Can children watch a movie about war horrors?


Rebecca on March 8, 2024

Are there safe ways to introduce history and war themes into entertainment for young people? I was struck by this question after seeing The Zone of Interest at the cinema. It tells the story of a camp commander and his family who lived right beside the Auschwitz camp, separated only by a wall.

I posted about it on my socials and immediately had dms from friends curious whether they could see it without being traumatised and whether their young people could see it too. I took pause before answering to reflect: what did we *actually* see during the film? Were there triggers for people who are too young to know about the real world history of horrors that the film alludes to?

The Zone of Interest is rated M with warning notes for sexual references and content that may disturb. The content warning already indicates that this is not for a younger audience, despite the use of M, an unrestricted label.

Through clever editing, script and sound devices, we never see the atrocities of what happened within the camp (where nearly one million people where murdered). We do hear disturbing noises, screams, gun shots, babies crying, and we hear trains arriving at the camp. But this soundtrack is over the top of domestic scenes of a family birthday party, two brothers playing in their bedroom, and a proud hostess showing of her garden to her visiting mother. We see glimpses of curiosity: a character pulls a bone from the river while fishing and it causes him to quickly pull his children from the water and race them home for a thorough wash. We see emancipated domestic servants (slaves) doing chores within the commander’s household, and we see a female prisoner arriving into the commanders office, sitting down and adjusting her clothes (we are to assume she is to be sexually assaulted but this is not shown). Our rating breakdown goes into more detail about specific scenes.

Zone Of Interest_Cannes Image

The filmmaker assumes an intelligent and mature audience with a background knowledge of World War Two history, giving space in what is shown to then fill in the blanks of what horrible acts are going on ‘unseen’. And this is where everyone has their own line of what may be disturbing but watchable, or traumatic and unforgettable.

Here at Te Mana Whakaatu we are not tasked with restricting content that may offend, we classify for impact, and we consider the extent, manner and degree as well as what is actually shown. Within this film only more mature viewers would understand the true horror of what is happening on the other side of the camp wall. Younger viewers may be curious but not likely harmed by anything shown on screen. The film is subtitled (German spoken with English subtitles) and so much younger viewers may struggle to follow along and understand the storyline.

Some other well-known feature films that also deal with World War II may be good entries into larger conversations with your rangatahi about war and the reality of what happened.

JoJo Rabbit, is rated M with content warnings for violence and content that may disturb

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is rated M with content warnings for content may disturb

Always check the rating before pressing play and know your rating, know your line.

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