The Zone of Interest: An Experience from the Other Side of the Wall

The art of Holocaust film is an art that must be done with expert precision and understanding. The genre of Holocaust film is expansive, including nine-hour-long documentaries such as Shoah and dialogue-focused war dramas such as Defiance. In the worst cases, one can end up with horribly offensive films such as The Boy in the Striped Pajamas or The Reader that humanize the oppressors and use the Holocaust to produce shock value.

In the best cases, one can create incredible and theatrical feats such as Schindler’s List or Son of Saul, which show the unflinching reality of what the Holocaust was. So, where does the Oscar-nominated film The Zone of Interest, directed by Jonathan Glazer, fit into the shelf of Holocaust films? 

The Zone of Interest follows Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, and his wife Hedwig as they attempt to create a life that they both enjoy while living next to and working in one of the most infamous death camps in history. The most incredible part of this film is that you never actually see inside the camp. Rather, you hear what is happening in the camp while watching Hoss finish paperwork, watching his wife command the servants in the house, or watching his children play in the garden with the rooftops of the barracks just over the wall. The sounds of gunshots, screaming, and other acts of violence can be heard throughout the film and create an eerie sense of unnerving disgust and cognitive dissonance as you watch the family go about their daily lives. 

The Zone of Interest, probably because of its lack of visual violence, is a slow building burn that sticks with the viewer like napalm. With an emphasis on wide shots, the cinematography always seems to make you feel like something or someone is missing from the frame, as if the victims dying in the camp next door were meant to be shown but never added in. The victims, although rarely shown, are present in the film due to their very absence from the frame. 

This makes the film’s theme on the banality of evil, Hannah Ardent’s thesis in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, which claimed that ordinary people can commit atrocities, ever more present. We are shown the point of view of the oppressors, not for the sake of humanizing or empathizing with them, but because we know what lies on the other side of the wall. 

While this Holocaust film focuses on the Nazis, it does not lie to its audience. The pain and suffering of their victims is still very present and is what makes this film such an important watch, because it is how we see the perpetrators act in the knowledge of their actions, making us ask the question: were we in the same situation would we act the same way? 

I highly recommend watching this film after you have done some research on the Holocaust. If you are looking for a read, start with Raul Hillberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews, and if you are looking for a movie, a great informative documentary is Ken Burn’s The US and the Holocaust.  Like any Holocaust film, The Zone of Interest is not an easy watch, but it is a worthwhile watch nonetheless. Jonathan Glazer has easily made a movie that will not be forgotten anytime soon. This reviewer easily gives the film The Zone of Interest a 9.4 out of 10.