Why Zone of Interest is the Movie of the Year 2023

Why Zone of Interest is the Movie of the Year 2023
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Why Zone of Interest is the Movie of the Year 2023. Firstly, nothing will prepare you for the film Zone of Interest. It is so brilliantly innovative, I can’t even put it into words. The other day I thought that I had seen what innovating World War II filmmaking looked like in Netflix’s movie Will. That film concentrated on the waffling middle ground – the evil middle. But Zone of Interest? It’s an entirely different thing all together. It normalizes evil – it rebaselines evil as good, and we watch as these characters turn all of morality completely upside down, and force it into this fixed position, and WILL it to stay in this upside- downness, and refuse the audience, or the world, any sort of respite from their evil. I just can’t even begin to tell you how glorious this movie is. I’ve never made a Movie of the Year decision, and then rescinded it entirely. But that is what I’m doing today. Nolan’s Oppenheimer was brilliant. Groundbreaking… but thoroughly normal in every way. Zone of Interest? Something else entirely. The fact that it only won the Cannes Grand Prix, and did not win the Palme d’Or is mind blowing to me. But, the same thing will happen at the Oscars, of that I am certain. But they are all wrong. That is a certainty.

Enough gobsmacked generic bloviating… I think what we need to do is to walk through this film from beginning to end, and explain what it is that we are seeing here. Because I’m certain that many viewers might leave the theater very confused at the end of the day. I’m going to place this trailer here just as some context. But if you have not seen this movie A) I wouldn’t watch the trailer. B) I’d leave this post immediately. C) I’d work very hard to find a way to watch this movie today. I know that it is the rare theater that is showing this movie. But driving in to the city, or across state lines is worth it to find a theater playing this film. Trust me on this one.

Movie Overview for the Zone of Interest

This movie is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. I mean, especially for a World War 2 movie. Not a bullet is fired. Not a person is killed. And from a plot standpoint – pretty much nothing happens. Except. EXCEPT for the fact that we know that the movie itself is set at a home that sits against the wall of the Auschwitz Concentration camp. If you are unfamiliar with what this particular place is all about…

“Until the end of its existence, the Auschwitz camp was above all a place of extermination. In other camps, the death rate was lowered from 1943 in an effort to conserve the labor force. In Auschwitz, however, where new transports, mostly of Jews, arrived continuously and kept the camp supplied with laborers, human life never had any great significance. Historians estimate that around 1.1 million people perished in Auschwitz during the less than 5 years of its existence.”

It’s actually a bit of a pastoral story – following the family of the Commandant of Auschwitz. It cares itself with the children, the gardens, and the career of the Commandant. It’s a family intent with life, and success. It’s a story about the dreams of two young people who were wanting a family, a successful home, and a place to call their own. There is little else going on throughout the course of the film. And that is what makes this movie so unbelievably brilliant. The juxtaposition of that enormous wall that runs along their run of flowers. (Notice the “Commandant’s House” at the top of the photo.)

Point by Point Walkthrough of the Film Zone of Interest

The movie opens by the lake. We watch as the family watches the scenery, and takes in the beautiful sun, and the glorious day. They then pack up to go. Yes. This is how this movie is going to go.

It’s 1943, and Rudolf Höss is the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He lives in a glorious house with his wife Hedwig, and their five children. We see that the parents are loving, and are trying to give their kids the best home and environment possible. As the family goes about their day you can see that there are servants that do things around the house. Sweep, mop, pick up spills, fix food, clean boots… nothing strange, or weird. Everything here is normal and tidy. [low din of guns firing, screams] Hedwig gives instructions on how she would like the garden work done.

During the day, architects and designers come to the house, and they talk about a new crematorium that will be much more efficient. Could have been as boring a topic as for the town’s power situation. [through the window can be seen a train approaching] Later, Höss, while swimming with his children in the river, notices human remains in the water. And with haste, he kids his kids out of the water. Afterwards, he dictates a letter to the camp personnel and tells them that they have been careless.

˙ʇɐǝ puɐ puᴉɟ oʇ ɯǝɥʇ ɹoɟ sǝʇᴉs ʞɹoʍ ,sɹǝuosᴉɹd ǝɥʇ ʇɐ pooɟ ƃuᴉpᴉɥ ‘ʇɥƃᴉu ʎɹǝʌǝ ʇno sʞɐǝus ʎqɹɐǝu sǝʌᴉl oɥʍ lɹᴉƃ ɥsᴉloԀ ɐ ‘ʇɥƃᴉu ɟo ssǝuʞɹɐp ǝɥʇ uI

Höss gets a call that he is going to be promoted to deputy inspector. With that he will be the head over all the concentration camps, and he will be required to move to Oranienburg. It’s pretty clear that he knows this won’t go over well AT ALL with the misses. And is that just such a normal interaction and thought? Oh, this is great, I’ve been promoted – but my family is well situated, and are very happy here. [sounds of muffled furnaces and fires burning] And sure enough, Hedwig makes it clear she is horrified at having to leave. After all, she is the “Queen of Auschwitz!.” And so she asks him to let her and the children remain there, and he’s given approval to leave his family behind.

Along the way, Hedwig’s mother comes to visit and, oh, how pleased as punch she is about her daughter and her daughter’s family. Look at how lovely their home is, and the garden, and how beautiful this life is. [gun fire perforates the night, more muffled and random screams] Each time she mentions the camp though, Hedwig slides right by her thought, or inquiry. It’s almost as if the camp isn’t even there. Eventually the thrum of the camp, and the horrors seeping through the walls gets to her, and she leaves one morning after just leaving a note and going.

˙sǝlddɐ ɟo llnɟ ʍoɹɹɐqlǝǝɥʍ ɹǝɥ ǝʌɐǝl oʇ suoᴉʇɐɔol snoᴉuǝƃuᴉ ǝɹoɯ uǝʌǝ puɐ ʍǝu ƃuᴉpuᴉɟ ‘ʎʇᴉsoɹǝuǝƃ ɹǝɥ sǝnuᴉʇuoɔ lɹᴉƃ ɥsᴉloԀ ǝɥʇ ‘ʍoN – Having finished her work she slides back into her normal life, and normal family evening activities.

Before Höss leaves to take his next post, we see that he regularly has sex with one of the young female prisoners from the camp. While we don’t see anything, it takes nearly zero stretching of the imagination to understand what is going on here. Why? Because a minute later we watch as he washes his genitals in an underground, cellar wash basin. [we hear a distant fight break out between prisoners over an apple – and the prisoner is shot.]

Jumping forward a few months, we see that Höss isn’t doing 100%. He has visited the doctor and they can’t seem to see any reason for his physical ailments. We also learn that Höss is doing so well that the High Command has decided to put him in charge of a new operation named after himself. Operation Höss. The operation will be to transport hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to be murdered. And this is fantastic news because it’ll mean that he’ll be able to go back to his growing home. After being given this news, and phoning the news back to Hedwig, he goes to leave the building. It is dark. The hallways are black, and he feels as if he is being watched. It’s almost as if he knows that he is being watched.

˙pǝɹǝpɹnɯ ǝɥʇ ɯoɹɟ uǝʞɐʇ sɐʍ ʇɐɥʇ ǝƃɐƃƃnl ɟo ʎɐldsᴉp ɐ ɟo ʇuoɹɟ uᴉ ssɐlƃ ǝɥʇ uɐǝlɔ sɹǝɥʇo sɐ ɥɔʇɐʍ ǝʍ uǝɥʇ pu∀ ˙ɹoolɟ ǝɥʇ uɐǝlɔ sɹǝqɯɐɥɔ sɐƃ ǝɥʇ ǝpᴉsuᴉ ƃuᴉʞɹoʍ ‘uǝɯoʍ oʍʇ sɐ ɥɔʇɐʍ ǝʍ – ɯnǝsnW ǝʇɐʇS nɐuǝʞɹᴉq-zʇᴉʍɥɔsn∀ ǝɥʇ ʇɐ ʎɐp ʇuǝsǝɹd ǝɥʇ oʇ ʇnƆ

And with that, Höss pukes on the landing. He stares off into the darkness of the passage way – straight into the camera – thinking. It’s as if he sees but the smallest of glimpses of the enormity of what he has done, what he is doing, and the impact of what he is done will echo through history. With that, Höss descends the dark and ominous stairway, completely ensconced in the looming darkness.

First Let’s Answer Some Basic Questions about the movie Zone of Interest:

Was the movie based on fact? – Technically, it was based on a fictional book. The book is entitled The Zone of Interest and it was written by Martin Amis and published in 2014. Now, the book takes a fictionalized take on the account of the Commander’s home at Auschwitz. And the screenplay abandons the fiction, and attempts to bring the story back to the factual encounters of the camp.

Okay – so what is this book about? – The book, tells the story of a man name Thomsen – a Nazi officer – who falls for Hannah Doll – the fictionalized Hedwig Höss – and it tells the story of their passing encounters. Overtime, Paul Doll (Rudolf Höss), begins to suspect them both. Eventually, he has the two of them followed by a prisoner, and is told that they are passing notes. Eventually Höss, I mean Doll, spies on his wife in the bathroom (which he does regularly) and sees her reading a letter from him excitedly. And from that moment forward, Hannah ruthlessly belittles her husband continuously. As a result, he decides to have her murdered. Enter Szmul, a member of the Sonderkommandos (Jewish prisoners forced to dispose of the bodies that have been killed.) who Paul threatens to kill Szmul’s wife unless he murders Hannah. He agrees, and the murder is scheduled to happen April 30th, 1943.

The book then jumps forward several years and the aftermath. It’s 1948, and Thomsen begins looking for Hannah, his old flame. She’s completely vanished. Eventually, he finds her back where she originally met her husband, Rosenheim. Instead of being murdered by Szmul, he tells Hannah, as he is pointing the gun at his own head. Paul then shoots the would be assassin. Thomsen asks if he could meet with her occasionally, and she tells him that while in the camp, he was a figure of decency and sanity. But afterwards, he is just a reminder of life’s insanity. There are threads that remain from the book and resonate in the movie, most of the narrative has been dismantled. We see this duo share a cigarette in the green house. And share glances. But mainly, the story in the movie pivots to the King and Queen of Auschwitz.

Can you explain the title? What does Zone of Interest mean? – Well, during WWII – the Germans designated the area of the Auschwitz camp, and its surrounds, as a zone of interest. Why?? What does it mean? Well, Himmler actually saw Auschwitz as a potential model city. A place of German manufacturing and agriculture developed to support the war effort. To create this zone, the SS took 15 square miles and entitled it the Interessengebiet… or Interest Zone. The zone reached from the Auschwitz I main camp, and headed in the direction of the Birkenau camp. Within this larger space was developed tons of manufacturing and farming areas to support the war. Armament manufacturing, concrete production, central heating, schools, agriculture, fish farms, cattle and pig farms, etc., etc., etc. And many of these factories and agricultural centers even had their own Auschwitz sub-camps situated among them for support from all the free labor they had available to them. And in these sub-camps, prisoners were used for creating drainage, clearing ponds, caring for livestock, etc. Are you seeing the larger picture here? Himmler was attempting to create a model city, showing how the future should/could work. With Jews and the lesser people working at the behest of the greater model civilization. Yes, dear reader, it was the epitome of horrific. And at the top of this model community? Höss’ home. The King and Queen of Auschwitz.

Why was some of the movie inverted and the soundtrack filled with growled screaming? – Now that is the question of the day. The movie shows us the inverted moral equations of the Third Reich and Hitler. We watch, as through sheer will, the SS and the German military enforce their horrific evil new standards of right and wrong. We watch as they force their perversions right side up. But when we see, a true hero finally, we watch her through the lens of evil. We see her as the threat that she is to the new moral right. She is giving apples to vermin and should be caught and killed.

What did Apple Girl find when delivering the apples? – One of the prisoners, out of gratitude for her charity, generosity, and heroism, wrote her a musical piece. She takes the music home and she plays it on the piano. And was meant as an offer of thankfulness to a truly pure and good act on their behalf.

In your write up – what’s with the upside down text?? – Well, I couldn’t think of a better way to express what was happening in the movie. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Nazis had created a new right side up. There were two scenes of the girl with the apples trying to do good in the face of evil. She had seen the prisoners being worked to death, and starved, and she decided she would risk everything to push back against this new world order of upside-downness. And the third was when we glimpse the future Auschwitz museum. Sort of assumed the upside down letters would be obvious, but maybe not.

Why Zone of Interest is the Movie of the Year 2023

As I’ve started reading out the movie, I’m really shocked by just how blasé people are about this movie. Part of me gets it… nothing really of any import happens. It’s a family talking about promotions and housing arrangements. Hahahaha. I’m sorry, but I’m laughing directly at you if that was what you thought the movie was about as you were watching it. You need to get a real clue. No offense, but I’m pretty disappointed in you and your powers of deduction if you saw nothing outside of the literal mechanics of what was going on here.

Sandra Hüller (who we ABSOLUTELY loved in Anatomy of a Fall), as Hedwig, deserves all the awards for this role. Why? Because she, more than anyone else, was asked to never ever see the concentration camp. Even when she was standing right next to it. She was not allowed to refer to it, think about it, arch an eyebrow about it. Anything. And she pulled it off. She was teflon. Morally, she giggled about ordering more toothpaste from the camp because some of the Jews had begun to hide their diamonds there. She giddily tried on furs, and clothes coming from the camp. And she never once considered what was causing this newfound fortune of hers.

The fact that the looming concentration camp walls abutted the house’s garden and yet it was never referenced was amazing to me. We never once saw a single person killed. And yet the sound design brought the terrors of the camp right into our laps. It was a constant barrage of evil. Gun shots. Screaming. Yelling. Furnaces flaming. And it was terrifying throughout, from beginning to end. If you weren’t terrified, you may need to do a soul check and validate you still have one! hahah.

When Steven Spielberg created Schindler’s List, he innovated by filming in black and white. Save for one small child. We watch as she anonymously is brought into the camp, just one of many. And then we watch later as her body is carried out of the camp. And in so doing Spielberg tried to help make sense of the ludicrous scale and absurdity of it all. Auschwitz had to have been murdering hundreds and hundreds of Jews each and every day to make its numbers. I would guess it had to have crossed over a thousand or more people a day in order to murder 1.4 million individuals. During Operation Höss, I just learned, that in order to handle the task of murdering 430,000 Hungarian Jews in 56 days they were gassing 10,000 a day at Auschwitz. And because the crematoria couldn’t keep up, they started to walk naked prisoners out to open burning pits and shooting them there. To say that all of this was an administrative nightmare (literally and figuratively) is an understatement of epic proportions. And Höss was focused on making it all just work and nothing else. He was administratively single-minded.

“Technically [it] wasn’t so hard—it would not have been hard to exterminate even greater numbers…. The killing itself took the least time. You could dispose of 2,000 head in half an hour, but it was the burning that took all the time. The killing was easy; you didn’t even need guards to drive them into the chambers; they just went in expecting to take showers and, instead of water, we turned on poison gas. The whole thing went very quickly.”

Rudolph Höss

Do you want to hear something really mesmerizing? Rudolph Höss’ father brought his son up on strict religious principles and with military discipline, having decided that he would enter the priesthood. The Priesthood! Höss grew up with an almost fanatical belief in the central role of duty in a moral life. Better yet, during his early years, there was a constant emphasis on sin, guilt, and the need to do penance. Talk about a moral trainwreck! How did he go from sin, guilt and penance to overseeing the deaths of over 3 million human beings?

It’s been a really long time since a movie has wrecked me this badly. And the fact that many found it almost banally boring only makes me angry. And this one, this one goes to 11. The acting and sound design here are both inspired works of art. And this screenplay? Only a visionary director like Jonathan Glazer could pull a movie like this off or even see that something this boring could be this affective.