Son of Saul (2015) – The Illusion of Humanity


Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig) is a poker face, not because he’s cold whatsoever. However, he only has a heavy burden on his shoulder. Every time the Nazis ruled him, Saul never acted dramatically. He never cried, wasn’t afraid, didn’t panic, but was also not “happy”. In the first unbroken shot of the movie, the movie shows a blurred point on the protagonist’s expression. He is gray and also very hazy. We question situations around him that can so accustom himself. One’s human side doesn’t exist everywhere of him. Until then, he encountered a boy who made him obsessed with saving him.

László Nemes’ “Son of Saul” is a Hungarian representative in the 2016 Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film category. On the other hand, this is a character-driven movie where the main character, a Jewish man from Hungary, is a member of the Sonderkommando in a concentration camp at Auschwitz. They were tasked with removing the bodies of the victims of the holocaust and received rewards from the camp itself. There is food, drinks, other supplies, cigarettes, and others. With a plot like which, you would think if it’s just another war drama movie about the holocaust. But, with a more complex story and so many layers, this movie isn’t looking for an answer and not looking for hope. It’s more like the question of what makes the ambiguity blur in one’s human illusion. That’s how simple this film is.

You don’t see much of what happens on screen. When it comes to the brutal and convincing sequence, you only see it from the protagonists. Everything is blurry yet reasonably. It’s functioning the camera as a mere follower. It’s busy following the main character from one to another checkpoint. There is no indulgence for other characters except at the end of the movie but we still see the frame from the first-person angle. It’s just a little transitioning. Therefore, we aren’t given any clear motivation from the protagonist. There is no obvious obsession and how every sequence also meets by chance. But, that’s the point of it.

Saul’s characteristics are ordinary but unique. From the many victims of war, in the insistence of people to survive, to the erosion of humanity, he is just an ordinary person. Saul underwent, slowly, many things that others couldn’t see. Blood and corpses lying around and the sounds of screaming executions from another room. In a dark situation with no choice, Saul only positioned himself as a pawn. There are only two choices: whether he will die or he lives but many lives kill other people. This movie is opaque from the psychological side. Saul just wants to save the body of a child from the burning process. It was this spontaneous desire that made him betray many others. Only from Saul’s character, it emphasizes the full ambiguity that each Saul faces with two choices and very high consequences.

Always, Saul didn’t pay attention to everything in him both for other characters, the director himself, and the audience. Back at the first point, the confusion was deliberately created to focus on the protagonist putting the audience in the same condition. At the same time, it’s too confusing. However, logically, it’s too chaotic and messed up. About the story, there are so many points of view and interpretation both humanly, historically, to culture and religion. The irony is that the tragedy of the holocaust itself is so cruel because it engulfs humanity itself. Simply put, we cannot realize the freedom and mission of everyone like Saul himself who wants to bury a child. But, did it work until the end? It’s complicated and answering yes or no is also difficult if it’s not reasonable.

The cinematography keeps the audience intense throughout the duration. It’s catching the tone of despair and obsession just from facial expressions. Clearly, “Son of Saul” is a psychological observer of the audience. It’s not a show or performance but is a small record from the darkest history ever. Depressive? Yes, and it’s said very with the feeling and tone. There is an irony in the meaning of humanity and opens us up to how the illusion itself in humans is very blurry. We are hard to judge even can’t as well.