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THE ZONE OF INTEREST and the Sound of Horror

A review of the film by Jonathan Glazer.

By Jack Anderson KeanePublished 2 months ago 5 min read
3

"'The little snow white bird flew down and sang, 'Be warned, be warned.' Gretel understood what the witch had in mind, and said, 'Please show me first, I don’t know how to do that.' The witch sat on the shovel, and Gretel pushed her into the oven, as deep as she could. Then she closed the iron door of the oven, and secured it with a bar. The witch got cooked alive as a punishment for her horrible deeds.'"

***

The things you hear affect the things you feel. Even if you're not consciously aware of hearing anything unusual, your body and mind still feel the sound, and respond to the stimuli accordingly.

Low-frequency sounds create physical and mental reactions in the human body that defy dispassionate rationality, triggering instinctual discomforts that weigh heavy on one's physiological and psychological wellbeing, especially with prolonged exposure. 37 Hz can produce disorders of the stomach and heart. 27 Hz instills anxiety, nausea, headaches, and an abiding feeling of fear. 18.98 to 19 Hz, the resonance frequency of the human eyeball, can provoke optical illusions by literally vibrating your eyes, making you see things that aren't there. 16 Hz or less, and these infrasounds become seriously debilitating to your health. To quote this paper about infrasound environmental hazards:

"Infrasound waves affect the central nervous and digestive system, cause pain of the head and internal organs, and interfere with the rhythm of respiration. Giddiness, vomiting, loss of consciousness, and blindness may become manifest. Infrasound also has an effect on human consciousness (the individual fails to control his actions), arouses the feeling of horror, which sometimes is the cause of death."

You never directly see the atrocities being committed in The Zone of Interest, but you can always hear the sound of them, a constant sickening thrum of terror soundtracking the margins of the main Nazi family's oh-so-idyllic existence, living on the other side of the barbed wire-topped walls of Auschwitz.

Out of sight may be out of mind for these mundanely evil individuals, planting vines to cover the prison wall's harsh brickwork, and growing an overabundance of different flowers to try to mask the daily stench of death. But they can never escape the sound of what's truly happening. It never abates. It never stops. And while they may have lived with it long enough to have consciously tuned it out in an act of horrifyingly banal normalisation... there is always something inherently, darkly suffocating about the atmosphere invoked by the unholy sounds they're enshrouded by, alongside the air they breathe being literally suffocated by the billowing columns of acrid smoke pouring daily from the chimneys right next door, polluting the skies and the surrounding rivers with the burnt remnants of an ongoing genocide.

The baby is always crying. The dog is always agitated. The silence is never really silent. How can it be, when at all hours of the day and night, there is the faintly distant yet perpetual dark, gut-churning rumble of industrial fires roaring, countless disembodied voices screaming, and gunshots piercing the air like an endless supply of firecrackers popping?

The sound weighs on you like a heavy cloak of eldritch dread, and over time, it feels as though it likewise weighs on the Nazi family in subtle ways, infiltrating the cracks in their fascistic facades of normality and happiness as the seasons grow colder, and the war's end draws nearer. This is never some instigator of change in their hearts, or a route to redemption, because there is none for these people. They abdicated their humanity, their very souls, as soon as they reasoned it was somehow morally just to mass murder entire races of people, and couch it all in bureaucratic mundanity and double-speak euphemism. They crafted twisted logics to justify their complicity, and may have sufficiently deluded themselves into believing they're upstanding, decent people... but that sound is always there, niggling at the peripheries of their conscious minds, never letting them fully forget what is happening, or what they're allowing, and gradually eating away at them from the inside out, like a nervous system disrupted into eventual collapse by some persistent infrasound doing its irrevocable damage the longer one is exposed to it.

And much like the characters of The Zone of Interest can never elude the sound surrounding them, nor can they escape the eye of the film itself, keeping them under constant surveillance as they move from room to room in their comfortable home that was built and bought off the backs of the dead.

They are always being watched, both by us as the audience, and by the seemingly impassive gaze of the camera. Even at night, they cannot evade being surveilled, as the film startlingly shifts into anachronistic thermal vision, uncanny monochromatic imagery underscored by the snippets of Mica Levi's characteristically eerie, atonal, hypnotic music. (Their score only gets to fully shine in the inky blackness of the prologue, and in the end credits, with moments of the rest of their work sporadically sprinkled through the film's otherwise starkly music-less soundscape. Even so, what you do hear of Levi's work is enough for me personally to hope a soundtrack album does manifest sometime soon, no matter how viscerally disturbing their compositions may be.)

It's only by the film's final spine-chilling minutes that the fabric of the film folds in on itself, revealing us in the role of a silent yet principled observer, breaking the invisible barriers of the medium to confront one of the story's subjects with something they don't want to see, history and fiction and reality and time and space collapsing in on each other in a way only cinema can achieve.

The Zone of Interest may not be an enjoyable viewing experience, nor is it one you'd necessarily wish to revisit. But it is an important film worthy of your time, and the points it makes so uncompromisingly and masterfully through Jonathan Glazer's painstakingly calculated filmmaking, all makes it so that you almost need not rewatch it, because the film's hauntingly lingering impact will stay embedded in your psyche no matter what.

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About the Creator

Jack Anderson Keane

An idiot pretending not to be an idiot.

You can also find me on Twitter (for memes), Instagram (for the pictures), Letterboxd (for film reviews), Medium (for a Vocal alternative), Goodreads (for book reviews), and Spotify (for my music).

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Comments (3)

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  • Kendall Defoe 2 months ago

    I both want to see it and avoid it for as long as I can. With film, when you cannot see it, it become something that your imagination forces you to develop. And that might be even too much for me (I have read and seen enough of the history behind this story to be indifferent or numb). And yet...

  • Lamar Wiggins2 months ago

    Interesting review. However, it will be the closest I get to this movie. I am a fan of horror and can easily unsee disturbing images. This one, I'm not sure if I'll be able to unsee, lol.

  • Alyssa Nicole2 months ago

    Wow! What an amazing review. There are so many unfathomable events that occurred during World War II. I agree that films like the Zone of Interest are important to truly capture the disturbing facts of history.

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