“If you understand what happened in the camps, you have a much better understanding of what we’re all about as human beings” says Tim Blake Nelson, director and writer of “The Grey Zone”. But will we ever be able to understand the holocaust? Will we ever be able to understand why we as humans would destroy others like us? Why we would kill Children, and elderly people who were treated like worthless animals? Why one man ordered the destruction of the Jewish race nearly wiping out the entire population of Polish Jews? Based on the play by Tim Blake Nelson and Miklos Nyiszli’s book “Auschwitz: a Doctor’s Eyewitness Account”, “The Grey Zone” dares to explore that question but never gives an answer. There is no answer good enough to explain why the holocaust even happened in the first place.
This film also displays what we as human beings are capable of, the horror, the brutality and hatred we are capable of inflicting upon one another. The Grey Zone’s title is symbolic for everything present in the film; it presents the audience with a question that becomes very hard to answer. What would you do to stay alive if offered the chance? Tim Blake Nelson explores the grey aspect of morals that don’t ever truly differentiate from one another. In this film, as in life, nothing is black and white. There is no such concept as good or bad, there is only in-between. “How can you know what you’d really do to stay alive, until you’re asked? I know now that the answer for most of us is–anything.” says one of the Sonderkommandos; would you help in the murders of others to stay alive? And if so, are you just as much a murderer as the Nazis killing them? What makes you different from them? It’s not an easy answer to contemplate, and we’re never truly sure what we’d be capable of when in that corner.
We realize while watching the film that the people in this are heroes; heroes for simply for surviving. Whether it was risking their lives to take part in the uprising or simply living day by day working, we begin to appreciate what we have. Talented actor and director Tim Blake Nelson and cinematographer Russell Lee Fine gives a stunningly directed piece of art for audiences to behold. His previous works include “Kansas” and “Eye of God”. The film is a pitiless and remorseless depiction of concentration camps as people within the camp courageously attempt to smuggle gun powder from the camp. Soon the Nazis get a hold of information that they are and begin to investigate who might be the culprits (with disastrous results).We get to experience a cast of talented actors portray these people with an incredible script and realistic dialogue portraying some to be (understandably) skeptical, some hopeful, and others doubtful.
Blake Nelson gives an on-key script that creates some unfortunately likeable characters that become memorable which make it all the more painful when one is killed. He teams the script up with some truly incredible characters including David Arquette who gives an incredible performance as Hoffman who is a SonderKommando and hopes to escape the camp, Harvey Keitel as the evil antagonist Nazi officer SS-Oberscharfuhrer Eric Muhsfeldt, memorable Steve Buscemi as the slimy Abramowics, and the talented Mira Sorvino and Natasha Lyonne as female prisoners who must endure torture to maintain secret smuggling taking place; these are only a few of the incredible actors this film gives audiences. Daniel Benzali is truly memorable as Schlermer, who is often very skeptic about the escape attempts and is somewhat a cynic but is really a realist.
He often is the voice of the group, helping with the work and becomes very vocal within the escape plans. Kamelia Grigorova as the silent girl is a symbol of the unheard voice of the holocaust; she has a haunting performance in the film. Allan Corduner’s character of Doctor Miklos Nyiszli is the most difficult to endure because he’s a doctor who must be forced to experiment on his own people and treat those who will inevitably be killed; the climax of the film is heart-wrenching as he gets a revelation that drives him to the brink of a breakdown. Where’s their accents? It’s almost as if the actors forgot that they were playing Polish Jews because they all manage to sport American accents, some even New York accents including Buscemi who looks like he’s not even trying to sound authentic. It was hard to accept these characters as they were with their inauthentic accents for these struggling people.
The blunt scenes of depictions of the concentration camp and horror of the holocaust are almost too realistic and brutal and tend to linger on the audiences mind. All is ended with a horrifying and eerie narration (voiced by Portia Ranier) which expresses the horrors endured during the holocaust conveying how the violence becomes second nature during the holocaust and how the grey ashes of the poor cremated souls became apart of the scenery and nature. To you, the reader, heed my words: Look for this, rent it, and while watching, don’t turn your head away or close your eyes during the violent scenes, for this is reality, this was the holocaust, this was true hatred manifested, there is no happy ending, only the deliberation that inevitably the war ended. This is a masterpiece and yet another chapter of the dark period called: “The Holocaust.”