Skip to Content
Stream Live
More Streaming Options
Recently Played
View Full Playlist
‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

The Zone of Interest

February 14, 2024
Flicks with The Film Snob
Flicks with The Film Snob
The Zone of Interest

The matter-of-fact depiction of the family life of the commandant of Auschwitz conveys our horrifying capacity of living with and condoning the greatest evil.

The Zone of Interest is the name of the latest film by English writer and director Jonathan Glazer. It opens disconcertingly, with strange sounding vocal music against a blank dark gray screen. Then we meet a German-speaking family, parents and five children, in a large new house with servants and a flower garden and a small swimming pool. We soon notice that the father wears the gray uniform of a German officer, and that right next to the house is what looks like a big fortress. It’s not too long after that we learn the father’s name is Rudolf Höss, and that he is in fact the commandant of Auschwitz, in occupied Poland, the Nazis’ largest extermination center.

Höss is played by Christian Friedel, and his wife Hedwig is played by Sandra Hüller. We see the everyday life of their family, the two boys getting into scrapes, the unremarkable interactions between parents and children, or with servants or guests. In the background, however, ever present on the soundtrack, there are faint sounds coming from Auschwitz: a shout, gunshots in the distance, marching boots, an indistinct mechanical grinding, urgent voices, nothing very distinct. Well, we never see the crimes in the camp, we only hear various sounds and voices. This reliance on the ear more than the eye is part of Glazer’s disciplined approach. Not seeing things, in the broadest sense, is a key element in the lives of the family and the other Germans.

Everything normal and ordinary about this portrait of family life is cruelly shadowed by what we know. A good example is when Höss tells his wife that he is being transferred, and she gets upset because she loves her home in Auschwitz and wants to raise her kids there. What would usually be a plot point in a domestic drama hits the audience as painfully absurd. What does any of this matter under the cloud of mass killing? Of course all the adults know what’s going on. It’s normal to them, part of what they have accepted as their life. And the children might not know the whole truth, but they have more of a sense of it than they can say.

Each scene in the movie presents something more to consider about our relationship to evil. Glazer took ten years to make the film. The idea was from a novel by Martin Amis, the “zone of interest” of the title being a euphemism by which Nazi officers referred to the death camps.

The incredible sound design, by Johnnie Burn, enacts the place of our fear. At certain points, using thermal photography that makes everything look almost like a black-and-white negative, Glazer presents a mysterious girl wandering in a hellish landscape. She leaves apples near the camp fences for starving prisoners.

Jews are mentioned occasionally by family members and others the way one would mention garbage or pests to get rid of. It’s a pioneer dream, you see—the Germans finding new homes in the east, their lebensraum, their living space.
The music over the end credits, by Mica Levi (who also did the prologue) doesn’t provide a feeling of resolution as one might expect. We hear a tide of shrieking voices and synthesizers, a work of vocalized horror that will not give us rest. The Zone of Interest is not a horror film, or to put it another way, the horror is real. It’s not about somewhere else that has nothing to do with us. The stark truth must be faced if we are to live and be free.

complicity,   crimes,   evil,   family,   Holocaust,  


Sign Up