Schindler's List

Confession - I have never seen Steven Spielberg's famous 1993 film Schindler's List. I was a little kid when it came out, so I never heard anything about it, since I was too busy being a five-year-old to care about movies at all. The first time I heard of it was on Seinfeld, the infamous episode where Jerry makes out with a date during the movie. And that was it. I didn't know anyone who watched it. It's long, and it seems like it would be depressing. We don't rent Shoah because it's a nine hour long depressing documentary - could a movie over three hours long about the Holocaust be anything less? It's not a movie I had any interest in renting in high school, and even now. I just didn't really know enough about it to think about it. I didn't think I would like a fiction movie about this subject. I was really surprised after watching the film. It is for sure not a happy movie, but it is not sad or depressing either. The ending is uplifting, and the message, that one person can make a very big difference, is positive and feel-good. I normally reject this sort of ending, but it worked for this. I felt moved by it, and touched by all the people portrayed in the film. The movie is not without it's problems, but they are easy to overlook, for me.


I don't know how to summarize the film well, and I think most people know the plot at this point. In brief, Oskar Schindler, a man who is a self-described criminal and user of slave labor tries to rescue Jewish people from the concentration camps. He makes a list and bribes higher ups so that he can save them and take them away to his own labor camp where they would make bullets and artillery. He had the most unproductive labor camp in history - no working ammunition was ever made. Instead, he saves their lives, and put his on the line for them. The only real issue I had with the story was that the Nazi characters felt almost...too crazy. Too one-dimensional. There were so many campaigns to separate Jewish people from the general population, and so much propaganda to make the Nazi party look exciting and strong. For some people it was a choice - join the Nazi party or die. However, the more one-dimensional story just works better for this movie. It's not a documentary, or the be-all end-all movie on the Holocaust, and it's ok. It's a beautiful, moving film, and that means a lot.

It's clearly a labor of love and obsession. The cinematography is astonishing. The black and white is such a brilliant choice. All pictures and films from the war are black and white, so it gives it a degree of realism. It also makes it feel timeless. It could have been made this year, or 10 years ago - it has no dated color scheme or effects, since the blood and sweat look more real in such high contrast. There are so many striking images in the film. Many of them have no dialogue, or very little, because they don't need it. Many of them moved me deeply, and they are the sort of scenes that leave very real, lasting impressions in your mind. What made the movie more effective was watching the documentary afterward, where survivors told their stories. It was more depressing, but very moving, and made many of the scenes that I found emotional feel more meaningful and stirring.

Ebert sums up wonderfully why this is such an important movie, writing, "''Schindler's List'' gives us information about how parts of the Holocaust operated, but does not explain it, because it is inexplicable that men could practice genocide. Or so we want to believe. In fact, genocide is a commonplace in human history, and is happening right now in Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The United States was colonized through a policy of genocide against native peoples. Religion and race are markers that we use to hate one another, and unless we can get beyond them, we must concede we are potential executioners. The power of Spielberg's film is not that it explains evil, but that it insists that men can be good in the face of it, and that good can prevail" (The Great Movies, 399). It's not that it's so much about how the Holocaust really was, as it is about a good message and a good story. It doesn't try to explain or show all sides and angles - just one message, one perspective, and it's a really important message. If we can believe that maybe there can be good in the face of evil, or that there can be hope for victims, we are more inspired to take action, or at least I think so.


The end of the movie was perhaps the most moving for me - when the shot changes from the actors to the actual survivors - the Jews that Schindler rescued, and they are honoring his grave. I felt a great pressure of tear well up, because the whole weight of the film landed on me. The people he saved doesn't sound like a lot in the face of the huge total of lives lost. The film then tells us that there are 6,000 descendants of the people he saved. That's a big impact that he had, and he was one man. Being reminded of the reality is so important in a film like this, and it really made the end so effective and amazing.

If you haven't seen this film, you really have to. It's incredibly important because of it's message and emotional impact. It is not as depressing as you would think, either. I personally found it more inspiring than anything else. It shows us that there can be good, no matter what the circumstance, which is something that I tend to forget. I visited a concentration camp many years ago, and all I remember is feeling bleak and sad afterward. Even the pictures I took there seem to be in black and white, and I felt profoundly haunted and disturbed to be there. That is usually how I feel when I think of the Holocaust. I think of seeing the tiny furniture of the camp, the cramped barracks. The chilling silence of the gas chamber. I don't think of good ever coming from something like that or surviving in the face of it. Maybe it's rare, but good can prevail, and that sometimes is more helpful to hold onto. Maybe, hopefully, thinking on Oskar Schindler,  we can be inspired to contribute to a good cause or help stop hatred when we see it. We must. We might not have the ability to do with Schindler did, but even small things count. For some reason this reminds of me something I heard that Dalai Lama say once. He explained that the Earth is rough and damages our feet, but we cannot cover the whole earth in leather and cotton to protect us. We must cover the bottoms of our feet in leather and protect ourselves. So too with peace and love - we cannot force everyone to love each other, but we, personally, can love others and share our peace with others, and sometimes, that can make all the difference.

Have any thoughts about Schindler's List? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Links:
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Schindler's List

Seven Samurai

Red River