Schindler’s List (1993)

Synopsis: In German-occupied Poland during World War II, Oskar Schindler gradually becomes concerned for his Jewish workforce after witnessing their persecution by the Nazi Germans.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Two reasons: 1) Leah hadn’t seen it and everyone must see this film once; 2) I had seen it, but it was in a public setting a long time ago and I wanted to watch it with fresh eyes (although some images remain burned in my mind from that original viewing)

Brent’s Review:

Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

Full disclosure: I had seen Schindler’s List once before. It was during a school assembly, part of a short-lived program to promote civic learning. The morning featured back-to-back lectures on World War II with a viewing of the film after lunch. My second viewing brought to my attention that the version we watched in school was edited to remove the scenes with full frontal nudity. 

Because depicting genocide is fine, but full frontal nudity is too far. 

Silliness aside, Schindler’s List is not a film; it is living history, it is an experience. It might be one of the most important films I’ve ever seen… and I will never see it again. 

On the face of it, Schindler’s List is a biopic about Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), the Czech-born businessman who profited from a Jewish slave workforce in Nazi Germany and ultimately spent all his profits to save 1,100 Jews from death camps, mostly entire families. The film recounts his deceptions of the SS officer Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), but it also depicts his womanizing and his friendship with Nazi officers – although his sincerity in those relationships is left ambiguous. 

On the other hand, Schindler’s List offers the most unflinching depiction of the Holocaust I have ever seen. The scene titled “Liquidation of the Ghetto” runs over 30 minutes from build-up to resolution, but it feels like an eternity. Spielberg commands dazzling performances from his entire cast throughout the film, but this scene is particularly notable: Nazis laugh in the face of horrified Jews just before killing them, sometimes without justification. It’s horrible. Schindler watches on from a nearby hill. 

I could fill a journal with my thoughts on this film, but for the purposes of this review I believe special consideration must be given to three key elements of this film, without which the film would simply not work as well as it does. First, Spielberg is a master of using tone to play the audience. The film’s introductory scenes feature humor and lightness. The scenes in which Schindler sets up his first factory are particularly light hearted. The tonal shift later in the film not only introduces cognitive tension, but also reflect Schindler’s shift in his worldview.

Second, Fiennes’ portrayal of Amon Goeth is one of the best portrayals of a villain I’ve ever seen. I’ve heard Hannibal Lector described as the most evil character in cinema history; I believe Goeth edges him. Why? Because Fiennes doesn’t play him like an evil man; he’s just a man with a worldview and a temperament who happens to be on the wrong side of the film’s moral compass. He doesn’t think he is a sociopath – he would have to grant Jews humanity to be a sociopath, after all. 

Finally, Spielberg doesn’t pull any cheap tricks, which I might not be able to say about any of his other films except perhaps Jaws. Consider a moment in the Krakow ghetto where an officer executes a child in the streets. Spielberg could have zoomed in on the boy’s horrified expression to ramp up the heartbreak for the audience. Instead, the camera buzzes right past the boy and instead focuses on the officer being reprimanded by other soldiers. He isn’t here to shock us: he’s here to show us. 

When I watch films that make me uneasy, one escape mechanism I employ is to nitpick the film itself (this was easy, for instance, on subsequent viewings of “The Passion of the Christ”). Maybe a camera movement looks sloppy or a line is delivered strangely. Schindler’s List, however, doesn’t allow me to do this; there’s no place to hide. Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s most mature effort. He is a virtuoso of cinema who can effortlessly turn out classic cinema, but Schindler’s List is clearly his passion piece. This is the pinnacle of Spielberg’s career, for better or worse. I often use this film to cite his range as a director, but the truth is that he has crafted perfection in this film – perfection that escapes even my most uncharitable nit-picking.

Schindler’s List is a film that must be seen by everyone exactly one time.

It will scar; you will wince.

But it must be seen.

Leah’s Review:

I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to watching this one. Sometimes history is uncomfortable. Sometimes there are things we’d just rather not know. Ignorance is bliss, right? But sometimes, we have to put this thinking aside because- yes, history can be uncomfortable- but it’s always important.

In the case of “Schindler’s List”, we need to be reminded that there was a time when an entire race of people were being discriminated against, hunted, and killed for who they were. Human beings were treated like animals- less than animals. The events that occurred during the time of World War II were horrific and most of us would like to forget they ever happened. But we need to be reminded that we are part of the humanity of those who suffered.

It it difficult for me to write this review, so I’ll simply state my observations about “Schindler’s List”:

It is a hard film to watch. It is not for the faint of heart. There are multiple scenes that will make you sick to your stomach. There are multiple scenes where I closed my eyes because I just couldn’t bear to watch another innocent person get shot in the head.

It is beautifully made. The choice by Steven Spielberg to shoot the film in black and white was probably one of the best creative decisions made by the director. It gives the film that sense of timelessness. (I also love watching movies in black and white because I think they make you pay more attention- there’s nothing to distract you from what’s taking place on screen.) I love how the “girl in the red coat” seems to symbolize the internal change in Oskar Schindler as he watches her walk through a violent massacre (it’s almost as if he’s seeing in color for the first time- he’s seeing the truth).

The film is phenomenally well-acted. This has to be Liam Neeson’s finest work- he completely disappears into the character of Oskar Schindler, taking us with him. Ralph Fiennes (who was made to play villains) gives one of his most convincing performances as heartless Nazi officer, Amon Goeth- I’m actually not sure if I’ll be able to enjoy another movie with Fiennes in it again because of this terrifying portrayal. Ben Kingsley is brilliant as always as Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern. And honestly- every single actor, whether they have a larger role or no lines at all, gives an utterly amazing and heart-wrenching performance.

And lastly, the story is unforgettable. I’ll admit that I didn’t know much, if anything, about what Oskar Schindler did before watching this film. Steven Spielberg is able to take an already extraordinary story and make it an experience for the viewer that feels both incredibly real and incredibly soul-crushing. There was much effort put into the production of “Schindler’s List” to make it not only more historically accurate but also authentic to the time and events that are depicted. Choosing a documentary-style of filming makes you feel less like you are watching a major motion picture and more like you are watching real footage from the Holocaust.

“Schindler’s List” is masterful piece of cinema history. It deserved every award it was nominated for and every critics’ praise. I am glad I watched this film. Not because I enjoyed it. In fact, I will probably never watch it again if I can help it. It’s not a film you watch to be entertained, it’s a film you watch because it’s important. You watch it because the truth is not always beautiful like a little girl in a red coat- but truth is what shakes us out of complacency into the way of compassion, action, and justice.

Up next: We’ll be dining on something much lighter: the Stiller-Diaz comedy “There’s Something About Mary”. I’m looking forward to shutting my brain off.

Peace out, kids.


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