One of the beauties of cinema is that it transports you into situations that would never be your own. Hungarian director Laszlo Nemes’ Son of Saul brings us right into the daily horrors of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp during World War II, where we follow Hungarian-Jewish prisoner Saul (Geza Rohrig) as he works to dispose of gas chamber victims, all the while knowing that his own end is very near.
The horrors of the camp aren’t brazenly shown on the screen. Nemes leaves it to our imagination and only shows us blurred suggestions of the killings at the peripheries of the screen, making the experience all the more harrowing as the off-screen screams of victims ring in our ears. When Saul sees a boy who was suffocated after he miraculously survived the gas chambers, he steals the body to give him a proper burial. It’s not clear whether the boy is his son, what’s important is that it gives Saul a purpose, an object to love. But his insistence with his task puts the lives of his fellow prisoners at risk as they plot an uprising at the camp. With long takes and little dialogue, the movie requires patience to appreciate. Audience who dislike moral ambiguity may find trouble siding with Saul, but the hopeless frustration you feel is nothing compared with what war victims felt at the time.