The Oscar nominations for 2024 are finally here, and one potentially under the radar movie has snagged multiple nominations, including Best Picture: The Zone of Interest. Given you might be zone of interested in watching the nominated movies with your kids, you’re probably wondering if this Holocaust drama is appropriate for the little ones.
Let me say this plainly up front: watching The Zone of Interest is like living through a fever dream nightmare. While very little of specific offense is shown, it is a harrowing hour and 46 minute-long movie set just outside Auschwitz, the main death camp set up by the Nazis during World War II. Written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, instead of the victims (for the most part), it instead focuses on Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), the director of Auschwitz, who set up a suburban-style idyllic house right outside the camp for his family.
With only one exception, the movie never goes inside the walls, and we only see victims of the Holocaust occasionally serving the Höss family throughout the movie. But the entire time, through the use of sound there are nearly non-stop screams, gunshots, and the continual presence of the smoke generated by the burning of bodies, alive or otherwise. The contrast is clear: Höss and his family seem like your typical suburban strivers, while committing non-stop atrocities. They off-handedly take clothes from the Jews (and others) they murdered, their children collect gold teeth, and just when you, the viewer, get settled into the rhythm of the movie it will hit you with another real-life detail that will absolutely gut and floor you.
With that in mind, let’s get into the parents guide.
The Zone Of Interest Parents Guide: Explaining The PG-13 Rating
As, I think, clearly intimated above, there’s very little overtly objectionable content in the movie, but it’s all about what’s literally going on behind the scenes. We’ll break it down anyway, followed by the overall verdict here.
Sex & Nudity: None, really. There is one very clear intimation that Höss is using an Auschwitz inmate for sex, followed by a scene where he washes his privates from behind. But nothing is shown or referred to, it’s all implied.
Violence: Again, nothing overt, but there is the omni-present sound of gunshots coming at random moments that are purposefully off-putting and alarming. And throughout there are occasional glimpses of ash and bones, particularly in sequences where a non-imprisoned local places fruit secretly for Auschwitz inmates in their work areas. However, these sequences are filmed in negative, so it won’t be entirely clear what you’re looking at.
Drinking & Drugs: There’s some cigarette smoking, and Höss drinks too much at a party towards the end of the movie, but that's it.
Overall Verdict: What Age Is The Zone of Interest Appropriate For?
In terms of shown content, a Marvel movie is more violent and has more objectionable language. But this is a highly disturbing, extremely powerful look at the events of the Holocaust from an entirely different angle than is normally shown in movies like Schindler’s List. At times, it’s almost more like walking through an art installation at a Holocaust museum, given the intimacy and power of what’s being depicted sonically and visually on screen.
This isn’t to say that it’s inappropriate for children. But younger children might be upset and disturbed by the gunfire, and confused by the subject matter… It will definitely take a lot of explaining on the part of parents, which are conversations well worth having - but if you, yourself, are not familiar with the subject matter, it might be a hard hill to climb.
Take this as a long way of saying that the PG-13 rating is a solid one here. Not for content, but because teens might have an easier time engaging in discussion about the Holocaust and its continued ramifications. They also might be curious to find out more after watching this, as it zeros in on (all apologies) one zone of interest, while there are many, many more stories to be told about the millions of people who died. It’s a hard watch, but worthwhile if you’re willing to walk with your kids down this historical road.