The Zone of Interest (2023)

Film and Plot Synopsis

Based on the novel by Martin Amis and nominated for five Academy Award in 2024, including Best Picture, “The Zone of Interest” tells the story of Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife Hedwig as they strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden beside the camp. The film was directed by Jonathan Glazer and stars Christian Friedel, Academy Award nominee Sandra Hüller, Johann Karthaus, Luis Noah Witte, and Nele Ahrensmeier.

‘The Zone of Interest’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Zone of Interest (2023)During the height of World War II in 1943, Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel) is the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. Rudolf lives in a well-furnished home just outside the walls of the camp with his wife Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) and their five children. The Höss family appear to live happily in their environment and show a general disinterest in the sounds of screams and gunfire coming from just over the camp walls. Rudolph takes his children out to swim and fish in the nearby river, and Hedwig spends her time entertaining and tending to her garden. Jewish servants handle the ritualistic household chores, and the Höss family is frequently the beneficiary of the former belongings of camp prisoners.

As the film opens, Rudolph approves the design of a new crematorium for the camp that will more efficiently dispose of the prisoners of the camp. One day while at the river, Rudolph notices human remains in the river that his children are swimming in. Rudolph gets his children out of the water and rushes them home so that they and he can be cleansed of the Jewish remains. Rudolph chastises the camp personnel for their carelessness and seeks assurances that it will never happen again. Despite his disgust towards the Jewish people, Rudolph engages in sexual relations with some of the younger female prisoners while in his office. He secretly scrubs away any evidence of the liaisons off his body in a secret room in the basement of the camp.

Periodically, throughout the film, a young Polish girl who lives nearby sneaks into the camp and hides food at the prisoners’ work sites for them to find and eat. The girl is portrayed as an almost spiritual being.

I could have my husband spread your ashes across the fields of Babice. Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller)

Not long after, Rudolph is informed that he is being promoted to deputy inspector of all German concentration camps. As a result, he is informed that he will be required to relocate to Oranienburg in Germany. Rudolph objects to the promotion and transfer, and he tries to use his limited political pull to have the orders rescinded. However, he is ultimately unsuccessful. Rudolph waits several days to inform Hedwig who is devasted by the news. Hedwig asks Rudolph to request that she and the children be allowed to stay living in the house near Auschwitz while Rudolph is transferred. Hedwig believes that she and her husband have created the perfect environment to raise their children. Rudolph reluctantly makes the request to his supervisors, who approve the proposal. Rudolph leaves for Oranienburg not long after, and Hedwig’s mother comes to live with the family to help Hedwig with the children. However, Hedwig’s mother is horrified at the sight of the crematorium flames at night and leaves. She leaves behind a note for her daughter that Hedwig burns in disgust.

Several months pass with Rudolph working in Oranienburg. Rudolph is tasked with a new assignment which will have him heading an operation named after him that will transport 700,000 Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz to be killed. Rudolph is just as excited about the assignment as he is to reunite with his family. Rudolph attends a party celebrating the finalization of the operation but keeps to himself and does not socially engage with many of the other attendees. Later, while on the phone with Hedwig, Rudolph confesses that he spent his time at the party thinking about the most efficient way to gas the room.

As Rudolph leaves the office that night, he descends the stairway and begins to unexpectedly retch several times. As he is stopped on a landing between floors, he stares into the darkness of the long hallway on the floor. The film suddenly cuts to the present day where a group of janitors clean Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum for the day. As they clean, the viewers are shown exhibits that show the sheer number of murders and immense suffering that was perpetrated at the camp, confirming that Rudolph’s new assignment was carried out. The film then jumps back to Rudolph in 1943, seemingly recovered from his stomach ailments. Rudolph continues to walk down the stairs and into his dark history.

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Our Rating

A24 released The Zone of Interest on February 2, 2023. Jonathan Glazer directed the film starring Christian Friedel, Sandra Hüller, and Johann Karthaus.

User Rating: 3.07 ( 3 votes)
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