families, dreams, ambitions, emotions, and often a suburban lifestyle. You can’t help but see yourself in the Höss’ shoes.

That’s the point.

Of course, the death camp is mentioned, sometimes as a crude joke, sometimes through Rudolf’s discussion of his work, or through the trauma of one of their girls. At one point, two Nazi engineers discuss with Rudolf a more efficient design for the gas chambers. It’s always in the background (literally) and in the foreground (figuratively) of their lives. But, to Rudolf, it’s just his career.

So, does The Zone of Interest actually pass judgment on Rudolf?

(Spoiler ahead). The movie reaches a climax when Rudolf hears about four hundred thousand Hungarian Jews being transported to Auschwitz. To him, it essentially means a promotion and getting to move back with his family.

The movie ends with Rudolf descending a staircase with dark hallways on each side. He retches and stares into the darkness. The camera looks out of the darkness at him. The film cuts to modern-day janitorial staff cleaning the Auschwitz museum. Then, it cuts back again at Rudolf, who vomits again. He descends into darkness and the movie cuts to black with a harrowing choir track.

Evil may deceive us, but our conscience never entirely disappears.

The Zone of Interest and sin

This movie is an important Holocaust depiction because it demands a serious self-examination. Everyone wants to say they would have stood up to the Nazis, never owned slaves, or never worshipped in child-sacrificing paganism.

The fallacious argument says, “I would never do anything so evil. Therefore, whatever I’m doing can’t be so evil,” which, ironically, blinds us to the evils we may be complicit in right now.

In fact, yes.

Yes, you would.

I would.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

Judgment will be a frightening day to all who lack Jesus’ intercession, for God will “search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways” (v. 10).

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