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The Zone of Interest: The Audience is the Villain

Updated: Jun 11

The Zone of Interest Movie Poster

The Zone of Interest is such a scary movie that I initially decided not to review it to avoid going through the emotions it generated again. But after many days, the horror in my mind dulled enough to review this film from a relatively objective place.

This movie is terrifying because the director places the onus on the audience equating apathy to complicity. To be evil, you don't have to actively harm someone or something, you just need to be non-reactive to something horrific happening right in front of you.

With each passing moment, the director hammers his point into the audience's mind that doing nothing in the face of injustice is just as bad as committing the atrocity yourself.

The Plot of The Zone of Interest

Rudolf Höss is the person who runs the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Writing this review feels like scripting the cursed book in the Evil Dead movies. But The Zone of Interest is a meaningful movie that has been made to shock the viewers from apathy into action by depicting factual events.

That's the scariest part, all this happened and we all are guilty of letting some atrocity or the other happen right in front of us.

Rudolf Höss and his family

The story follows the life of Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig who try to make the best of their life at one of the biggest concentration camps under the Nazi regime. Rudolf is happy with the massive responsibility being placed on him by the Führer and how efficiently he's running the camp.

Hedwig is also doing an amazing job running the commandant's household with no oversight. She even impresses her mother with how she has come up in life. The children of the Höss household are also happy at home with their parents spending their time in the garden or the swimming pool.

While Rudolf and Hedwig are living a productive life contributing to society and raising their family, the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camp barely register as a backdrop to their great life.

You also see the casual, nonchalant cruelty with which they treat those they deem below them. Hedwig's attitude towards the household help seems more shocking than her husband's at times.

Special Filming Techniques

The one instance of hope throughout the movie apart from the ending, of course, is the depiction of the Polish girl named Aleksandra Bystroń-Kołodziejczyk. She is shown venturing in the dark of night, planting fruit such as pears along the route the prisoners take to the camp.

Even this virtuous effort is shown disturbingly to depict the inherent danger of both being caught by someone and finding something horrific in the dirt. There are atonal and jarring sounds to add to the discomfort and danger of the situation.

Using a thermal camera is something I have never seen in such a context and I think it is really cool. The director has used thermal videography artfully to show detail in the dark distinctly while giving it a touch of black-and-white photography.

I love the way thermal videography has been skillfully used in a layered manner to convey various emotions and retain the nuances of the situation.

Rudolf Höss in a ballroom surrounded by darkness

The interplay of light and dark in this movie is used to depict virtue and evil in no uncertain terms. Even the ominous glow of the Auschwitz furnaces where the unspeakable happened is a reference to the fires of hell that have risen on Earth.

Jonathan Glazer in an interview described his filming technique which most of us would fail to notice. This is one of the shots of the Höss household shown from the viewpoint of someone who works there - a Polish girl. You see the Polish girl scared for her life laying out some Schnapps in a shot glass on a tray and presenting it to Hedwig.

Polish girl laying out Schnapps carefully for her mistress Hedwig

You even see Hedwig threatening the Polish girl in the household with a horrific death at the concentration camp right next to them. She does this as casually as someone would talk about docking a day of salary or getting fired.

As the movie nears an end you see Rudolf Höss suffering a bout of severe nausea at a formal gathering, when he is on his way out.

Rudolf Höss Commandant of Auschwitz

I love the scene when Höss stares into an unlit hallway as if looking into his future. This scene is beautifully done and all you see for a while is absolute darkness until a point of light expands into something good.

Luggage of the persecuted at the Memorial and Museum Auschwitz-Birkenau

But you won't feel good or anywhere close to good at any part of this movie from start to finish. That's the point of Jonathan Glazer's The Zone of Interest, it is to make you as uncomfortable as possible to stir you into action.

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Cinematography and Sound Design

Jonathan Glazer in an interview said he has gone to painful lengths to ensure his film is as close to a documentary as possible. I was shocked to realize how many moving parts this movie has.

The Höss household is filmed continuously using six cameras without much editing and presented as one continuous shot.

Hedwig Höss entertaining guests at home

The lighting used in the scenes within the house is mostly natural providing a real feel for the audience.

Polish girl in the Höss household

Also, the sound design isn't polished to include only the sounds that you see being caused on-screen or the actors reacting to the noise. There is always a constant background noise, most of which comes from the concentration camp next door.

Glazer used sounds captured from candid moments in real life and scenarios to use for the concentration camp including screams, wails, and other disturbing stuff.

There is a reason for how scary this movie is - Jonathan Glazer has reconstructed an accurate simulation of reality using authentic source material. He even used witness accounts of happenings in the Höss household to recreate conversations, attitudes, and daily routine.

The Horror of Complicity Through Apathy

Sandra Hüller as Hedwig Höss trying on a Jewish woman's fur coat

Hedwig and Rudolf go about their lives in a luxurious house just a few feet away from the horrors of the Auschwitz concentration camps. Hedwig and Rudolph deal with domestic life completely numb to the systematic genocide that happens all day right next to their house.

However, both of them are reminded either directly or indirectly of the hell they inhabit periodically. One such occasion is when Rudolph is fishing in a river with his children when human ash remains are seen flowing into the water. Rudolph even feels something at his feet and picks it up to find half of a human jaw.

Christian Friedel as Rudolf Höss in The Zone of Interest

Rudolf then immediately scoops up his children from the river and the next thing you see is Hedwig scrubbing human remains off their kids.

In another instance, Hedwig's mother who is happy with her daughter's station in life is slapped with reality late at night. She smells people being burnt in the furnaces of the concentration camp with an eerie red glow and the roar of a hungry monster.

The mother packs up in the middle of the night and leaves without so much as a word, repulsed and scared by the hellacious nightmare of which she has become a part.

Rudolf Höss's child looking at human teeth made of gold

Another terrible scene is when one of Rudolf Höss' children goes through their little treasures, human teeth made of gold. These teeth would be from the mouths of the persecuted Jews, Polish, and other dissidents who no doubt have already been gassed and/or burned.

The Cast

Sandra Hüller and Christian Friedel do a terrifyingly great job playing Hedwig Höss and Rudolf Höss. I cannot identify what makes this horrifying performance work, but I'm sure it involves amazing direction and actors who know their craft.

As for the other actors in this movie, I simply could not overcome the sheer horror of the situation at every moment to comment intelligently. But suffice it to say that most, if not all of the actors performed excellently, not in the least due to the profundity and severity of the subject matter.

Should You Watch it? Yes.

Everyone above a certain age globally needs to watch this movie, not just because it is good movie-making, it's because it is purposeful. The Zone of Interest is made to wake people up to the harm that their apathy can cause. Watch it.

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