The movie The Grey Zone asks the audience the question if they were caught in dire circumstances during war time, what lengths would they go to survive? Would a person go so far as to turn against their own people, leading them to certain extermination just to be able to live one more day under the thumb of the enemy? In World War II the Nazis at Auschwitz forcibly recruited specific Jewish prisoners to escort other Jews off the death trains, get them to undress, and lead them into the gas chambers to die. In exchange for this terrible action, these individuals were able to live in relative comfort with decent food and accommodations. The immediate knee-jerk reaction to this situation is disgust and disbelief that these individuals could look at the new prisoners arriving, lie to their faces assuring them they are going to be okay, then sleep at night knowing these people died in fear. However, if placed in that same situation, who amongst the viewing audience would say with 100% certainty that they would never be able to commit the same actions in exchange for their own survival?
In 1944 there was a group of these selected Jews who were smuggling in explosives and planning to destroy one of the crematories in order to begin an uprising against the Nazis. However, in the midst of this plot, a young Jewish girl survives the last mass extermination in the gas chamber. Even though the Nazis promise a Jewish doctor working with Mengele directly, the fact of the matter is that eventually no one is going to survive these monsters. The uprising fails and those responsible are executed, along with the girl who was supposed to die in the gas chamber. There is literally no hope left in the film, and in the opinion of this writer is a sad commentary on the dark side of humanity. War does strange things to people, and when placed in a death camp like Auschwitz there is no certainty as to whether or not each member of the viewing audience would be able to say if they could resist committing atrocities against fellow human beings if it guaranteed them survival, even for a short time. When desperate enough, there is no limit to how much of a person’s dark nature will come out and take over the need to survive.
The elements in the movie are very dark, much like the theme of the film. The lighting and camera use in the film match the plot and events occurring in that specific sequence and the music are also appropriate for the situation. For example, the scene in the gas chamber where the new Jewish arrivals begin to understand they are going to die in there, alone, naked and afraid, the lighting and mood is extremely dark. What is interesting, though, is many of the characters about to die are speaking of hope and the release death will give them from the events of the current world. That is a rare bright spot in the film and points out how faith can carry a person through difficult times, even when facing certain death.
Is this movie one that should be recommended to students? This writer would say yes, but with a warning as to the content of the film. When watching this movie, the writer thought initially it would be a story of hope like Schindler’s List but was quickly corrected. It is extremely depressing, but does give a good lesson in the way war can change good people into monsters bent on self-preservation.