The List is Life
Director: Steven Spielberg
Release Date: February 18th 1994
In Nazi-occupied Poland, industrialist and war profiteer Oskar Schindler (Neeson) sees an opportunity to become rich off the backs of the Jews, but over the course of the war, he witnesses the persecutions that his Jewish workers are put through and is compelled to save as many as possible, eventually preventing over 1000 men, women and children from being sent to Auschwitz.
You might be wondering why I’m reviewing Schindler’s List, a film generally considered one of the best ever made and a staple of pretty much everyone’s top 100 films to see before you die. What could I possibly add to the conversation? Well, the simple answer is that for one reason or another I hadn’t watched Schindler’s List before last night, but today marks what would have been the 90th birthday of Anne Frank, who at the age of 15 died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and whose diaries became one of the most touching and famous portals of a Jewish person during the holocaust.
Based on the novel Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally, Schindler’s List is a film that even Spielberg didn’t feel he could make due to the sheer magnitude of the subject matter, but after he couldn’t find another director that was up to the task of making it, he gave it ago feeling that it is a story that needed to be told and I’m inclined to agree with him and given the quality of the film I am so very glad that the film was made.
Spielberg’s decision to film Schindler’s List in black & white because he wanted it to feel like a documentary is absolutely the right choice to make, the story is based on real people and real events and should be treated as thus, choosing not to shy away from the brutality, violence and sadness that these people had to endure but also showing that luck and sometimes humour was needed if these people were to survive.
He truly outdid himself with his editing, visuals and overall directing, the fact that he managed to make this film and Jurassic Park in the same year is one hell of an achievement, I particularly enjoyed his use of contrasts, switching between the Jewish peoples suffering and good fortunes that the Nazi’s were enjoying.
Every character in the film goes through an arc, but Schindler’s is by far the most striking, at first he is just an opportunist that realises that he could make more money from having Jewish people work in his factory because he didn’t need to pay them, playing the Jews and the Nazi’s to his advantage and enjoying the money and prestige he had accumulated, but as his Jewish workforce are forced into the worse and worse conditions and subjected too inhumane humiliating conditions, what he witnesses changes him from someone that is detached from the plight of his workers to someone that is willing to bankrupt himself to save as many as possible from certain death at the hands of pure evil.
Neeson shines as Schindler and his speech at the end when gets upset that he didn’t save more, breaking down all his possessions into how many people it could have possibly saved, because in the end to the Nazi’s the Jewish people were just a number and could be bought and sold like cattle, it’s heartbreaking to watch and truly makes you think about how people could be so evil, but they were!.
The opposite side of the coin to Schindler is Amon Göth (Fiennes) the brutal and sadistic commandant of the local concentration camp, who took so much pleasure in killing that he would regularly shoot prisoners from his balcony for no reason at all, it must have been a difficult role for Fiennes to portray but he does it so well that whenever I think of the most deplorable and evil characters on film, Göth is now going to be number 1.
While Fiennes and Neeson give award-winning performances and provided one of the films iconic scenes in which Schindler attempts to get inside Göth’s head and make him show a little mercy by no longer believing that that true power isn’t fear, stating “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t”, which works for a bit in the end Göth was too far gone and soon returns to treating his prisoners as nothing more than toys to play will and discard whenever he feels like it.
The film doesn’t just focus on Schindler and Göth, the most important people in the film are the Jews, with stunning performances by both Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, the factory manager, the voice of the Jewish workers and in some ways the one that points Schindler in the right direction, eventually becoming his friend and also Embeth Davidtz as Helen Hirsch, Göth’s housekeeper who has to injure daily beatings and emotional abuse from her employer as he struggles to deal with the feelings he has grown for her, both these characters show resilience in the extreme and have to go through extreme levels of mental and physical torture that would break many other people.
During the film, Spielberg attempts to show the true scale of the killings and forced movements of the Jews and although you never get a full idea of the scale, you get glimpses with the piles of clothing and possessions that were stolen from their rightful owners and left lying around, with by far the most harrowing scene being the one in the showers, where the women don’t know if it is gas or water that will come out of the nozzles, the true look of fear and helplessness is very powerful and something that will stay with me forever.
But by far the most famous and probably the most moving element of Schindler’s List is the four uses of colour in the three-hour runtime, most striking of which is the two times you come across the little girl in the red coat, symbolising the loss of innocence and the blood of the Jewish people being split as the ghettos were being dissolved.
Sadly, by the end of the film, there is very little innocence left, the Jewish people no longer believe that they are too important to be killed, the children that are left have had to grow up fast to survive and good men stood by and let it happen.
Schindler’s List isn’t an easy watch, but is excellent in every aspect from the editing, cinematography, directing and acting, it’s a film that I implore everyone to watch at least once in their lives, even more so these days with the rise of antisemitism