Innovative Approach: Portraying Holocaust Horrors in an Oscar-Nominated Film Without Graphic Violence

Innovative Approach: Portraying Holocaust Horrors in an Oscar-Nominated Film Without Graphic Violence

Exploring a Unique Perspective: Dive into 'The Zone of Interest,' a groundbreaking historical drama that redefines Holocaust narratives by sidestepping traditional depictions of violence.

Jonathan Glazer's "The Zone of Interest" is a historical drama that has been nominated for an Oscar. It focuses on the Holocaust.

The story revolves around Rudolf Höss, the actual commandant of Auschwitz, and his family. They lead ordinary lives next to the notorious concentration camp, creating a stark contrast.

Viewers may never witness the unspeakable horrors happening on the other side of the garden wall, but they can hear them. The muffled screams, heart-wrenching wails, and piercing gunshots echo through the air. They also hear the distant sounds of trains and the constant hum of the incinerator.

Director Glazer expressed in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he was determined not to use actors and extras to recreate the atrocities in his film. He believed that the images of these events were already ingrained in our minds, but sound could add a new layer of interpretation.

The sound design in “The Zone of Interest” plays a significant role in the film, almost like a main character. Glazer has mentioned in interviews that the movie can be seen as consisting of two parts: the visuals and the sounds.

The constant ambient noises serve as a disturbing reminder of the evil that the Höss family is involved in. It indicates that Höss, his wife Hedwig, and their children are fully aware of the ongoing mass murder of millions of Jews and others, but they have chosen to ignore it.

"In other words, they may not see it, but they definitely know about it," Glazer explained to Amanpour.

"The Zone of Interest," an Oscar-nominated film, revolves around Nazi commander Rudolf Höss and his family. Their picturesque garden is located just next to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Courtesy of A24

Constructing a sonic depiction of the Holocaust, however, was no simple task.

Sound designer Johnnie Burn, known for his work on films like "Poor Things" and "Nope," conducted extensive research on the sounds heard at a World War II extermination camp. IndieWire's Sarah Shachat reported in her article "How 'The Zone of Interest' Uses Our Ears Like No Other Film" that Burn compiled 600 pages of information, including details on the planes, trains, automobiles of the era, and survivor accounts of life inside the camp.

In interviews, Burn revealed that he spent a year collecting the audio that creates the eerie atmosphere in the film. Rather than using actors to mimic sounds of suffering, he opted to gather field recordings from real-life events where similar noises could be heard, such as the 2022 Parisian riots. This approach required a lot of creativity on Burn's part, as he aimed to authentically capture the haunting sounds without resorting to artificial means.

"It's really challenging for actors to convincingly fake the pain of a severe injury or fatality, no matter how talented they are," Burn shared with IndieWire. He explained that the film's realistic vibe makes it crucial for performances to feel authentic, without any hint of stiffness.

In an interview on the Slate podcast "Working," Burn revealed that he went the extra mile to accurately represent the nationalities at Auschwitz. He recorded voices from different European cities to ensure diversity. Additionally, he enlisted the help of a man in Estonia who owned World War II-era German motorbikes to capture authentic engine sounds for the film.

Burn and his team faced another challenge in determining how audible the sounds of Auschwitz would have been in reality. Responding to the film's production designer's suggestion, they decided to increase the intensity of the audio.

Reflecting on the experience, Burn shared, "There was a constant flow of people and activities every day. Although we had done our research, we realized that we were being too cautious with the sound. We felt it might be disrespectful, so we revisited the sound design and added more layers."

The film's resulting soundscape is seen as the most unsettling aspect. Despite facing criticism for its indirect approach to the Holocaust, Burn's impressive sound work has received industry recognition. "The Zone of Interest" was honored with the BAFTA Award for Best Sound and also took home the top prize at the London Critics' Circle awards. It received five Oscar nominations, including nods for Best Sound and Best Picture.

While "The Zone of Interest" focuses on the Holocaust, director Glazer and producer James Wilson emphasized that its message remains relevant today. Wilson highlighted the importance of caring about innocent lives lost in current conflicts, such as in Gaza, Yemen, Mariupol, and Israel.

Glazer explained to CNN that the wall represents how we separate and accept the suffering of others to maintain our own comfort and safety.

According to Glazer, "The Zone of Interest" delves into the idea of what we focus on and what we choose to overlook.

“It’s not saying, ‘Look at what they did,’” he said. “It’s saying, ‘Look at what we do.’”

Editor's P/S:

Jonathan Glazer's "The Zone of Interest" offers a unique and thought-provoking exploration of the Holocaust through its innovative use of sound. By presenting the horrors of Auschwitz through the lens of the commandant's family, the film forces us to confront the complicity of those who choose to ignore the suffering of others. The haunting soundscape, meticulously crafted using real-life recordings, creates an immersive and visceral experience that transports viewers into the heart of the tragedy.

The film's broader message, however, extends beyond the Holocaust. Glazer and Wilson urge us to consider the ongoing suffering in the world and challenge our own complacency. The wall that separates the Höss family from the horrors of Auschwitz serves as a metaphor for the walls we erect around ourselves, allowing us to ignore the plight of others and maintain our own comfort. "The Zone of Interest" is a powerful reminder that we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering of others and that our choices have real consequences.