Title: Schindler’s List
Release Date: December 15, 1993
Director: Steven Spielberg
Production Company: Amblin Entertainment
I’ve been meaning to watch Schindler’s List since it was released but didn’t get around to it until now. 1993, the year of the film’s release, has long been a demarcation in my life from telling people name and getting puzzled looks to people responding “Oh, like Liam Neeson.” More seriously and more important it is a film about the Holocaust and how some Jewish people in Poland were able to survive genocide.
Neeson plays Oskar Schindler, a man of German heritage from Czechoslovakia, who travels to Krakow, Poland to make his fortune as a factory-owner. Initially depicted as a dapper and conniving man, Schindler use his charm and bribes to influence Nazi leadership into letting him take control of an enamelware factory. Schindler puts Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) in charge of running the business, and for finding Jewish employees to work in the factory because they cost less. Stern (who is a composite of several real-life people) is the quiet hero of the story finding some of the most vulnerable people in the Ghetto to be trained to work at the factory, thus saving their lives because they’re work is “essential.”
A great thing about this movie is that it is for most of its run it is never explicit about Schindler’s goals and where is loyalties lie. The change from a man selfishly seeking to maximize personal profit to a man willing to put his life on the line to save thousands of Jewish people is subtle and gradual. When Krakow’s Jews are moved to Płaszów concentration camp, Schindler makes inroads through charm and bribery with the brutal commandant Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes). In movie terms, Göth appears to be an over-the-top caricature but the real Göth was far worse, committing atrocities that Spielberg refused to commit to film.
When the Nazis decide to carry out the Final Solution, Schindler uses the last of his wealth to bribe Göth to allow him to transfer Jewish workers to a munitions factory in Czechoslovakia and then bribe Rudolf Höss when a train full of women is accidentally sent to Auschwitz. The list of the title is the names of 1200 Jewish people Schindler and Stern save in this way. Schindler no longer hides from his employees that his goal is to save lives and even sees to it that the factory doesn’t produces working munitions. As Germany falls to the Allied Powers, Schindler plans to escape since he will be seen as a war profiteer and collaborator by the Russians.
In the movie’s weak spot, Schindler has a mental breakdown from the guilt over not being able to save more lives. Apart from being hammy and out of character, this seen is objectionable because the very Jewish people who have lived through unimaginable atrocities have to comfort Schindler. It’s a strange decision to once again make Schindler unsympathetic just as his redemption story comes to its conclusion.
No movie can tell the true story of the Holocaust because the enormity of its brutality and inhumanity cannot be captured on film. One of the most effective parts of Schindler’s List for me are several scenes scattered through the film where groups of Jewish people talk amongst themselves. They share their fears and grief, but their are also a variety of responses to the Holocaust from resignation to their lot to the often-repeated belief that it can’t get worse. That the very people suffering the worst indignities and privations of the Holocaust also can’t see its enormity is very chilling indeed.