"The Grey Zone" is as good an answer as we're going to get. At first the American accents are distracting-- but the reality of everything else seeps in. The film isn't always explicit in its meaning, it doesn't shove everything in your face.
A truck passes by in the background, and you realise it's carrying the ashes of the incinerated. You see a couple of hundred people forming an orderly line and it dawns on you that they're waiting for the gas chamber. They're facing their deaths - and they know it.
Holocaust films are important -- because they show in a very clear way how evil humanity can be. You don't need the Nazi character to say cliche evil lines. Just standing outside a gas chamber will give you the message.
'The Grey Zone', at times, is repetitive and robotic. It's on purpose. Men are pushing fellow men into the chambers. They're telling them it'll be okay but they know they're sending them to their deaths. And they shut that giant metal door and know that countless families are about to breathe their last breath. Later that day they're pushing them into incinerators and turning them into dust. This was their daily routine. Every day, for months. The Sonderkommando were Jews who worked in the gas chambers. They told fellow Jews they're going into the showers. An hour later they were carrying their dead bodies out, ready for the next group. They got a bit more bread to eat and got to live a few months longer than the others. The film explores what it is to be one of these men.
But what the hell do you do? How do you survive Auschwitz? What morals and values really matter when you have a gun to your head?
I feel a bit sick knowing I'm just a blogger, 70 years later, talking about movies. What the hell is that? What does the Holocaust mean now? Genocide is still happening in the world and we're as blind as ever.
'The Grey Zone' is very moving and impactful, because it doesn't judge the characters. The SS do their jobs. The Sonderkommando do theirs. What happens happens. This isn't a film that paints a pretty picture or goes for poignant poetry. It's a film about the smoke that bellowed out of the chimneys. About grass getting watered meters from a deadly chamber.
This film helps you imagine what it was like. The nuts and bolts of the demolition of a race of people. It wasn't evil movie characters that did it. It was human beings.
Who were these people whose entire families got slaughtered? Who were the guys who worked the Sonderkommando? And who were the Auschwitz guards who shot people in the back of their heads without a moment of fear or remorse? We can romanticize the victims and demonize the killers, but where does that get us?
I am constantly unravelling the Holocaust and figuring out what it means to me. It seems more important than playing on my Xbox 360 somehow.
I think 'The Grey Zone' is a must-see. It's upsetting viewing, but it's just a movie. You get to live afterwards. I guess now it's the least we can do, continue to bear witness to the past.