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  • myschrec18 April 2004
    Many Holocaust films present the ethical dilemna of trying to stay alive at the cost of allowing others to die or even sending others to their death. A few films might focus on the dreaded Kapos in the camps -- or on the elitist Jewish Council members who helped organize the transport groups -- or on the 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 the 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.
  • 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.
  • Warning: 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 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 worth seeing.

  • bri-802 November 2002
    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.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • dispet5 April 2004
    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.
  • This is truly one of the most disturbing films I have ever seen. If the goal of a great movie is to make its viewer changed forever, "The Grey Zone" certainly has succeeded. Yes it is not "Schindlers List". It has no uplifting theme, other than that in the face of no hope, doomed individuals tried desperately, if for nothing else, to save one life among millions of doomed. In the end even that effort is futile.

    It's images are haunting.

    Do to its depressing topic and even more disturbing ending others have criticized this movie as not being "entertaining". In fact it is entertaining. It is a horror movie of the real kind. The horror of human evil based on prejudice and hatred.

    Everyone needs to see this movie, with the exception of those who lived through it, as they already know!
  • 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 had a hard time getting to sleep after watching The Grey Zone. It is the darkest film I have ever seen. It is a stark contrast to Schindler's List in the fact that it is focused on the experience of the great majority of the people who were sent to the death camps and died. Nobody helped them. It is also raw in its presentation of the gas chambers, crematoria and the Sonderkommandos, Jews who volunteered to do the dirty work of processing the people who arrived at the camps and then their dead bodies afterwards in exchange for a few more months of life.

    That takes nothing away from the extraordinary Schindler's List, as it is very important to show the deeds of people like Oskar Schindler. His story and the story of many others like him is also true. In my opinion watching both films makes for an effective portrayal of the Holocaust on film, and an exploration of the nature of evil and humanity.

    Although the Grey Zone is a bleak story of utter human depravity, the darkness is not total. In an extraordinary turn of events that actually happened in October 1944, the very people who at first abandoned their morality to keep themselves alive threw the Nazis' deal back in their faces and sacrificed themselves, taking a part of the Auschwitz death factory with them. Their actions suggest that even though it flickers, the eternal flame that makes us greater than what we may appear to be is always present within.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Grey Zone is so full of horror and anguish that it's a hard movie to watch in some ways.

    The basic premise is 'how far would we go to save ourselves' in situations such as those faced by the Jews in Nazi concentrations camps. The answer is, of course, almost as far as necessary. This film concerns the crews of Jews who were forced to lead their countrymen into the gas chambers at Auzcwitz and then dispose of the bodies in cematoria afterward.

    With the only option death, what would you do? It's a tough question to answer but this film gets it about right. By the halfway mark you are so immune to seeing piles of dead men, women and children around that I think you actually can start to feel just a tiny bit of how desensitized these men must have become as they tried to buy themselves just a few more months of live.

    Most of the performances are very good though I disagree with some that Harvey Keitel's was up to his usual brilliance. The German accent didn't seem quite right to me but there you go.

    Great film, great message.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie can absolutely cause a depression for the rest of your weekend. It is the absolute hardcore movie of the inhumanity at Auswitch Birkenau. It shows a group of Hungarian Jews how are forced into working the gas chambers and crematoria the so called 'sonder commandos'. The scale of the mass murder has never been shown so graphically , and I have seen quiet a lot of WOII movies. Forced participation in the mass murder and the inhumanely dally routine this creates is the central theme of this movie. Through out the movie the mass of people being murdered and the 'alien' situation this creates makes it difficult to identify whit any of the victims or other characters in the movie. This remains until the 3 minutes before the end of the movie. After the rebellion of the sonder commandos is smashed by the SS, a trilling poem by a murdered gill sums up the final end of the sonder commandos. The poem and imagery shoots through the hart.
  • This is an important film because it depicts an event and an aspect of life in the extermination camps that is little-known. It is not meant to be a tear-jerker, or a film on the level of Schindler's List, especially since it does not tell the same story. What it does tell is the brutal reality of the only armed revolt staged by the Jews in Birkenau (the extermination camp attached to Auschwitz). The Sonderkommando ("Special Detail") were the prisoners that were forced to assist in the annihilation of their own people by taking the bodies from the gas chambers to the crematoria. In order to keep their crimes against humanity a secret, the SS liquidated each Sonderkommando every six weeks. This is the story of a group that stashed away weapons and explosives and revolted just before they were scheduled to be liquidated.

    After having read Eyewitness Auschwitz, written by a member of the Sonderkommando, and "Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account" by the completely self-absorbed doctor (in reality, not the movie) upon which this film is based, I'm glad this project was undertaken. It is a well-made movie that tries to portray too many of the complicated issues that involved with the subject. It has received some harsh criticism, especially by some who claim to be interested in the subject, but obviously missed many points in the movie. Since I don't know of any other films about the revolt of the twelfth Sonderkommando of Birkenau, I think this one is very good.

    One final note: Some people seem to think that the title refers to some moral dilemma faced by the characters. While that certainly was an issue for some who were there, and while the movie title may convey a double meaning, the main reason Birkenau was referred to as the Grey Zone was due to the coating of ash from burned human corpses that covered everything, including those who lived and worked there. It was on the ground, on the buildings, and on their clothing. They literally ate and breathed it 24 hours a day.
  • Absolutely one of the most powerful, disturbing and brutally honest movies on the holocaust ever made, this is far superior to such glossed over Hollywood portrayals as ceaselessly produced by Steven Spielberg and his group. Though those films certainly have their moments of merit, The Grey Zone is the absolute last word on Holocaust movies, a picture that so endlessly dives into the terror and banality of death that eventually absorbed the prisonners. VERY DISTURBING, and beautifully made, this film is too grim to have the Hollywood machine to support it, but it NEEDS to be heralded so it will live on. It is definitely up there with THE NIGHT PORTER and IN A GLASS CAGE as one of the most disturbing movies on the holocaust.

    Also it is quite clever in the manner that it gets away with everyone speaking English, an obvious commercial constraint. Interesting that a company like Nu Image, which usually backs First Degree Monster On The Loose movies and No Brainer action films (with the exception of the surprisingly enjoyable Undisputed), would produce this.

    A film to be cherished, though with a thoughtful warning...

    It is EXCEPTIONALLY disturbing.
  • 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 release.

    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.

  • 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.
  • The Grey Zone is a poetic and masterful Holocaust drama based on the true story of Jews who did the seemingly unthinkable by working for the Nazis inside concentration camps for a chance to receive better living conditions and the possibility of staying alive for a few extra months before being exterminated themselves. This is very grim stuff but also an extremely moving and thought-provoking look at what human beings in the most miserable of circumstances will do to stay alive, and how through it all they sustain their desire to ultimately fight back. Tim Blake Nelson - best known for playing comic yokels in O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Good Girl - wrote and directed the film based on his own play, and does a superb job in both categories. The offbeat casting of perennial goofball David Arquette in one of the leads pays off with a surprisingly restrained and moving performance, and the rest of the cast is full of top-notch actors including Steve Buscemi, Harvey Keitel, Mira Sorvino, Natasha Lyonne, Daniel Benzali, and Topsy-Turvy's remarkable Allan Corduner as a Jewish doctor who assists the infamous Dr. Mengele in his horrific 'experiments.' This is one of the few truly great films of 2002 and I hope it doesn't fly totally under the radar of the Academy come nomination time.
  • I wasn't at all familiar with this movie, but because of an abiding interest in the history of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, I decided to rent it. The true story was one that I wasn't familiar with: the rebellion of a group of Jews at a Nazi concentration camp. The jacket of the DVD placed the focus of the movie on the rebellion, but that was a bit misleading. The bulk of the story had much more to do with the mindset of collaboration than with the rebellion, which really received very little focus, until the end of the movie.

    In this film, we learn about the "Sonderkommandos" - groups of Jews who helped the Nazis maintain order at the concentration camps in exchange for a few extra privileges and a few extra months of life. The look at the mindset of collaboration was fascinating. The sonderkommandos are - understandably - looked down on by the rest of the Jews; the sonderkommandos themselves have some definite moral qualms about their work and - in spite of their own collaboration with the Nazis - they are definitely antagonistic toward Dr. Nyiszli (Allan Corduner), a Jewish doctor who gets even more privileges by co-operating in Nazi medical experiments on some of the captives. They're Jews who just don't fit in with the victims of the Holocaust (although they, too, will become its victims), and yet, even though they help the Nazis, they obviously don't fit in to that circle, either. Their existence was lived in a true "grey zone," in other words. This is a troubling story in many ways (as surely any movie about the Holocaust should be!) with some scenes being quite graphic.

    And yet, somehow the movie didn't keep me glued to the screen. It was interesting, but really not more than that, and I had hoped to learn more about the rebellion itself, which was passed over rather quickly I thought. For those interested in the subject, it's worth watching, but certainly not a masterpiece.

  • darienwerfhorst20 November 2006
    When I visited Auschwitz in 1990, I remember that my companion and I sat down outside the gates, once we were done, and cried for about an hour before catching the train back to Krakow.

    When I saw the first few minutes of this film, and those horrible buildings and the piles of ash that were still there when I visited, it brought everything back, but told a story I didn't know much about.

    It makes sense that the Nazi's would have used Jews to dispose of other Jews...they were totally expendable, and it's very logical, and perhaps that is why it is so horrible.

    The dialog is a bit Mamet like, yes, and you definitely know that you are watching something that was once a play, based on the somewhat mannered dialog and direction. And yet, it's a great story, well acted.

    Who is culpable? What would you do to survive? If you knew you were probably going to die, wouldn't you want to enjoy your last few weeks eating and drinking well? It's one of the very few films on the Holocaust I've seen that doesn't draw everything in black and white....what some of these men do to their fellow Jews is despicable, yet who amongst us can say that if he were hungry and desperate, he might not do the same.

    Definite food for thought.....and warning.. I wouldn't eat during this movie. You may experience some queasiness.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Grey Zone explores well-covered territory from a unique angle: that of the Jewish prisoners who prolonged their lives by four months by becoming members of a unit used to herd their fellow prisoners into the gas chambers. Inevitably, such a subject matter raises the question of to what lengths the viewer would go in order to stay alive, and the cost to the people who found themselves capable of colluding with their captors. When one new arrival to Auschwitz, ferried straight from the train to the shower's changing room, loudly challenges Hoffman (David Arquette) over his and his friend's breezy instructions to remember the number of the hook on which they hang their clothes so that they can find them after the shower, Hoffman beats him to a bloody pulp – as if for forcing him to confront what he is doing to his people. Despite this, the performances are subdued for the most part, the prisoner's attitudes to their situation almost matter-of-fact. Given fine food and alcohol in payment for their work, they live in ivory towers that have been stained by human ashes.

    The survival of a young girl after showering in the Nazi's deadly gas just as the men are preparing to stage their revolt triggers an emotional crisis amongst the members of the unit, with some insisting she be killed for their protection and others demanding she be allowed to live. They face a dilemma that is mirrored by those of the German soldiers who mill around the girl uncertainly after the protesters have all been killed. There is a line beyond which even those who have grown almost inhumanly inured to killing will hesitate to step. The girl, alone and defenceless, unlike the masses herded into the showers, forces them to put a face to their victims and ejects them from their oddly cocooned existence.

    The film is an adaptation of a stage play, apparently, and this fact is evident in the dialogue, which sometimes seems unreal, as if the speakers are somehow detached from the emotions they are supposed to be feeling. This may be deliberate, another example of the tamping down of their true emotions, but its sometimes distracting. Despite this, the performances are good, especially that of Harvey Keitel who seems to grow into the part of the German officer who knows he has lost touch with everything that made him human.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After first viewing this film, I immediately thought of an observation from the non fiction book "The Nazi Doctors" written by Robert Jay Lifton. In the introduction the author interviews a dentist now living in Haifa, Israel. He wrote about the dentist," He looked about the comfortable room in his house with its beautiful view of Haifa, sighed deeply, and said, " This world is not this world." What I think he meant was that, after Auschwitz, the ordinary appearances of life, however innocuous or pleasant, were far from the truth of human existence. Underneath those rhythms and appearances lay darkness and menace." Lifton also writes," The comment also raises the question of our capacity to approach Auschwitz. From the beginning there has been enormous resistance on the part of virtually everyone to knowledge of what the Nazis were doing and have done there. That resistance has hardly abated, whatever the current interest in what we call" the Holocaust"." .... " For to permit one's imagination to enter in to the Nazi killing machine -to begin to experience that killing machine- is to alter one's relationship to the entire human project. One does not want to learn about such things." In response to what he wrote I write...

    Yet despite our desire to not want to know of such things, I feel that we must know of such things. It is in our nature to protect ourselves emotionally by thinking such things as " this is only a movie..." " this happened over sixty years ago and has nothing to do with me here in America..." Yet we must realize that the Holocaust is not contained in its specifics;....WWII....Jews...Germans..., but sets a precedent in ALL of human history. We must not look at the bodies and their exterminators as; ...Jew and German, but as Human and Human.

    The film " The Grey Zone" ,though narratively rough and scripted, is by far the closest cinema has come to the daily routine of a world where death is the only constant. It portrays the Nazi Death Camp as in-sensational in its routine. It enters the true bestiality of the European Genocide; its in-emotionality, its coldness, its modernification of death.

    The film takes you where no other film has. The surreally mundane. The work schedule of the Sonderkommando(the Jews forced to usher transports of fellow Jews into the gas chambers.) By making the gassing of people a daily, if not hourly event in the narrative of the main protagonists, and not the climax of the film....the film underscores the reality of life in the Death Camp...."death is unexceptional."

    I have read many books relating to the Holocaust. In William Shirer's book "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich" there is a survivor account of a young girl surviving the gas. And here is where the film despite its flaws redeems itself. The sonderkommando discover a young girl who has survived the gas. They devote themselves to "saving" her. I put the word "saving" in quotation because even the savers have no hope. They know that they will die with the blood of other human beings on their hands. They believe that even the attempt of saving this girl ,at all odds, will at least save their souls if not their lives. It is this ethical drama central to the story of "The Grey Zone" that sets it apart from all other films of this subject. This film tells the story of the Holocaust in the environment in which it should be told...,set apart from the great human drama, and yet so tragically and intimately a part of it. If you never see another film about the Holocaust, I sincerely implore you to see this one.
  • This is a horrible, shallow, manipulative movie. Tim Blake Nelson is good at playing the goofy stupid guys, and the way this movie is directed, you'd think that maybe it's less of an act that you thought. When adapting any play to the big screen, occasionally one can run into the problem of wordiness, and scenes that go on too long. Every scene in this movie goes on waaay too long, and every conversation is painfully stretched to the breaking point. And the dialogue itself which due to the extremely constructed interruptions from one character on to another- always seems to be artificial, even though ironically, Tim wanted to use the effect to create realism. The dialogue and the scenes are sloppily written and incredibly unsubtle and on the nose. The characters are made to sound like Mamet creations, but the writer here only shows his pretension and his lack of talent. And overall, the worst thing about this movie is the fact that it uses violence in the movie to manipulate, and to exploit the people. After every very long boring scene between two guys, usually one of which is Harvey Keitel, doing the most embarrassing German accent one is likely to ever hear, there is a violent scene. The violent scene may be Jews going into the showers, a Jew being beaten for his watch, Jews being lines up and shot, etc. If one looks at the movie they'll see that these scenes were put into the film so that the viewer would sympathize with the film, and perhaps forget about the intensely boring scene that preceded this one. These violent scenes only want you to believe that this is a better film than it actually is, and it stoops to the lowest level to do so. It's not surprising that Nelson says there was no violence or anything in his stage play- this explains why these scenes seem so tacked on. And when the film is just about to end, before you can think of how unaffecting and poorly done it was, we get an extraordinarily sentimental, intensely manipulative voice-over of a dead Holocaust girl describing what it was like to have her body burned to dust inside the ovens. This is pandering filmmaking. If I made a short film about a learning disabled boy, had him get shot in the head, and then had a voice-over in which he cries `I didn't want to die, I wasn't too smart, but I never wanted this to happen. Where's my mommy, I'm scared mommy' The audience would be affected, but this is exploitative, and horrible, manipulative filmmaking. This is what Tim Blake Nelson does here with, of all things, the Holocaust. It's a shame because it seems like the actual story of The Grey Zone had something important to say. It's too bad that Tim Blake Nelson read the book before a better more honest director could have a chance.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    After reading the variety of opinions on this film, I was curious to see where my experience fit in the spectrum. I must say, I found this movie strangely uninvolving. While the film does an excellent job in portraying the daily existence of the Sondercommandoes and the physician in Auschwitz, both in terms of visual experience and mental/emotional experience, it really does an a poor job bringing the characters to life and detailing the story. (Here is where I must note spoilers).

    One other reviewer called the dialogue an attempt at a "Mamet-like" dialogue. I can see that from a style approach, but what really struck me was how often almost nothing was actually said during many scenes. There were many themes that really demanded they be fleshed out (the intense animosities between some of the different nationalities, how the whole sabotage plot got started, the whole bribery/smuggling thing that went on to get around the guards, etc.) but were not addressed in any detail. Only the incident with the girl who survived the gassing was addressed in any detail. Yet that entire incident seemed somewhat out of place when you saw how the key characters interacted with the doomed Jews and their very clear realization of their own impending deaths. There were some real stories to be told in this film, to put it mildly. They just weren't told.

    I guess I'd give it a rating of 2-3 out of 5. It certainly was visually compelling. I think if they had really told the story of the planned sabotage attempt from start to finish, allowing us to learn about the characters as we went through, this film may have really succeeded. I know many people really diminish Steven Spielberg's work because it popularizes material that might warrant a more critical examination. But the man knows how to tell a story,hold your attention, and leave a memory. It's been years since "Schindler's List," but I still have some very vivid memories of that film that resonated. This film did not have that kind of impact.
  • Despite all the realism depicted in THE GREY ZONE amid the actual day to day operations of a Nazi prison camp, there's a certain stage quality in the dialog that serves as a reminder that you're watching the screen version of a stage play and not what should seem more like a true life documentary. That's the fault of the script taken from David Mamet's play and other eye-witness sources--but the acting is excellent.

    And yet, it does manage to convey just how those prison camps used other prisoners to operate the gas chambers, to carry out the deed with false promises--"Just be sure to remember where you hook the clothes so you can pick up your belongings when you leave"--and the backbreaking jobs of loading trucks with dead bodies and depositing them on chutes that go directly into a blazing furnace. Amid all this, various stories are entwined involving the petty quarrels among the men assigned to these tasks so they could prolong their own lives for at least four months of assured survival.

    The story involving a girl who does not die during the twenty-minute gassing and is then revived and how the men argue over how to protect her from further harm, is intense and touching in that it shows the humanity that is still in their souls. Her story and how it ends is one of the film's most memorable and touching elements.

    This is more of an in depth look at "the final solution" than any other recent films dealing with the extermination of Jews has ever been, with the exception of SCHINDLER'S LIST and THE PIANIST in which the accent was more on the triumph of the human spirit and a much broader view of the war itself in epic mode.

    This is a darker, intimate look at the actual operation of the camps as experienced by a handful of prisoners--the brutality, the torture, and raises the question: how far would you go to survive? It also shows how not all the Jews were as passive about their fate as some have claimed, often opposing the Nazi officers and paying for it with their lives.

    In the hands of a greater director, it might have been an even more impressive film than it is, so that I'm unable to place it in the same class with the two films mentioned above. The cast is uniformly good, but HARVEY KEITEL is outstanding as an SS Commander keeping strict tabs on the camp's hard-working doctor.

    In its own way, it's just as important. Young students of history would be well advised to view this one for a better understanding of how "the final solution" was supposed to occur and the methods used to carry out an enormous project known as "the holocaust".
  • =G=5 June 2003
    "The Gray Zone" transports the audience to the epicenter of evil during WWII's final solution to the Jewish question. The film deals with a group of doomed Jewish Auschwitz POW's who do the death camp's dirty work, herding unsuspecting Jews into the showers, carrying cadavers to the crematorium, harvesting the dead for gold dentalwork, etc. The film takes on a challenging subject with countless moral issues to ponder as it scrutinizes the nuts and bolts of mass extermination. However, it doesn't quite measure up to the potent subject with its theatrical presentation, clipped dialogue, time wasting filler, staginess, poor character depth, confusing language and dialect issues, and a rather contrived monologue at the end. Nonetheless, the films treats the subject with dignity, does not exploit or sensationalize, and recreates enough of the horror to impart a sense of what it must have been like giving it docudramatic value. Worth a look for anyone interested in the holocaust. (B)
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