Son of Saul is a 2015 Hungarian drama with English Subtitles directed by Laszlo Nemes. It is set in Auschwitz during World War II and follows a day-and-a-half in the life of Saul Ausländer, a Hungarian Jew and member of the Sonderkommando, the Jewish Prisoner Work Detail who aided in the initial control, and disposal of bodies in the gas chambers. Members of the Sonderkommando were basically living on borrowed time, as they too were eventually killed after a few months of back breaking labor.
The story revolves around the main character, Saul, discovering what he thinks to be the body of his young son in one of the gas chambers. Because of his Jewish religious beliefs, Saul does not want his son to be burned in the crematorium, but buried with the blessings of a Rabbi. So for the majority of the movie we follow Saul as he schemes and maneuvers around the camp to find a Rabbi to help him accomplish this. Not to help matters any, other members of the Sonderkommando are busy planning an armed uprising against the SS guards because of the rumor that all Sonderkommando’s are to be killed. There is also a scheme to smuggle incriminating photos taken of the nazi atrocities outside the wire to Allied forces in hopes of rescue.
What got me most about this movie is not just the subject matter, which is of course tragic, but the WAY in which this movie was made. The director purposely positions the camera to follow Saul’s FACE around the Death Camp; a lot of times all we see is the face of a man surrounded by death, while all the while the horror that surrounds Saul is always just a bit out of focus. This tone is set right from the beginning of the moments of the movie. You see blurry images of what looks like people, but until Saul walks right into the camera and his face comes into focus, do you realize what the scene is. It is like we need Saul to guide us along and make sense of what we are seeing, because without him, it all would be just too much to digest. There is also the issue of MOTION in this movie. The Director keeps Saul moving from the very beginning; he is constantly in motion, never stopping for too long to digest the horror.
My wife put it this way about this movie: It’s like you are watching somebody walk through a nightmare. And while most of the images are blurry and out of focus, the sounds you hear coming from off-screen are crystal clear and are just as horrific and awful. People crying, and screaming for their lives, SS Officers barking orders, metal doors slamming, babies crying, dogs Barking. You can literally hear the despair without seeing an image.
Yeah, there are times things come into focus, like a scene where Saul has to clean one of the “disinfecting” rooms as the SS call it and bodies are literally being stacked to the ceiling while Saul is on his hands and knees with a brush and soap cleaning the blood and fingernails off the floors and walls. And it was scenes like these that I almost had to stop watching it, I won’t lie to you. It was almost just too much to handle. But just about when I was gonna hit the Pause button, Saul would start moving again and the blurry edges of Saul’s reality would return. It was almost like the Director knew how much the average person could take of the horror of the holocaust.
Lastly, one of the things that really sent chills down my spine was the things the SS guards told the jews as they are being led to their deaths. “We have soup and coffee for you after your Showers…Please Hurry and finish your shower before it get’s cold.” or “We need skilled workers in the camp, if any of you are carpenters or electricians, come see me after your showers.” The complete ruthlessness and efficiency of the Nazi’s in how they both controlled vast amounts of people as they were being led to their deaths is just mind-blowing.
Son of Saul, without a doubt, is one of the most heart-wrenching, horrific movies about the Holocaust ever made.
There have been critics who have said this is a “strange” or “artistic”movie about the Holocaust. I Disagree. Where other movies like Schindler’s List were made about a HERO, (Oskar Schindler) and the Holocaust was more of a backdrop to the story, Son of Saul has no “backdrop” it has no “heroes, it has no “happy endings”, the movie drops you right in the middle of the horror of what was Ground Zero for the Holocaust, Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp.
In closing, Son of Saul is a tough movie to watch. But I think in the end, that is a GOOD thing. Movies like this should not be “entertaining”. They should be SHOCKING so people don’t forget the horror that happened only a mere 70 years ago at places like Auschwitz and Treblinka and the dozens of other death camps spread across Poland and Germany during World War Two.
In Memory of the Tens of Million Jews who were murdered during World War Two in Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union.
May the World Never Forget so it May Never Happen Again.