Dominic Thomas
Feb 2024  •  4 min read

The grass is greener

Hedwig walks her ageing mother Linna into the large garden where the grandchildren are playing…

LINNA: It’s huge. I’m speechless.

HEDWIG; It’s all my design. All the planting and everything. The greenhouse, the gazebo at the end.

LINNA: Is that a pool?

HEDWIG: Yes. I have gardeners. I couldn’t do it alone.

LINNA: With a slide? Oh Heddy.

(There’s a child-sized wooden row boat on the lawn next to the pool).

HEDWIG :Do you like it?

LINNA: Of course I like it. How could I not?

HEDWIG: This was a field three years ago. We just had the lower garden by the street. And the house had a flat roof.

LINNA: It’s hard to believe. (Linna turns). And that’s the camp wall?

HEDWIG :Yes, that’s the camp wall. We planted more vines at the back to grow and cover it. LINNA: Maybe Esther Silberman is over there.

HEDWIG :Which one was she?

LINNA: The one I used to clean for. She was the one who had the book readings.

HEDWIG: Oh, yes.

(Screenplay Zone of Interest by Jonathan Glazer based on the novel by Martin Amis.

Zone of Interest is a film that I suspect few will see; yet it is nominated for an Oscar and a BAFTA. My experience of it was one of utter horror, staring into the blank face of evil, arguably the most uncomfortable watch that I have ever endured. Most people haven’t heard about the film – it is subtitled and largely in German.

In the excerpt above, we witness how detached from normal life Hedwig and her family have become. Of course, the extent of this detachment reveals a psychopathic nature, but, nevertheless it is a reminder of how far people go to block out the sight of horror. Hedwig is the wife of Rudolf Hoss, SS commander at Auschwitz.

Of course, this is horror of their deliberate making and approval, something barely imaginable, yet part of our modern history in which millions were murdered. Hedwig’s home sits next to the camp fence, the contrast in life experience could not be more stark, yet both share the same polluted air and weather.

Unless you are psychopathic yourself (you are not, if you are reading my blog!) it will be a harrowing experience to watch this film. We do not witness any violence, there is no need to, we hear the regular gunshots, the sounds of women being separated from their children, new arrivals by freight train and the smoke billowing from the chimneys.

Whilst being a poignant, historical reminder of crimes against humanity that we must never forget, it is also perhaps a metaphor for how I (and we all) manage to avoid looking at horrible things. Whatever our life circumstances, it’s not Auschwitz. Our relative peace and security, comfort, good fortune are not experienced by all. As humans, we have to turn away from horror in order to survive, we cannot constantly look without becoming consumed by it. Social media rapidly reveals the extremities of life around the world into the palm of our hands, we have to scroll past or choose not to look. I have no answers (well, few..) for this; other than it is our common experience and we all filter things out … we have to.

For most of us, we simply want to ensure that our lives remain good, prosperous and that our families have and maintain a sense of security in a broken and fragile world. I do not have a single client who is determined to simply amass as much as they can, which I suspect is a criticism of those who refuse to seek financial advice. The sort of people I work with have a sense of what is ‘enough’ and are not seeking to outdo the billionaires.

The grass is sometimes greener on the other side, but the Faustian price of it is always too high for anyone who wishes to have a connected life. We may have a philosophical opinion on the differences between needs, wants, desires and greed; the truth, as is often the case, is hard to distinguish except at the extremities.

Good financial planning is full of your goals for life; great financial planning is infused with your values as well.

As for the film, I believe that it is important, for precisely the reasons you imagine but it is a very difficult experience. As I imagine is intended, I did not care for any of the central characters, I didn’t even want to look at the screen as ‘matters were discussed’ as though  merely regular business meetings.  It was an endurance test for the viewer, but of course is nothing compared to those who briefly resided on the other side of the wall.