The title of Tim Blake Nelson's harrowing drama of Jewish death camp prisoners who rise up against their captors to "destroy the machinery" refers as much to the compromise and cloudy morality of collaboration as to the gray world coated in the smoke and ash of the crematoriums. Inspired by real-life events at the Auschwitz death camp, The Grey Zone stars David Arquette as a soul-deadened laborer whose being fiercely jolts to life when he finds a young girl alive among the gassed corpses. He's the heart and soul of an outstanding cast that includes Steve Buscemi and Daniel Benzali as revolt leaders, Allan Corduner as the shunned camp doctor, and Harvey Keitel as the commandant. Nelson's rapid pacing, intimate shooting, and terse, jagged dialogue give the moral debate a discomforting immediacy as it races a deadline. When doom hangs in the air, sure death creates unique priorities. --Sean Axmaker
SS-Oberscharfuhrer Eric Muhsfeldt:
I never fully despised the Jews until I experienced how easily they could be persuaded to do the work here. To do it so well. And to their own people! They'll be dead by week's end, every soul. And we'll replace them with others no different. Do you know how easy that will be?
I used to think so much of myself... What I'd make of my life. We can't know what we're capable of, any of us. How can you know what you'd do to stay alive, until you're really asked? I know this now. For most of us, the answer... is anything. It's so easy to forget who we were before... who we'll never be again. There was this old man, he pushed the carts, and on our first day, when we had to burn our own convey, his wife was brought up on the elevator. Then his daughter... and then both his grandchildren. I knew him. We were neighbors. And in 20 minutes, his whole family, and all its future, was gone from this earth. Two weeks later, he took pills and was revived. We smothered him with his own pillow, and now I know why. You can kill yourself. That's the only choice. I want them to save you. I want them to save you more than I want anything. I pray to God we save you.
After the revolt, half the ovens remain, and we are carried to them together. I catch fire, quickly. The first part of me rises, in dense smoke, that mingles with the smoke of others. Then there are the bones, which settle in ash, and these are swept up to be carried to the river. And last, bits of our dust, that simply float there, in air, around the working of the new group... These bits of dust are grey. We settle on their shoes, and on their faces, and in their lungs. And they become so used to us, that soon they don't cough, and they don't brush us away. At this point, they are just moving, breathing and moving, like anyone else, still alive in that place. And this is how the work... continues.