Thursday, February 15, 2024

The Zone of Interest: Movie Review


The Zone of Interest 2023
A Masterpiece from a TV Commercial Director


Friend, please do something for me. Put this article aside and find the nearest theater showing The Zone of Interest. Walk into the theater knowing as little as possible about it. Then return to this article so we can exchange notes. I need to talk about this movie with others.


The Zone of Interest is going to generate a great deal of talk. There will be debates and podcasts. There will be university courses and peer-reviewed scholarly articles. There will be a backlash industry pooh-poohing every accolade the film receives. If you wait too long, your chance to have your own experience of the film may slip out of your hands. You may feel, "The Zone of Interest is its own industry. Seeing it would be too much like homework. I'd prefer the latest superhero movie."


You may be thinking, "Another Holocaust film. They're just are fishing for an Academy Award! Why can't we have movies about other atrocities? And I don't like watching people being tortured."


First, there is no torture, and almost no violence, in this movie. I cry at movies and I didn't cry while watching Zone. Days later, while merely thinking about it, I cried. I had nightmares. Even in my nightmares, there was no blood. There were merely well-groomed, clean people behaving in accord with their value system, their character, and their mental defenses. And we need Holocaust movies because the Holocaust was a big deal. And we can have movies about other atrocities, too, like Twelve Years a Slave and Killers of the Flower Moon.


Zone is universal and timeless, like W. H. Auden's poem "Shield of Achilles," which uses Jesus' crucifixion and Achilles' shield to discuss twentieth-century atrocity. Both Auden's poem and Zone say as much about slavery or the Cambodian Killing Fields or the Gulag as films directly addressing those topics.


I recommend Zone to every thinking adult. I say "thinking" because a subset of viewers are not getting this movie. There are some negative fan reviews online. These say that the film is "boring." "Nothing happens," they complain. "There is no plot." Bless their hearts.


Thinking adults are capable of observing. "To observe" implies an increase in cognitive activity from "to watch." If you know how to observe, you will get Zone.


Filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron, winner of four Academy Awards, said, that Zone is "probably the most important film of this century, both from the standpoint of his cinematic approach and the complexity of its theme." And if you are thinking, "Oh, this movie sounds too artsy-fartsy. I like more direct fare," don't let that stop you. Glazer got his start in that most democratic of forms, the TV commercial, where he depicted drinking a Guiness beer as tantamount to being a white stallion emerging from ocean surf. Glazer knows how to create images that penetrate to your lizard brain. He wields that magic here, not to sell beer, but to bring you closer to yourself, your own lowest fears and highest prayers.


In the article, below, I will summarize the plot, and then discuss the filmmaker, his approach, and the history he addresses.