The Grey Zone

The very best depiction of the Holocaust in any media is the 1997 film The Grey Zone, directed and written by Tim Blake Nelson. Nelson abandons the convention that the death camps should be shown through artistic metaphor with the horrors offscreen- as, for example,  The Pawnbroker or Schindler's List- and faces them head on, using the full resources of modern filmmaking to reproduce the Birkenau death camp in hideously thorough detail. If there are blazing crematoria, and piles of corpses, Nelson hides nothing- indeed he re-constructed the entire complex from the original plans. 

This approach is not only utterly immersive but it is essential to sustain the central theme of the film; the moral compromise of the Jewish Sonderkommando who managed to live a little longer and better by helping the SS to usher their own people through the gas chambers. In an exceptional scene one of them is directly confronted by a newly arrived Hungarian with the words “ look me in the eye and tell me that I am not going to die”- and he responds, in a fight over the man's gold watch, by beating him to death. The mocking SS guard removes the watch and throws it into his lap as he cries on the floor, with the screams of the suffocating victims in the background. Undoubtedly this brutal and disturbing realism explains why the film has been widely disregarded while less consequential or feel-good pap such as “Life is Beautiful” and "The Pianist" won Oscars-although, alone among the critics, Roger Ebert rated it as one of the greatest films of all time.  But, after watching this film, you will find that every other depiction looks artificial and demeaning to the historical reality.


Schindler's List or the Grey Zone - or Shoah?

I'd agree that the Grey Zone is a more powerful depiction of the Holocaust than Schindler's List, for similar reasons to those indicated by George Marshall above. But above them both I'd still put Shoah (although this is a documentary, of course). 

Average: 5 (1 vote)
Film Category: 
United States