‘The Zone of Interest’ and the banality of evil


“The Zone of Interest,” about an apparently ordinary Nazi family living next to Auschwitz concentration camp, comes to the M.V. Film Center on Friday, Feb. 2. It has earned five Oscar nominations as well as many other awards, including that of the Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize winner. Directed by Oscar nominee Jonathan Glazer from a 2014 novel by Martin Amis, it is a chilling exercise in what political philosopher Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil.”

The film begins with an empty screen, not black but gray. The story that in time unfolds is characterized by gray lighting, which renders the garden, forest, even Nazi Commandant Rudolf Höss, played by Christian Friedel, and his wife Hedwig, played by Sandra Hüller, bland and almost colorless. They seem intentionally oblivious to the horrors perpetrated behind the walls of Auschwitz.

The Höss family is first seen picnicking near a lake. A solitary Rudolf stands in his bathing suit overlooking the scene, and this solitary image of the man, in uniform, is repeated throughout the film. His wife Hedwig appears in the garden with her infant, showing the baby drab flowers that later will appear in brilliant color, a reminder of what they’re really like. It is Rudolf’s birthday, and he is shown on a balustrade, quaffing a glass of wine or champagne as his subordinates below respectfully congratulate him. The children are shown playing in a backyard pool; later Rudolf rides off to his abhorrent work on horseback.

Hedwig’s mother comes to visit, and the viewer watches as Hedwig proudly shows her around the garden. In the background are the noises, cries, gunshots, and chimney smoke behind the walls where the buildings and crematoriums of Auschwitz are located. Hedwig later discovers her mother has disappeared, and when Hedwig finds a note, assumed of explanation, from her mother, she casually burns it, and the viewer must assume it’s because of the mother’s distaste for what’s actually going on.

Höss is transferred to another location, and Hedwig is highly distressed at the thought of giving up her “idyllic” home that the two have worked so hard to acquire. She decides to stay behind to raise her children. Rudolf agrees to request to his superiors that she may stay behind, and the viewer sees him explain to his children that he’s leaving, and saing goodbye to them. Later he is shown visiting his horse in the stable with an affectionate goodbye and “I love you.”  What is the viewer to make of this scene: that he cares as much for his animals as for the people — especially the prisoners — he is leaving behind?

Throughout the film, there are other subtle and not-so-subtle reminders of the truly horrible nature of Auschwitz. Rendered in special effect, a girl is shown at night carrying apples and depositing them where prisoners can find them and alleviate their impending starvation.  Another time, probably after he’s been transferred, a scene shows a girl removing her shoes and unbraiding her long hair. The next scene has Rudolf at a sink washing his genitals, an incredibly ordinary sign of how easy it is to abuse prisoners. Another time, Rudolf is pictured retching after a party. Perhaps he’s had too much to drink, but perhaps this scene signifies something worse. Rudolf Höss was hanged in 1947 after testifying in Nurenburg, but his wife Hedwig, died in 1989 at her daughter’s Washington, D.C., home.

“The Zone of Interest” is a remarkable film, one worth watching more than once if it is possible to stomach it. It shows the effect on average people of the horrors of Auschwitz, and the capacity of those Germans who knew what was going on and did nothing about it.

Information and tickets to “The Zone of Interest” are available at mvfilmsociety.com



  1. The horrors of Auschwitz were updated in 2023. The banality of evil sits behind a keyboard blaming Jews for being attacked and making sure that the terrorists at the front door, back door, side door, and all the windows get their ceasefire without surrendering and releasing the hostages— so that evil can do its dirty work. When millions of German citizens and their homes and livelihoods were all destroyed by allied bombs, ridding the world of the evil of Nazis, what did Germans do once the Nazis were defeated? They rebuilt and flourished.

    My father wrote at length about his very human Nazi prison guards, their losses when a family member was killed, their dogs, their wives, all so humanly felt, and yet all so evil at the same time. He never forgave. He never forgot.

    How many Gazans came out to stop the hooting and debasing of dead Jews paraded in Gazan streets? The cheering at the pogrom? How many Red Cross workers brought medicine to kidnapped hostages inside Gaza? Zero. How many UNRWA workers joined the massacre of October 7th? Held hostages as prisoners inside their own apartments? Taught little children in school that killing Jews and dying as martyrs was a good thing? Thousands. The banality of evil.

    The banality of evil sits by, as we speak, and hollers Ceasefire Now, so the terrorism and evil can continue, exactly as promised, exactly as carried out during every single ceasefire Israel has agreed to. Why on earth would Israel agree to a ceasefire without the hostages released? Who wanted any of this war? Not Israel. Not Jews.

    Gaza can be rebuilt and can flourish, once the evil is gone. But for evil, Gaza and the West Bank could have been a flourishing Palestinian state. A Palestine could have flourished but for the hatred of Jewish neighbors, the very people that evil wants to annihilate- with a little help from the crocodile tears of the imbecilic liberal left enabling this from their privileged perches on Martha’s Vineyard, Hollywood stages, and every Free Palestine demonstration all over the world.

    There could have been a flourishing Palestine, many times over since the last century. They, not Jews, but Arab leaders, said NO. Why? There will never be a 2 state solution. It was a pipe dream that only decent people had.

    The banality of evil continues. I see it every time someone blames Israel for fighting harder for their survival than antisemites “expected” of Jews.

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