“Zone of Interest” (2023)

 “Zone of Interest” (2023)

By Lucas Battista

Available on Amazon Prime, starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, Johann Karthaus, and Luis Noah Witte.

“Zone of Interest” derives its power from sound. Tactile, little sounds of skipping rocks, the skittering of bugs, the rush of a creek — all that one might take for granted in everyday life, amidst a loud ocean-like roar in the background, all directed towards closed, apathetic ears. The most powerful moments of “Zone of Interest,” however, are not found against screams, gunshots, or the train’s piercing whistle, but deafening, total silence. Silence which enables and is complicit in the total destruction and extermination of an entire race of people, whose cries were quietly lost in the roar of world politics, war, and atrocity at the hands of swine fascists.

Almost the entirety of the film is set in the villa of Rudolf Höss, who was the commandant of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Its characters all consist of his family, and as the film progresses, one might notice very quickly that the camps’ interiors are at no point visually depicted. It is clever by the director to hide us from the camps, as we are not just shown the perspective of Höss’ family, particularly his children, but the size of their operation.

Auschwitz slaughtered almost 1.1 million people in total, a scale so great in breadth, it cannot be done any service by visual depiction — 1.1 million people, that’s more souls than the entirety of San Francisco, close to the population of the country of Estonia, all packed into this one network of camps alone.

By not seeing but hearing oddments of terror just 100 meters away from this villa, we are given hints to what occurs inside, but its depths are hidden. Our minds cannot truly understand the scale of engineered mass-murder the Nazis conjured and carried out. Interestingly, we as the audience become acclimated to the noise quickly. That loud roar you hear? Those are the camp’s furnaces, and as quickly as we come to this realization, we just as quickly forget it, until it becomes nothing but white noise, with us entirely dead numb.

So what exactly is the message of this film? There’s a whole plethora of great media covering the holocaust; what does it do that others haven’t already? Its message is really simple, and really ingenious — it doesn’t say anything. It starves us of catharsis visually and in plot, it makes us confront this event without touching it. I remind you, reader, that everyday archaeologists continue to dig up mass-graves in Eastern Europe, entire villages lost and liquidated by Einsatzgruppen, cultures and stories and peoples all wiped from Earth, only now just to be rediscovered 80 years later. We can never hope to entirely learn or grasp what happened, and we can only pray, unfortunately with great naiveté, that this was and will be humanity’s last great atrocity.

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