Sometimes films become more than merely artistic expression, a means of communication or entertainment. I dare say, sometimes films become important. Now, that is a loaded word. Whatever definition you attach to that word I believe that Schindler’s List fulfills it. Steven Spielberg’s 1993 multiple (seven, to be exact) Oscar winning film is important not only because it was and remains a good film, but because it serves the purpose of illustrating how one person can make a difference. A huge difference.
On its 20th anniversary Schindler’s List is being rereleased after having being digitally restored under the supervision of Steven Spielberg himself. The film was beautifully filmed in black and white (except for one young girl in a red coat) and in the present blu-ray format it is even sharper and clearer. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski’s (Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report) brilliant work really is presented in its best light.
Besides the important moral issue addressed by the film, Spielberg’s go at World War II is one of the best films about that horrific period in human history. It illustrates all the evil and inhumanity that went on. He does not shy away from showing the breaking up of families, the abuse, mass executions, robbing, and basic degradation of the Jews in Europe by the Nazis. You cannot help but be affected by it and the fact that most just stood around allowing it to go on.
In June of 1936 German troops defeated Poland in a mere two weeks. Polish Jews were made to register each and every family member and relocate to major cities. In the Polish city of Krakow an average of 10,000 Jews arrived from rural areas daily. Jews are now living in horrible conditions in ghettos herded together like cattle and forced to wear the star of David to identify themselves. As the war continues there are rumours of the planned extermination of the Jews carried out by the Nazis. We begin to see that they are not just rumours.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson – Taken, Batman Begins), a man originally from Czechoslovakia and a member of the Nazi Party, had moved without his wife (Caroline Goodall – Hook, The Princess Diaries) to Krakow to search out his fortune. Schindler, using his ample charisma and style, decides he is going to set up a metal crockery plant using cheap Jewish labour. Unlike other Nazis Schindler is not against working with the Jews. He sees the business benefits of it. In the beginning it is not about doing what is morally right, but whatever lines his pockets with the biggest profits. As the war goes on and the extermination becomes more and more apparent, Schindler’s motives change.
With the help and guidance of his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley – The House of Sand and Fog, Ghandi), Schindler brings in many Jews to work in his factory. Stern forges documents saying that these people are all skilled metal workers to save them from being sent to concentration or work camps.
As the war drags on year after year, the now very rich and lady’s man, Schindler begins to wake up to what is going on and realizes that no matter how much money he makes he will not be able to live with himself if he stands by and does nothing to stop the killing of Jews. Smart enough to realize he can accomplish more by working within the Nazi Party, Schindler strikes up a friendship with the Nazi leader of the camp where all his workers have been sent, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes – The English Patient, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part 1).
Goeth is a man seemingly without a conscience. He kills Jews in the camp without rhyme or reason. A ruthless man who sometimes just amuses himself by sitting on the veranda of his villa overlooking the camp and shoots Jews with his rifle for sport. There is, however, one Jew who seems to have made an impression upon Amon. He selected Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz – Army of Darkness, The Amazing Spider-Man) from a line of women to be his servant. Though he has beaten her on occasion, he is attracted to her and as such protects her.
Towards the end of the war Goeth’s camp is shut down and all of the Jews are to be shipped to Auschwitz, an extermination camp. Schindler makes a deal with Goeth and uses much of his amassed fortune to buy his 1,100 workers from Goeth. He will bring them by train to Czechoslovakia where they will work for the rest of the war at Schindler’s munitions factory in relative safety. All this puts Schindler at great risk within the Nazi Party.
Adapted from the novel by Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List was nominated for a stunning twelve Academy Awards. It eventually won seven, including Best Director for Spielberg and Best Picture. While that is all well and good, it for reasons beyond these awards that the film can be classified as important.
Spielberg does not make Oskar Schindler a man without faults. He is a womanizer and a greedy man. Schindler lives a very comfortable life as Jews are being killed. All his flaws are there for us to see. He becomes even more of a hero because of his faults. The process he goes through that brings him to the realization that he cannot stand by amassing a fortune while doing nothing to stop the killing. Many turned a blind eye to what was happening and put their own safety above doing what is was right. Oskar Schindler is very human and as a result what he does is even that much more moving.
Bringing to life Oskar Schindler is Liam Neeson. He really brings all the charisma and likeability required to his character. He was recognized for his excellence in the role with a Best Actor Oscar nomination. Ralph Fiennes is an absolute monster as Amon Goeth. Despite the moments of conflict he goes through you still hate him. You want to kill him with your bare hands. That means that he did a fantastic job.
Some have criticized Spielberg for being overly dramatic in his telling of Oskar Schindler’s tale. But the scenes he is criticized for (For example, Schindler’s breakdown at the end of the film) are exactly the scenes that bring the humanity to what is going on. You cannot watch this film without emerging on the other side changed. It is proof positive that one man or woman can make a difference against even the worst odds.
- Schindler’s List: 25 Years Later
- Voices from the List
- USC Shoah Foundation Story with Steven Spielberg (2018)
- Let Their Testimonies Speak – Stronger Than Hate
- About IWitness (2018)