“Load, burn, cool, unload, then start all over again.”
The Zone of Interest is the International Feature submission for the United Kingdom. The film takes place around 1943 and it’s about a German family: Rudolf, a long-serving commandant, his wife Hedwig and their five children. They live in a large country house, impeccably maintained by a handful of Jewish women, with a beautiful garden and right by a lake, where they frequently spend their time to relax. This could be any loving, ordinary German family. But they’re not. Right next door is the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.
The signs of horror are subtle yet always constant. The black smoke in the distant is always present. There’s ash in the lake. Gun shots are frequently heard, followed by screams. At night, the redness of the gas chambers glow. This is the place where more than one million Jews were murdered, tortured and forced into the most inhumane forced labour. But it’s never shown. Instead, Rudolf and Hedwig, and their children enjoy lavish parties. They spend time gardening their plants. They have business meetings and lunch gatherings with their friends. This is their dream home and they’re happy here.
What makes The Zone of Interest different from any other movie is that the Nazis are portrayed as regular human beings. Rudolf is never unpleasant or angry. He spends his time working and sending messages to his co-workers. He is a father. He takes care of his children by reading bedtime stories. He makes jokes with his wife at bedtime before going to sleep. Hedwig maintains the perfect household by preparing home-cooked meals, an unblemished garden. She takes her kids to school. Life is quite perfect and they don’t want it to change. This attempt at domestic normalcy is the extreme evil that can coexist with deep normalization. While bodies were burning, they were having a BBQ.
The film is a meditation on evil. It gives us a different perception on what evil can look like. And the scary part about it is that it looks very familiar. How do we know if we’re participating in evil? We decorate our lives to avoid confronting the sufferings in the world. We’ve become desensitized. And there’s always a wall between us and tragedy. It makes you think what side of the wall we stand in.
We, as humans, care about our interests, about staying in our zone. We want to thrive, not caring that other humans on the other side are dying.