Christmas Thoughts About ‘Zone of Interest,’ a Timely and Timeless Film

Ten days ago, Zone of Interest, a Holocaust film, was released in the United States. It’s one of those movies that gets serious ‘Best Picture’ talk at Academy Awards time. From the picture’s Wikipedia entry:

The Zone of Interest is a 2023 historical drama film written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, loosely based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Martin Amis. A co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, the film centers on Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife as they strive to build a dream life next to the concentration camp. It stars Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller in the lead roles.

 The Zone of Interest premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on 19 May 2023 to critical acclaim, winning the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize. It was released in the United States on 15 December 2023, and will be released in the United Kingdom on 2 February 2024, by A24, and in Poland on 9 February 2024 by Gutek Film. It was named one of the top 5 international films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and was selected as the British entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, and was one of the 15 finalist films in the December shortlist.

If you’ve read the Amis book on which Zone is “loosely based,” I think you’ll shake your head in wonder: the plots of the two story versions share a scene and major characters — the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Commandant’s home just outside its walls and him and his family — but little of the action. The novel turns on a love triangle of sorts and involves a collaborating prisoner forced to choose between killing the woman in the dispute between two Nazis and the survival of his own wife; the movie doesn’t have a plot more engaging than the true-to-history assignment of the Commandant to Berlin and back to Auschwitz. “Loosely based,” though, may be exactly right because the two stories share the remarkably sharp message of the human capacity to be consumed with their individual lives in feigned ignorance of and real indifference to the madness taking place all around them.

The movie is making such a big splash because of the way it delivers its version of the message, a method impossible in a book. The writer and director filmed the movie with its bland plot-line — there are no scenes filmed within the operating Concentration Camp or characters trying to kill or save each other — but, post production, he added a sound track of all the noises coming from the machinery of mass murder just out of sight but not of hearing. The viewing audience, however, gets the full audio and is, as you must imagine, stunned beginning to end by the deliberate obliviousness of the story’s players in their relations with one another to the historical crimes against humanity, the scientific and systemic slaughter of more than a million people, taking place within easy earshot.

The trailer for the film can be watched via this link and the story of Glazer’s unique film-making choices can be read at How ‘The Zone of Interest’ Uses Our Ears Like No Other Film. It’s not currently showing in Oklahoma City but I hope to see the movie when it arrives, before or after next year’s Academy Awards. Zone of Interest  seems that rare film that communicates a simultaneously timely and timeless meaning, one that this medium is uniquely capable of delivering so powerfully.

After the jump, I share my thoughts in direct violation of the dictum not to talk about politics or religion over the holidays. Please stop here if you couldn’t be less interested in my ‘take’ on this film and why it is causing such a stir at Christmas time this year. No apologies will be offered to anyone scandalized by the contrarian opinions and traditional perspective which follows.

By “timely” I do not mean the holiday season, at least not directly. I think a large part of the movie’s success at Cannes this Spring and currently is due to the shared discomfort of everyone living today about the madness taking place all around us, the evisceration of our liberties and mental freedom by neurolinguistic programing and the rise in all cause mortality globally consequent to Covid medication mandates and lockdowns, a loss of freedom and the deaths of millions which we blissfully ignore and carry on with our lives as if it weren’t happening to us individually and collectively. Toby Rogers powerfully explores this aspect of the film at his ‘Utobian’ Substack page subtitled,An Exceptional Horror Film that is a Fitting Commentary on our Times.’

If you think that it is really about, say ‘Climate Change’ or ‘MAGA Fascism on the Rise,’ I suppose a case could be made for either one of those regime distractors. I do not know anything of the writer-director’s political beliefs but it is credible that the ‘Zone of Interest’ he is exploring allegorically is our shared capacity to ignore those progressive shibboleths or “threats” about which we are supposed to be living in fear and joining in the movements to prevent ecological or political apocalypse.

Having grown up in the media madness about an inevitable and incipient global ice age that never appeared and having lived through four years of Trump’s presidency, I confess to yawning or shaking my head in disbelief when reading or hearing the arguments of the Chicken Little Talking Heads of our time that I need to be living in fear. Especially when the Covid madness we all lived through and are still experiencing was and remains such an in-your-face revelation of a global effort to remake humanity and every political and cultural standard in the West.

If you were totally on board with the Covid hysteria and remain determinedly ignorant of and deaf to the sounds behind the walls of your yard or garden, I hope you will read Dr. Robert Malone’s ‘Lies My Government Told Me’, a lengthy but chilling Substack page-report by one of the founders of mRNA technology. Malone is someone who was willingly jabbed with the Covid ‘vaccines’ and he writes about his life experience consequent to speaking up about the dangerous misuse of his invention and the injuries and deaths caused by this.

If that is not sufficient to make you hear the machinery of death next door we all tune out, please readJust How Far Will the FDA Go to Protect a Bad Drug? SSRI Anti-Depressants and the Covid-19 Vaccinesas a chaser. The Covid madness and death tolls are just a more recent and more effective deployment of ‘Government Regulatory Agency Capture’ by corporations bent on profit at all costs, efforts redolent of those of the relatively recent past, most notably, the Prozac blitz of only a few years ago that continues today.

I believe that 2024 is being set-up as a watershed year in the history of humanity; the stageings of a ‘Civil War’ are being built by the political left and right so that there is an air of Armageddon in the atmosphere. I suspect this feeling is not due only to the distant possibility that one half of the docile American people will actually rise up next November at the election of the next President, though one half of the country is sure to be disappointed and outraged by whomever is chosen; my suspicion is that the collective angst we are experiencing is due to gut feeling that the authorities will — in the face of any resistance to the victory of the autocracy’s candidate — simply shut down our remaining civil liberties in the name of Public Safety. Dissenters will find themselves without gas, electricity, and access to their money at the flip of a switch, cf. the Truckers Strike in Canada for the real-time roll-out of that capability.

I don’t doubt that this strikes many as bizarro conspiracy thinking if not pure hysteria and delusion. If that is your view, I join you in hoping very much that you are right and I am wrong. I certainly have been wrong in the past; I had a garage full of rice, beans, and water at Y2K for my pregnant wife and six children to eat if the worst had happened in fin de siecle Houston. One thing we know for sure, as in Y2K and unlike the panics-without-a-deadline-or-horizon like Climate Change, MAGA Takeover, and Peak Oil, the election year of 2024 will reveal my concerns to be valid or ridiculous. Get your popcorn and enjoy the show.

I wrote above that the film Zone of Interest was simultaneously “timeless and timely.” The ‘timeliness’ of its release this month is due to positioning for the Academy Awards voting next month (as the Wikipedia entry noted, Zone made the Academy’s December shortlist for best picture) as well as any of its topical messaging for the age in which we live, if you believe in an ‘End Times’ or not. (Please note the consensus of historians that our times are unique in several regards, one of which is a disdain for the idea that we should expect the Lord’s return any moment and with that revelation experience our judgement.)

The ‘timelessness’ of Zone of Interest, though, is much more important than the Zeit-geist and any angst we may or may not be feeling. It is also timely with respect to Yuletide, the Christmas season. As Jonathon Pageau noted on Russell Brand’s Christmas Show this morning, a present a friend sent me today for my comment (he knew I am not a fan of either Brand or Pageau), despite the sentimental Dickensian trappings of good cheer and Madison Avenue marketing madness of year’s end, the Nativity of Christ was something of a nightmare event. Not only is the Son of Man born in a cave because the Bethlehem Inn has no room and the Holy Family forced to escape into Egypt, there is also the reason for that flight, the slaughter of all male children under two years old in the vicinity of the Messiah’s prophesied birthplace. See Matthew 2:16-18 for the scriptural account and this piece for the extra-biblical evidence that the massacre took place. It makes any of Scrooge’s Christmas Eve epiphanies seem more like a series of spectral dreams than deadly nightmares.

Christ is born in the depth of winter — and don’t fall to the Enlightenment era fairy tale about the date having been chosen in order to baptize Saturnalia, a Roman holiday invented to combat Nativity —  and within the heart of darkness regime of Herod because Jesus Christ is the light of the world. The hopelessness and lack of warmth, the absence of light, was a precondition in many ways of the Lord’s advent and incarnation, one made visible at His Nativity. All of time as we understand history turns on that day, just as traditional English calendars dated the New Year on Annunciation or ‘Lady Day’ until well into the 18th Century.

Zone of Interest speaks to this timeless theme, in Orthodox Christian understanding an eternal event whose graces we experience in the liturgical celebration of Christ’s birth, in timely fashion at its second release this month. From this view, the auteur’s message in Zone is the neglected message of the season, namely, that we need to wake up to the reality of our deaths, of human mortality in general, the deaths all around us, the noisy machinery of which we hide behind walls and make ourselves deaf to. Coming awake to the inevitability of death, we look for Christ’s birth within us, our putting off the Old Man in an interiorized crucifixion to join ourselves as living members to His resurrected, eternal, Mystical Body.

That salvific Nativity specific to each of us, of course, is only possible if or when individually we throw off the Deceiver’s distractions and look him and death straight in the face — and then turning from that nigredo reduction to our essence, the logos reality in our Hearts, to the Logos God-man Himself. In Him is our victory over a living psycho-somatic death and over the eternal, spiritual death as well.

As I said, I look forward to seeing Zone of Interest when it comes to Oklahoma City. It’s a rare film that I think will be a help to me both in understanding the Signs of the Times as well as the eternal truths of the fatal human condition of which the advent of Christ historically and in each person is the surest revelation and cure.

I wish you a Merry Christmas if you celebrate the Nativity of Christ today and an edifying, prayerful fast for those of you on the Church’s rather than the civil calendar.

Asking your prayers,

John

 

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