The Zone of Interest Parent Guide
Domestic heaven in the shadow of hell.
Parent Movie Review
Her mother (Imogen Kogge) is visiting from Germany and Hedwig (Sandra Hüller) proudly shows off her Polish home. They tour the sprawling gardens, lush with colorful flowers and ripening vegetables. As the women sit on the patio, chatting contentedly about Hedwig’s comfortable life, Hedwig leans over and confides, “Rudi calls me the Queen of Auschwitz”. She smiles impishly and mother and daughter share a laugh.
Shocking as this moment is, it’s only one of the many grotesque scenes in The Zone of Interest, a story based on the lives of Rudolf (Christian Friedel) and Hedwig Höss. Rudolf Höss (also written “Hoess”) is notorious for his stint as commandant of Auschwitz, in which role he introduced gas chambers and increased the efficiency of the Nazi killing machine. As Rudolf devotes his time to the service of the Third Reich, Hedwig builds her dream life on the other side of the camp wall.
Mother of five children and an avid gardener, Hedwig exists in a picture-perfect world of domesticity. She weeds her garden, directs servants, plans picnics at the lake, and spends afternoons with her children around their backyard pool. She also sorts through the packages that are delivered from the camp, trying on a fur coat one day, and asking her husband to look for chocolate or other goodies in the evening.
As with all Holocaust movies, The Zone of Interest is deeply disturbing. What makes this film remarkable is that the usual horrors are all off-screen. Blood and brutality are not seen; only heard. Throughout the film, gunshots, blows, and screams punctuate the action, but they don’t disrupt the domestic idyll on the other side of the wall. As the crematoria chimneys pump smoke into the air, and the camp discharges effluent that scatters human remains in the river, the lives of the Höss family barely miss a beat.
If you are thinking of watching this movie with teenagers, you can be assured that there is little onscreen violence or profanity. An adulterous relationship is implied but no activity is seen and even smoking and alcohol consumption are relatively light by the standards of the era. Production values are good but not lavish, with spare cinematography that lends the movie a documentary vibe. It’s certainly safe viewing for older teens – whether they’ll tolerate the film’s slow pace is another question. As for adults, this is a masterful film; a timely reminder of what happens when we dehumanize others and prioritize our own power, wealth, and comfort.
Unlike most films about the Nazi genocide, this story doesn’t focus on the suffering of the victims but on the motivations of the perpetrators. How can Rudolf Höss read bedtime stories to his children and also attend meetings about how to efficiently murder 800,000 Hungarians? How can any mother be so in love with her lifestyle that she refuses to leave Auschwitz when her husband is transferred? Auschwitz. What kind of dark, twisted soul considers life in the shadow of the crematoria to be “paradise”?
Director Jonathan Glazer doesn’t give offer clear answers to these questions, but he tries to burrow into the psyche of his characters. Rudolf is difficult to read: he comes across as a task-focused, callous technocrat. Hedwig, on the other hand, is so coldly selfish, so intensely narcissistic that she won’t let anything get in the way of the comfortable life she wants for herself. The toxic environment gradually bleeds its way into the family – Rudolf sickens, a son plays with the gold-filled teeth of the dead and smilingly bullies his brother, a daughter has disturbing dreams – and Hedwig’s smile stiffens, but she refuses to see anything she does not want to acknowledge. In John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, Satan says, “It is better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven”. And as she studiously ignores the screams of the damned and the fires that burn over the barbed-wire topped fence, Hedwig, “Queen of Auschwitz” seems to agree.
Directed by Jonathan Glazer. Starring Sandra Hüller, Christian Friedel, Freya Kreutzkam. Running time: 105 minutes. Theatrical release January 26, 2024. Updated January 27, 2024
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The Zone of Interest
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Zone of Interest rated PG-13? The Zone of Interest is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic material, some suggestive material and smoking.
Violence: Gunshots are frequently heard as are screams and blows. Crematoria smokestacks are seen belching smoke into the sky. Men have a meeting about how to design crematoria that will burn more corpses more quickly. People discuss goods stolen from the prisoners at Auschwitz. Nazis attend a meeting to plan the logistics for the transportation and murder of 800,000 Hungarians. A teenage boy forcibly locks his brother in a greenhouse against his will. A woman tells her servant that her husband could “spread her ashes” across a field. A man is ordered drowned in the river. A teenager examines gold-filled teeth that have been removed from the corpses of prisoners. There’s mention of a man who hits his wife.
Sexual Content: An adulterous relationship is implied but it is not seen. A man drops his trousers and is apparently washing his genitals, although his shirt tail obscures his actions. A teenage boy and girl kiss briefly. People are seen in modest swimwear: a man is shown from the side and his genitals are clearly outlined by his swim trunks.
Profanity: The script contains a handful of minor profanities and terms of deity. It’s possible there is a sexual expletive but the sound was unclear at the screening I attended.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults, including main characters, smoke cigarettes. Alcohol is consumed at parties. A woman gets drunk and ignores a crying baby.
Page last updated January 27, 2024
The Zone of Interest Parents' Guide
You can learn more about concentration camps below:
Holocaust Encyclopedia: Nazi Camps
Wikipedia: Nazi concentration camps
Wikipedia: Extermination camp
The New Yorker: The System
Auschwitz.org: Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum
Smithsonian Magazine: The Real History Behind “The Zone of Interest” and Rudolf Höss
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This film is inspired by The Zone of Interest, a fictional novel written by English author Martin Amis. The novel is told from the perspective of an officer who has fallen in love with the wife of the camp commandant.
With KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps, author Nikolaus Wachsmann provides an in-depth, system-wide view of the brutal apparatus of mechanized death and slave labor constructed by the Nazis.
Providing a personal perspective on the horrors of concentration camps, Italian writer Primo Levi gives us Survival in Auschwitz. Another first-person account of life in the camps comes from psychologist Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning.
If you wonder what happens to children raised by Nazi leaders like Rudolf Höss, you will want to read Children of Nazis: The Sons and Daughters of Himmler, Göring, Höss, Mengele, and Others – Living with a Father’s Monstrous Legacy. This book was researched and written by Tania Crasnianski and translated into English by Molly Grogan.
Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel series Maus tells the story of the Holocaust using mice as characters and is suitable for teen readers. If you’re looking for a basic introduction for older kids, you can try What Was the Holocaust? Written by Gail Herman, this well-illustrated book provides late elementary school readers with an easy-to-understand explanation of the period.
Related home video titles:
The horrors of the Holocaust are depicted in numerous films that are suitable for teens. The sufferings endured by people in concentration camps are shown in The Auschwitz Report and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, My Best Friend Anne Frank and are recollected in #Anne Frank: Parallel Stories and Remember This. One of the most powerful movies ever made about the Holocaust is Schindler’s List. For a bloodless but moving look at the magnitude of the loss experienced by Jewish survivors, we highly recommend The Song of Names. Germans who were teenagers and young adults under the Nazi regime discuss their complicity or rebellion in Final Account. A German lawyer is shocked to learn about the extent of the Holocaust and tries to prosecute some of those responsible in Labyrinth of Lies.