‘The Zone Of Interest’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happens To Rudolf And Hedwig Hoss?

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The Zone of Interest is a new historical drama film by English filmmaker Jonathan Glazer that manages to recreate a terrible moment from history with a unique and devastating effect. Loosely adapted from Martin Amis’ novel of the same name, the film’s plot follows the Hoss family, who live right beside the Auschwitz concentration camp, going about their usual lives with no concern for the terrible crimes being committed right outside. The Zone of Interest is all about subtle, indirect expressions that are poignant enough to pierce through the visual layer, successfully making the viewer all the more uncomfortable with every passing minute.

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Plot Summary: What is the film about?

The Zone of Interest opens with a noticeably long black screen, with only a soft sound being eerily stretched in the background, perhaps preparing us for what is to unfold on screen over the next hundred or so minutes. When the visuals come on, though, there is nothing unusual or out of the ordinary, as a family is seen spending some personal time by the forested banks of a river. This is a secluded spot reserved only for the family, and it seems to be their most common way of spending leisure time. As the girls are led by a nanny through the bushes, possibly for some lesson in gardening and wildlife, the boys jump into the river along with their father. Sometime later, the family reunites and leaves the riverbank, driving away in two black, sinister-looking cars. On that very night, the father of the house is seen going around, switching off all the lights, before going to bed.

While there is really nothing odd in this whole presentation of a family spending a day with themselves, the chilling reality of the matter is revealed when the film introduces the particular lot. The family is that of Rudolf Hoss, a notorious real figure from history, infamous for being a distinguished SS officer and the commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Most of the entire film, and the whole of the opening scene, actually takes place in Auschwitz, meaning that the leisurely picnic of the big family literally took place only a few miles away from the spot of the ongoing genocide. This is the very premise of The Zone of Interest, for it shows the tumultuous time of history from the perspective of the Hoss family, mainly the patriarch Rudolf and his wife, Hedwig. 

The couple lives in an idyllic resort with their two sons and three daughters, the youngest still a baby, right on the other side of the high walls of the concentration camp. Despite the inhuman torture and killing going on right outside the walls that separate their lives, the Hoss family members are not perturbed by the matter at all. Instead, they are rather accustomed to Auschwitz, cherishing their time and accepting it as their new home. 


How does the film powerfully present the harrowing events of the Holocaust?

The most remarkable thing about The Zone of Interest is how it manages to say so much without directly saying it, combining the visual and the aural through a unique dissonance. With regards to the visuals, meaning scenes that play out to take forward the mostly simple and common story, the camera hardly ever leaves the confines of the host house. While some exceptions take place towards the latter part of the film, when Rudolf is transferred to a different concentration camp and he is seen at his new post, almost no scene of the camp in Auschwitz is seen. But the audio track picks up on numerous cries, lashes, and sounds that clearly come from the outside world but are heavily ignored. There is only one brief scene in which we are shown a side-angled close-up of Rudolf while he is at his workplace, which is a camp intended to kill Jews by the thousands. Indeed, the man is shot looking at the work he is rather proud of doing, amidst thick smoke bellowing out and loud cries and shrieks of helpless people. Rudolf certainly has no reservations about overseeing a genocide, but the film particularly shines with respect to how it uses the very usual to highlight the horrific context in the backdrop.

Early on in the film, Rudolf’s family and his subordinates celebrate the man’s birthday with a fancy cake, and all the Nazi soldiers come to his house to greet him. This merrymaking literally takes place all while hundreds, if not thousands, of families, are kept locked in the concentration camps and forced into the gas chambers. But nobody seems to notice, or rather, everyone pretends to look through the entire matter, as if nothing shocking is in the works. Rudolf is also seen meeting with a businessman in his house, who comes to show the commander plans and designs for a new, more effective gas chamber that he wants to build for his government. Rudolf goes through the plans without any hesitation and then also reports about this businessman’s portfolio to his higher authorities, convinced that sturdier and better-designed gas chambers are needed to take his beloved nation and his government forward. The Zone of Interest does not really differentiate between evil-doers and those supporting such evil, but Rudolf is definitely in the first category, as he clearly enjoys the torture and killing of people. 

What comes as even a bigger shock is the reaction of his wife, Hedwig, for she does not react to any of these massacres either. Rather, the woman is extremely accustomed to the life of the commander’s wife, and she enjoys the perks it brings along. She often receives luxury and expensive items that have been taken away from the prisoners, and on one particular occasion, she is seen receiving a fancy fur coat, since the Nazis did not differentiate between the rich and the poor among their targets. Hedwig immediately throws the coat on her body and tries it out in front of the mirror, only to realize that there is still lipstick lying inside one of the pockets. The presence of the lipstick would obviously be a bold reminder to anyone of the previous owner of the coat and the atrocious torture she must be subjected to at present. However, Hedwig has been wired to not think like that, and instead of any guilt or remorse, she feels rather excited to try on the lipstick, which is now hers as well. 

Hedwig maintains a calm and composed nature, without any worry in the world, as she focuses on her gardening and getting a pool built for her children in their compound. The thick, dark smoke from the chimneys of the gas chambers on one side and from the steam engine train that brings in Jewish prisoners every day on the other does not affect the woman at all. The irony of the matter is all the more glaring when Hedwig is absolutely livid that her husband has to be transferred away from Auschwitz. She decides to stay back at the place along with her children because she is unwilling to uproot the life she had built there, including the fancy garden and the greenhouse, and shift somewhere else, which is probably too cold for her comfort as well. The fact that thousands were being faced with worse persecution and millions more would be uprooted, killed, or left disbanded very easily eludes her thought. In this regard, Jonathan Glazer’s film is a really fascinating note on not just the Holocaust but also the effect of systematized violence and the tendency of the masses to side with the oppressors in any given scenario.

The Hoss children are also equally desensitized to seeing murder and killing around them. The boys play around with toy soldiers, all waging war against invisible enemies. Shockingly, they are also seen collecting and playing with gold teeth, which are literally the remains of people who had been killed in the camp. One of the daughters does seem to feel something odd about their house, or she simply sleepwalks as a habit and sits by the door as if waiting for someone to arrive. Nonetheless, this young girl would also grow accustomed to the situation one day and not find anything strange about it. The Jewish prisoners are allowed to get close to the house and the family, as many of them are given the task of cleaning the boots and bringing supplies to the place. But there is also a clear distinction that the Nazi commander maintains from them, which highlights the pure hatred breeding inside his perspective of the people. As soon as Rudolf finds a skull and some ashes in the river that he and his sons were bathing in, he scurries back to his house, and the children are scrubbed clean with utmost precision. In another instance, it is suggested that Rudolf forces himself upon a helpless prisoner woman, but he ensures that he scrubs his private parts before retiring for the night.

The only exception to the unaffected response by the entire family is by Hedwig’s mother, who finds it bizarre that her daughter, her husband, and their children can really live at such a place. The elderly woman definitely has no sympathies for the prisoners, though, but she is rather unable to live with so many signs and reminders of death all around. The stench of burning human bodies and the ash flying around keep her up all night, but the very same elements are like playthings for the two young boys who still lay awake in their room. On a similar night, filled with reminders of the ongoing genocide, Hedwig is seen asking Rudolf to take her on a romantic trip, in the most romantic conversation between the couple in the film. Ultimately, the mother leaves the house unannounced very early the next morning, only leaving behind a note for her daughter. Hedwig simply tosses the note into her furnace insignificantly, almost insulted that someone would find her beloved home distasteful or discomforting. Even after Rudolf leaves for Oranienburg, Hedwig stays at their Auschwitz house with the children.


What do the scenes in infrared signify?

The Zone of Interest also sparsely presents a few scenes, in which an unacquainted young girl is seen going around Auschwitz, hiding apples and other meager food items inside the trenches. She is clearly doing this extremely dangerous work only to help the prisoners and ease their suffering in whatever little way she can. But interestingly, these scenes are in infrared, or negative, although only as long as the girl is in the outside world. As soon as she returns home, the visuals turn normal, then switch to infrared when she or her mother step out on the balcony. The family is revealed to be Polish locals who have no interest in Nazi ideals and dream of liberation one day. However, the mere fact that the family is still alive, irrespective of whether they are Jewish or not, suggests that they also have to work as collaborators for the Nazis to a certain degree. This was definitely the case with numerous non-Jews during the Nazi occupation who had to work for the horrific authorities despite not wanting to. Going by that logic, the significance of the use of infrared might be in stating how the family cannot be themselves as soon as they step out of their house or into the open balcony as well. Although the girl takes on the dangerous responsibility of helping the prisoners, she still cannot express her true self in public, leading to her being shown in infrared. Another perspective is that the girl and her mother truly stand out in this horrific world solely because of their generous actions. Therefore, in a film like this, in which the Nazis and the enablers are the “normal” people, anyone with any sense of humanity has to be visually differentiated from the Hoss family members.


What Happens To Rudolf Hoss?

During The Zone of Interest‘s ending, Rudolf is seen in his Berlin office as he telephones Hedwig and tells her about his excitement for the concentration camps being built. Rudolf had been given the responsibility of overseeing a new Nazi order in which Hungarian Jews were to be arrested and killed. Although Hedwig refuses to be part of this very direct talk of violence, for she prefers such matters to be in the background, the commander still feels thrilled. He is seen walking down the stairs from his office when suddenly bouts of violent retching hit him on two occasions. In the middle of these two instances, The Zone of Interest briefly moves to modern times, and various reminders of the Holocaust are seen being maintained at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, right before the place is opened to public visitors. The last scene returns to the past once more, and Rudolf is seen feeling slightly odd, as if someone is watching him, as he continues down the stairs. 

The Zone of Interest‘s ending scene seems to suggest that deep in his conscience, Rudolf Hoss does know that his actions can only make one retch, and almost like a fortune-teller, he has an uneasy feeling that his legacy will go down terribly in history. The scene of the museum is a fast jolt back to the right perspective, which had been missing throughout the film. Throughout the entire duration of The Zone of Interest, Rudolf, his family, and his professional associates had all been extremely invested in hiding the evidence and changing the narrative, but ultimately, the thousands of shoes or the torn, ragged uniforms still exist as reminders of the horrible genocide.


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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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