Grey Zone is a film by the director Tim Blake Nelson (2001). The plot of the film is based partially on Miklos Nyiszli’s Auschwitz: a Doctor’s Eyewitness Account (who was a Jew working as a doctor in camp and assisted Mengele during the experiments on cam prisoners) and on diaries found buried in the cam (Blackwelder n. p.).
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It is a true story that tells about a group of Sonderkommandos who worked in the Nazis crematoria. They were offered to work there in exchange for few more months of “a better life”: clean linen, better food and the advantage of walking across the territory of the camp.
The Sonderkommandos are the Jew prisoners. Their work is to burn the bodies of people (Jews mainly) killed in the gas chambers. Only one group of Sonderkommandos № 12 is going to rebel and make a diversion while destroying the crematorium which can help stop the horror at least for some time.
The film is very realistic and impressive. Apart from depicting the real events of the time, the director focus attention on the human relations, “quintessential human predicament”, moral, love, betrayal, brotherhood, mercy and other good human traits that were lost during the war.
The main idea of the film is to show how people can remain “people” under terrible conditions. The intention of the author was not only to depict a true historical situation, but examine human behavior and attitudes. The film is really thought provoking.
Tim Blake Nelson puts the characters of the film in situations which make them decide, either save their personal lives despite of other people’s fate, or take risk and let a “human” part of them head the situation.
One of such situations is when the prisoners planning the diversion find a 13 year old girl who was saved by a miracle in the gas chamber. Thus, they have to decide, either save the girl, or save their lives.
The realism of the film lies in the depiction of true historic, social and economic settings. As we know, the Jews were hunted by the Nazi army. The pictures in the film are the ones that really were observed during the war. As the film is based on the live memories, we can stay assure that what we see is what really happened.
We can observe how people behaved and what they felt. Social line is also described very realistic. We can observe how people had to kill their countrymen in order to save their lives.
Thus, the author of the film is trying to say that the war topsy-turned the lives of people and changed their priorities. The authenticity of the film makes it different from other Holocaust pictures. As Blake mentions about his characters:
“The characters aren’t cowering in corners or simpering. They’re not skulking off to pray; they’re not feeling sorry for themselves. They’re dealing with their situation in a strong way. It was very important to us to depict Jews in this way” (Wood n. p.).
It seems that people got used to such live and are ready to do everything to survive. They wash the bloodied walls of gas chambers, cut the hair of dead people and pull out the gold teeth, and all this horror and shame will only add them few months of comparatively (for camps) good life.
They see how people, men women and children are decoyed in to the gas chambers, how they die, but the Sonderkommandos can do nothing with this.
As it has already been mentioned, the story is relevant not only to the events and problems of the past, but to the contemporary issues as well. It draws attention to such moral conflicts and stems that are actual for our days. What is right and what is wrong? Whom to believe and how to act?
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What is more important: personal interests or moral principles? All these questions have existed since people inhabited the earth. They became the main axis of the film, they were the prevalent questions for camp prisoners and these questions should be answered by modern people as well.
The film is relevant to Peace and Conflict Studies, as it also analyses human social behavior, reasons and consequences of violence and non-violence. It explores the social and moral conflicts that people faced during the war and, actually, face nowadays.
The film produces a great effect. Though, we cannot see the tortures or dead people, we are allowed to see only faces of those who watch those tortures, there are no any great musical effects or graphic imaginary, we have to turn our imagination on.
We observe people who faced the most terrible times and who had to survive while preserving their morality and believe. There are no extremely impressive scenes which usually serve to evoke emotions and produce greater effect.
The events flow comparatively smoothly, in other words realistically, and this “calmness” makes your hair raiser. This makes the film more powerful. The author does not make any conclusions in the film and makes you wonder about the past, present and future.
Blackwelder, Rob. “Concentration Camp Quandary”. Spliced Wire. Web.
Wood, Jennifer M. “Tim Blake Nelson Enters The Grey Zone”. Movie Maker, 3 Feb. 2007. Web.