SCHINDLER’S LIST. (1993) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘SCHINDLER’S ARK’ BY AUSTRALIAN NOVELIST THOMAS KENEALLY. DIRECTED BY STEVEN SPIELBERG. MUSIC BY JOHN WILLIAMS. THEME TUNE PERFORMED BY VIOLINIST ITZHAK PERLMAN. CINEMATOGRAPHY BY JANUSZ KAMINSKI.
STARRING LIAM NEESON, BEN KINGSLEY, RALPH FIENNES, CAROLINE GOODALL AND EMBETH DAVIDTZ.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
I don’t even know where to begin praising this magnificent blockbuster of a film, made by the King of Blockbusters himself, Steven Spielberg. A mere eighteen years before, as a fledgling director, he’d put his name to a little film about a big fish that became the blockbuster to end all blockbusters and made him pretty much the hottest directorial property of his day.
In SCHINDLER’S LIST, he proves without a doubt that there’s no subject he can’t handle, no matter how grim or distressing. The film won a whopping seven out of the twelve Academy Awards for which it was nominated and, in 2004, was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library Of Congress. This means that the film is considered ‘historically, socially and aesthetically significant,’ which anyone who’s seen it will agree that it is.
Apparently, Mr. Spielberg approached this historical epic as a documentary and, having spent a few years conducting my own little researches into this dark period, I would have to categorically state that there’s nothing in the film that comes across as exaggerated, historically inaccurate or just downright wrong, out-of-place or even silly.
Mr. Spielberg did his research with care. This is a spot-on re-telling of what happened to many of the Polish Jews in World War Two, handled with sensitivity but with no desire to gloss over the worst parts.
The three-hour-long story is told in black-and-white, the only splash of colour being the red coat of a little curly-haired blonde girl who ends up in a concentration camp. The subject matter is more than just grim or distressing, the words I used earlier.
It’s somehow much more than that, because it’s all true and it actually happened. Six million Jews were murdered in World War Two, an almost incomprehensible number. Of those who survived, a thousand or so owed their lives to a man called Oscar Schindler…
My fellow countryman Liam Neeson is superb in the role of the titular Schindler, a womanizing German businessman who saves hundreds of Polish Jews from death in the concentration camps by employing them in his enamelware factory in Krakow.
Young or old, male or female, married or single, he takes them on and, in bestowing upon them the status of ‘essential workers’ for the German war effort, thereby keeps them from the gas chambers.
Ben Kingsley does a terrific job too as Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s quiet, self-effacing Jewish accountant who expertly runs Schindler’s business for him.
Schindler’s modus operandi is as follows. He doesn’t operate openly as a messianic philanthropic type. Rather, he shys away from the very suggestion. He claims he’s only out to make money for himself but we the viewers know differently, even though there’s no doubt that he does like the finer things in life.
He’s a member of the Nazi Party himself and does a splendid job of ingratiating himself with senior Nazi officials and greasing the right palms so that, when he needs a favour for his workers, such as keeping them out of Auschwitz on the pretext that he needs their ‘essential’ work skills for his factory, they’ll give him a dig-out, as we say here in Ireland.
As brilliant as Liam Neeson and Ben Kingsley are in their roles, my favourite character here is Ralph Fiennes as the nasty Nazi officer and concentration camp commandant Amon Goeth. He’s so devastatingly handsome in his uniform that I couldn’t help fancying him, even though I know it’s wrong to fancy even good-looking Nazis, haha.
He’s as cruel and ruthless as you might expect a concentration camp commandant to be, but he has a lot of characteristics of the spoilt petulant child about him too.
We first see him bitching about the cold when he’s being taken on a tour of the ghetto into which thousands of Polish Jews were forced to move, leaving their homes and lots of their belongings to people who had no claim on them.
When the concentration camp he’s in charge of is ready to be occupied by the Jews from the ghetto, Goeth treats the ‘liquidation’ of the ghetto as a tiresome inconvenience to himself.
‘I wish this fucking night were over…!’
The clearing-out of the overcrowded ghetto is done so well that it actually looks real. Thousands of people routed from their temporary homes and packed into transports bound for the camps. Families split up, husbands and wives separated and no personal belongings to be taken.
The instantaneous liquidation of the old and the sick in their beds. The rhythmic tramp of the jackboots on the stairs, the sudden burst of machine-gun fire and the hiders in their most obscure of hiding-places are discovered and executed. Steven Spielberg one hundred million percent deserved his Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. These scenes are masterfully done.
The shower scene at Auschwitz has been described as ‘the most terrifying scene ever filmed.’ I wonder what Alfred Hitchcock, the director of that other shower scene, would have to say about this notion…!
The scene I personally find the most frightening is the one in which the transport of Schindler’s female workers accidentally ends up in Auschwitz instead of in Schindler’s home town, which is where all the male workers have already safely arrived.
The train stops at Auschwitz in the dead of night. The women are terrorised by the guards shouting, the attack dogs barking, the glaring lights shining in their faces and, over everything, a thick layer of ash falls like snow. It’s coming from a giant chimney nearby that’s blazing away even in the middle of the night.
The women are used to having to queue up to give their names and show their papers to Nazi officials whenever they are sent anywhere new. Their confusion, a confusion that gives way slowly to horror, is perfectly summed up when one of the women says:
‘Where are the list-makers? Where are the tables?’
There are no list-makers and no tables with list-consulting officials sitting at them here in Auschwitz, no queuing to show your papers to someone. This is truly end-game…
There are so many brilliant scenes in this film, including the infamous ‘shooting from the balcony’ one that was hilariously parodied in FAMILY GUY, but I won’t spoil it for you by telling you about any more of them, except to say that sometimes a short scene of only a few seconds can be extremely powerful. I’m thinking particularly of the one where the Jewish man has his side-curls ridiculed and cut off by a group of Nazi soldiers.
The whole idea of Nazi debauchery and high living while concentration camp inmates exist in fear of their lives is handled very well here and Steven Spielberg’s depiction of this terrible era feels accurate and insightful.
Though that little film about the big fish we mentioned earlier will always be my favourite film of this particular director’s, SCHINDLER’S LIST comes a close second. After the dinosaur film, of course, and the one about the extra-terrestrial and the other one about the close encounter with an alien spaceship…!
After all of these, it’s my favourite film of his and, if you haven’t seen it yet, you really should watch it now. Those of us who’ve seen it should rewatch it. Lest we forget that ‘whoever saves one life, saves the world entire…’
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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