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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Zone of Interest

On the banality of evil

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 22, 2024 – After waiting for months to see this hard-to-get movie, I finally got to see it last night, and it is a good movie, but I don't think it lives up to its reputation.

I have been hearing about this film for months, but there was no practical way for me, or most other critics, to see it until it finally started streaming online at on demand sites (such as Prime Video and Apple TV) on February 20, 2024. Up until Feb. 20, this movie had very limited U.S. distribution in theaters, and online access, or physical media copies for critics was also very limited.

I was quite anxious to see it since it has been the subject of award speculation for months, and it has been nominated for five Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture, and Best Director (Jonathan Glazer of “Sexy Beast” and “Under the Skin”). It is easy to see why. It is an art film, with some interesting visual effects, and deadly serious subject matter, namely, the Holocaust.

It has the virtues of art films (like avoiding Hollywood clichés and happy endings) but it also has the vices of art films, such the noisy extended black screen opening scene, static camera shots where nothing happens and some calculated ambiguity. Some mistake such traits as originality, but I think they occur way too often in too many movies to be original. I view these traits as tiresome art film clichés.

This movie concerns the commandant of the infamous death camp in Poland, Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel of “The White Ribbon”) and his wife, Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller of “Anatomy of a Fall”). Sandra Hüller is having a banner year, starring in not one, but two films nominated for Best Picture, “The Zone of Interest” and “Anatomy of a Fall.” These are two very different performances, but they are both equally compelling.

Mr. and Mrs. Höss live with their children in their dream house, with a nice yard, garden, greenhouse and swimming pool right next to the death camp, where the smoke from the burning bodies sometimes wafts over the house, causing the residents to cough. It is annoying, but the residents do their best to ignore this unpleasantness. One of their children is seen playing in his bed with gold teeth extracted from some of the unlucky residents of the death camp.

This situation reminds me of a similar one, in which U.S. citizens approve of barriers in the Rio Grande which cause people to drown while trying to get into the U.S. The indifference to deaths along the border is similar to German indifference to Jewish deaths in the war.

Hedwig likes this life, especially the slaves from the camp who do her chores for her. The death camp servants have an extra incentive to work hard for the Höss family. Hedwig reminds one of her Polish prisoner servants, who has annoyed her, that, “I could have my husband spread your ashes across the fields of Babice.”

Hedwig likes her situation so much that when Rudolph is transferred to another location, she insists on staying behind. Rudolph, who is favored by the Nazi leadership for his ability to kill lots of Jews in a hurry, is promoted to head up all extermination operations in Hungary. More than just killing Jews, Rudolf (who cheats on his wife) is also valued because he also provides enough able bodied prisoners for the slave labor force needed to support the war. Rudolph appears to be ill towards the end of the movie, perhaps this is a hint of karma.

High level meetings on the extermination of European Jews are conducted in a routine and businesslike manner by the German Command in Berlin, just as life goes on in a normal, routine manner at the Höss home next to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Life is good for those in power. Life is short for the powerless. This is a prime example of the banality of evil.

In one scene, a red flower keeps getting redder until the entire screen turns red. In some other scenes, a young girl carefully places food in areas where prisoners will be working. These scenes are shown in reverse black and white, like a black and white negative. The striking ghostly image of the young girl glows brightly in these scenes.

Although this movie is set next to Auschwitz, the inside of the camp is shown only in the present day, where workers are shown cleaning the museum floors, and the glass windows of an exhibit showing thousands of shoes left behind by the victims. Almost everything else in the movie takes place outside the concentration camp. Some scenes are set in Berlin.

I used to think that there was some kind of deep flaw in Germans that allowed such things to happen. I used to think that we Americans were superior, but it has become apparent we have the same flaws. The siren call of authoritarianism beckons, and many Americans are responding to it. This must be history, because we are repeating it. This troubling movie rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2024 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]