Exploring the horror of cinema in Glazer’s The Zone of Interest.
The Zone of Interest opened in UK cinemas for a limited run on the 2nd of February. At your local Cineworld you won’t be able to watch it after the 15th, leaving our theaters and minds just in time for the romantic season. But, in the time you still have, I highly recommend you see this film before it goes away, as I’ve found it to be probably the best film I’ve ever seen and definitely the most impactful film of 2023 and 2024 so far.
This deeply chilling film centers around the true life of Rudolf Höss, a commandant at the Auschwitz death and concentration camp during the Holocaust. Despite the dark nature of the subject matter of this movie, you don’t actually see any gory imagery, you mostly experience the Höss family going about their day to day, living in a house that is literally next door to the entrance to Auschwitz. For The Zone of Interest, the crew created a nearly exact replica of the real Höss house and planted hidden and stationery cameras throughout the house, giving the viewer a hauntingly immersive experience. While the visual choices made throughout the film are eye catching and creative, the most notable part of the film is rather the sound design.
The film starts with opening credits in complete silence followed by a black screen. Director Jonathan Glazer explains that this was done to tune the viewers ears before the plot kicked off. This ensured that each person in the theater was acutely aware of the sounds taking place in the film. Throughout the film, you hear the sounds of Auschwitz in the background. Afterall, the camp is right behind their home – the garden wall is the wall of the concentration camp. The initial realization of the sound design is disturbing. You watch as the family collects clothing from the prisoners next door, most notably an expensive fur coat. I started to hear very quiet gunshots and screams, leaning forward in my seat to focus in on what I thought I had heard. And the noises do not stop. Anytime the setting of the scene is on the Höss property, you can hear the deaths of the prisoners, and often see the smoke of the crematoriums that Rudolf Höss was so involved in installing. What’s more discomforting than the sounds of the film is this: you get used to them.
I fear that in consuming many tragic and often gory films throughout the years we have become incredibly desensitized to them. And daily life can be quite bleak as well, after living through what will be one important historical event after the other. We watch gory films with ease and tear-jerking tragedies with dry eyes, numb to the scenes meant to disrupt our emotional core. And that’s what The Zone of Interest does not let you do. The second you get used to the noises of the Holocaust, the script comes back to remind you that this is not a slice of life film about a family living through a war. You are watching a family of Nazis unbothered by the genocide going on in their backyard. You watch Hedwig Höss walk through her flower garden and you can almost admire the garden, and suddenly she calls herself the “Queen of Auschwitz” and you are snapped back to reality. Rudolf Höss attends an elaborate party, and you begin to admire the architecture, and then he says all he could think about was how to “gas everyone in the room”. The second you get comfortable, The Zone of Interest rocks you to your core.
And this is how life should be. We should not get used to the screams of the hurting. It is easy nowadays with fast moving media to let the ongoing horrors of life fade into the background. The Zone of Interest’s limited theatrical release is already becoming more limited, there are only two showings per day at most theatres. Talk around the film is also decreasing, having seen it only days after release and talking about it to my friends was treated as old news. People are already starting to lose interest in the film just as easily as we lose interest in the latest political crisis that appears on our socials.
We cannot let the suffering of others go unnoticed and forgotten. Listen to this film and the lesson it has to offer, and do not forget that, unchecked, history will repeat itself.
Do not let The Zone of Interest fade from your mind as it will from our cinemas.