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Many Holocaust films present the ethical dilemna of trying to stay alive
the cost of allowing others to die or even sending others to their death.
few films might focus on the dreaded Kapos in the camps -- or on the
Jewish Council members who helped organize the transport groups -- or on
musicians/performers who entertained the Nazis -- all of whom hoped that
they would be allowed to survived. But this film focuses on the
Sonderkommandos -- the special workers -- who ushered Jewish victims to
gas chambers and burned the bodies. They too hoped to survive. But they
must have known that they were going to be murdered eventually, if only
because they had become the most dangerous witnesses to the cold Nazi
horror. And the film begins by informing us that these groups of
Sonderkommandos were never allowed to live longer than four months.
There are several reasons you must see this film. First, it is based on the diary of Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew chosen by Josef Mengele to be the head pathologist at Auschwitz. And it dramaticizes the true attempt by Sonderkommandos to destroy the Auschwitz gas chambers.
Second, it focuses on ethical dilemnas faced by Dr. Nyiszli and the various Sonderkommandos who are trying to save themselves, their families, or ... just someone ... anyone. To say that these men were "co-opted" by the Nazis is to ignore the horror of the coercion, debasement and dehumanization that the Nazis inflicted -- not only on their prisoners, but upon themselves. One can imagine that some Sonderkommandos were selfish -- just as some Kapos were cruel and some doctors who assisted the Nazis were accomplices. But the question remains -- what would you have done in the face of such coercion and duress?
Third, the film -- based on Tim Blake Nelson's play -- is not the typical Holocaust film. There is very little redeeming behavior. There is no uplifting ending. The grey zone of moral ambiguity is presented as a cold, unfeeling, horrifying place -- where you are damned if you do, and damned if you don't -- which means that they are all damned! For the first third of the film, the script is obtuse, confusing, and disconnecting -- as it should be, considering that we may as well be taking the point of view of someone who just arrived on a train and entered the gates of hell. How can any of this make sense? In the opening scene, the Doctor is asked to save the life of a Jew who attempted suicide. How absurd can that be -- to save the life of someone who will sooner rather than later be murdered by the Nazis anyway?!
In conclusion, the play/film contains dialogue and scenes that are memorable. This is one of my favorites. One Jewish leader is demanding that they destroy the gas chambers as soon as possible. But another Jewish leader is still planning on escape, arguing that he has every right to expect to live. The first leader replies, something to the effect that, after what he has seen and done, he does not want to live!
Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, April 18, 2004. Last night, after seeing a Holocaust documentary on Kurt Gerron ("Prisoner of Paradise") a friend of mine asked me what I would have done? I told her that it would depend on whom I was caring for -- my wife and my daughters -- my parents. It was then that I realized that I would have probably done everything that every Jew did during the Holocaust. I would have tried to save myself and my family. I would have abandoned others -- even betrayed others. I would have killed. I would have fought the Nazis. And I would have probably been killed for it. I would have despaired -- tried suicide -- become depressed, useless to everyone. I don't think I would have survived. I think the only question in that regard -- and it shows how irrelevant the question really is -- is "how soon would I have died." That is why I remember Holocaust Memorial Day -- so that I will never forget -- and I can help work towards a time when such a hell will not occur in Europe, in Africa, in the Middle East, in the US, ... anywhere.
I've seen this film twice. The first time it was such a shocking,
horrifying spectacle I vowed to never see it again. It is absolutely
among the most graphic, violent films ever made, save slasher/horror films. I saw it again to see what was buried
underneath the gore. It was surprising. As a historical document
alone The Grey Zone is unique and impressive. Countless small
details contribute to its originality: the blue-green color of the
Zyklon B crystals, the sprinklers constantly working the lawn
beside the crematoria, the clear, pretty daylight when the trains
arrive, the intimate building-to-building geography of Birkenau --
only the film Shoah manages to make these small historical
details count so much. What's left to be said about the Holocaust?
These things. Small things. Details. The grass, the sound ovens
make, sunlight hitting brick. Shoes. Luggage.
The Grey Zone is so unique that it has been misinterpreted. There
is virtually no music, nothing to tell you how to feel. It is exactly the
opposite of melodrama. The mundane repetition of the killings
actually numbs you after awhile, and this is intentional since this is
how the main characters are affected. There is no uplifting
message, and no cliched Zionist coda like Schindler's List
suggesting that all the suffering had a destination and a design.
There are some awkward elements in the film. But these are
minor next to the clarity of purpose and originality. The Grey Zone
should not become marginalized in the canon of Holocaust art
because it refuses to be sentimental. Hopefully it will be
referenced and reviewed for a long time.
This movie is by far the best holocaust movie ever. It covers an aspect of
the holocaust is rarely seen in other Holocaust-movies, namely the
destruction and cleaning of gassed Jews by other Jews.
The acting work of David Arquette, Harry Keitel and Steve Buscemi is excellent. The setting is perfect (very depressing, as it should be). The music fits superbly in.
You should pick a right night for this evening though, because everything, from the gassing to cleaning to burning, is shown uncensored in this movie. The ruthless executions by the German SS is uncensored. As you can imagine, it's quite heavy on the stomach, but this is a MUST-SEE movie.
I was a little wary of this film because of the cast - but David Arquette was surprisingly good. I happen to like films that have a theatrical uality - so that was fine with me. At first I wondered why Harvey spoke with an accent, and no one else did - then midway through the film I got that the idea was that the Jews HEARD his German accent - and since the story was from THEIR perspective, they had no accents from their point of view. To convey this to an American audience, they spoke like Americans. I despise Shindler's List . That film turned a horror into a feel good event. Disgusting. THIS movie doesn't manipulate you with sappy speeches and ridiculous violin crescendos, nor does it get sweet and sentimental like Saving Private Ryan. This movie is about horror - and it ends horribly. It doesn't cheapen the death, it forces you to feel all of the terrible weight.
This might not sound like a recommendation, but when you consider the film's subject matter, "painful" is actually a good word to describe THE GREY ZONE's brilliance. Director Tim Blake Nelson has crafted a fascinating portrayal of the Sonderkomando, Jewish concentration-camp prisoners who help the Nazis in order to ensure for themselves a few extra months of life, as well as creature comforts denied to the other prisoners. The script and cast are equally effective. David Arquette proves himself to be not merely the idiot bastard son of the Arquette family with a powerful performance; Harvey Kietel and Steve Buscemi are brilliant as always. The film's real strength, making it the greatest Holocaust film I've ever seen, is its relevance; we may think ourselves to noble to sell out our brethren to save our own lives, but we would certainly reconsider if actually faced with this choice. In the end, Nelson brilliantly implies that perhaps the nightmare world of the Sonderkomando is really not so different from our own workaday reality.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I think I am approaching this film with a slightly different
perspective than a lot of people here. 2 months ago I visited both
Auschwitz, and Birkenau as I passed through Poland. It is arguably the
most horrifying and at the same time the most important thing I have
done in my life. I watched the 'Grey Zone' some months before I left,
and yes to echo some I found the acting somewhat overdone in places and
the first bit of the movie rather confusing. Having come back, it is a
different story. The acting is heavy because the emotion of the place
is heavy. The confusion you might feel in the first part of the film is
what you *should* feel. Never forget, that Auschwitz is where the rule
of law, decency and normality ceased to apply. This movie will not make
you feel good, so don't expect it too...it is not its intent to present
a happy victorious story. Its intent is to show those who have not
lived through or visited Auschwitz just a small part of the horror of
everyday existence, the juxtaposition of what may be right, and what
you would do for another day of life. Having seen the cells in Block
XI, having seen the womens camp, having stood in the remaining gas
chamber and crematoria at Auschwitz I, I can assure you that this movie
does its best to do justice to the memory of those who died. It is well
This is the second film from writer/director/actor Tim Blake Nelson to disappear into film limbo. Known for his leading role in O Brother Where Art Thou, he also wrote and directed O, which was shelved after the Columbine massacre. It has taken 3 years for The Grey Zone to arrive on Australian shores, and it has now gone straight to video. This is a great shame as this is a stunning film worthy of far more attention. It is the true story of the Sonderkommando groups in Auschwitz, the most infamous of all Nazi concentration camps. The Sonderkommandos were Jewish prisoners who volunteered to work on the gas chambers and furnaces in exchange for better treatment and extended life. No team ever lasted more than 4 months, and would themselves be added to the groups herded into the gas chamber by the next sonderkommando group. This is the tale of the 12th group, who used their position to revolt against the Nazis and blow up the two primary gas chambers/furnaces. There are many flaws within the film; the dialogue feels too much like a play which makes the discussions somewhat static, everybody has an American accent except for Harvey Keitel who somehow manages to sound like Mel Brooks impersonating a German, and the details of how they select Sonderkommandos and their lifestyles are not very well dealt with. However, these faults do very little to diminish the power of this film. For above all else, this is a story that not only succeeds in answering the question of why Jews would volunteer for such a duty, but also allows the viewer a stunning and horrifying look into human psychology and the politics of oppression. While a film like Schindler's List allows us a broader view of the overall situation, it failed to truly give any insight into the individuals who allowed the machines of war to keep operating. How could people not rise up and at least to try fight knowing they were going to die anyway? The Grey Zone gives the viewer a very clear and very painful view of the weakness within humanity, of how humans allow themselves to be convinced that everything will be ok, no matter what evidence we have in front of us. In telling the story of the one uprising to occur within the most destructive of all concentration camps, we get to show the good in man, and the evil. And in this the film succeeds above many other films, and is worthy of praise far surpassing the melodramatic tripe that Hollywood usually tries to feed us in regards to the second world war. And, in our current political climate, it is more important than ever to understand how easily we fall back on our ability to turn a blind eye and believe the lies that even our next door neighbour will tell us.
Tim Blake Nelson takes his stage play--an adaptation of a book by
Miklos Nyiszki--to the big screen,and what a story it is!
An unthinkable,unconscionable deal has been worked out between a certain group of Nazi death camp inmates and their captors: in order to avoid the ovens(in all likelihood,only temporarily),these inmates would use their talents(among them,musical) to placate and ease along the funneling of other Jews and "undesirables" into the death chambers. A strong cast and an even stronger screenplay/script is augmented by very intelligent cinematography. Particularly good turns by David Arquette,Steve Buscemi,Daniel Benzali and Mira Sorvino as the inmates,all desperate,all convinced of what they have to do to survive and in Arquette's character's case,not even certain if it is even worth it.
It would be tempting to slam "Schindler's List" after seeing this,but I won't. SL is meant as an epic,a tribute,a story of the upside of surviving through the most dense of human tragedy,whereas GZ is a decidedly darker exploration of what happens to people in the same situation but are pushed into much less noble,much more selfish and desperate devices. Both are strong examples of the genre,but where GZ triumphs is that that it explores the most damning actions through the consciences of people faced with decisions that nobody should have to make. It is an unflinching portrait of a dark chapter in human history,rife with detail and completely lacking of lecturing. THis film is for anyone who wants to see an unvarnished and stark portrayal of the human condition brought to its lowest denominator. A must-see for college classrooms and Holocaust museums anywhere!
No punches pulled in this one. "The Grey Zone" is to "Schindler's List" what "Menace II Society" was to "Boyz N The Hood". Tim Blake Nelson gives an incredibly moving account of men and women who know they're dead, but are simply looking for clear consciences on the way out. The performances are excellent (with the possible exception of a miscast Keitel), and the lack of sentiment gives a much more realistic depiction of what these human beings actually had to go through. Be prepared: the last 10 minutes of this film are completely unsettling.
I love WWII movies and am a fan of many that were made about the Holocaust.
I saw this one a few nights ago it is playing right now only very limited
Good cast with Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, Steve Buscemi and an impressive performance for a change by David Arquette. Arquette chose a very serious role-a Jewish prisoner at a Nazi concentration camp and played it off well.
This is based on a true story about a group of Jewish concentration camp inmates at Auschwitz that plan on smuggling in dynamite to blow up one of the crematoriums. Their plan gets discovered by the SS and killings and torture run rampant to try and get them to confess and give details of their plans.
A teenage girl happens to survive one of the gassings and the camp inmates become obsessed with saving her, even though it could be at the expense of many lives.
There were some people that saw this movie because they couldn't get in to see "Frida". Some people had no idea what this movie was about before they saw it. Some people asked me before it started and I told them and they still chose to stay. If you are a history buff and like Holocaust movies and want to see a true story told through the eyes of the writers, you might like this movie but be prepared to see endless killings working around a decent script that could have been better written. However if you can appreciate the fact that the makers are trying to educate people on the Holocaust and bring to light just how cruel and horrible Hitler's Third Reich was, the movie is sad, depressing, but does have some educational value. Not every single Jew willingly accepted what was going to happen to them, a few tried to rebel and that's why this story was told.
Not very easy on the eyes, bring the Kleenex and watch with shock as one of history's most horrible atrocities is brought to the screen.
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