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The Power of Schindler’s List

July 6, 2007
 
(Spoiler Alert: Some key scenes discussed here).
Sept 1939– The Nazis invade Poland and take over the city of Krakow. The Jewish population in the city is herded into a large ghetto. The purpose is to deport “able workers” for concentration camps and those not fit for work, to be disposed off. Jews from the countryside were forced into the Krakow ghetto. After massive deportation from Krakow, the remaining Jews were systematically disposed off, to make the city of Krakow clean from Jewish vermin.But even in the middle of such inhumanity, 1100 Jews were saved by one man. He was a German industrialist, a profiteer, a womanizer and a wheeler dealer, a very unlikely hero. But history would record the fact that when people choose to look the other way, he put everything on the line to save people whose only fault was that they did not conform to the perfect vision of a megalomaniac dictator. The man was Oskar Schindler. Based on the book Schindlers Ark by Thomas Kennealy, Schindlers List directed by Steven Spielberg is one of the most powerful and disturbing movies made on the Holocaust.

 

The movie starts off with deportation of Jews from Krakow in 1939. And then arrives Oskar Schindler(Liam Neeson), a businessman, who needs cheap slave labor for his factories. Himself a member of the Nazi party, he keeps top officials and functionaries in good humour, by hosting lavish dinners and bribing them. Schindler sets up a factory in Nazi occupied Poland, and enlists the services of a Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern( Ben Kingsley). Stern is a member of the Judenrat, a sort of council, consisting of Jewish leaders, which were set up by the Nazis. Stern advises Schindler to make use of Jewish labor, because it comes for free as opposed to Polish labor. People who are working in his factory, are allowed to go outside the ghetto, and are branded as “essential workers”, basically a tag, indicating that they wouldn’t have to be hauled by the Gestapo.

 

Things change with the arrival of Amon Goth(Ralph Fieness), a Nazi officer of whom it is said “when you look into his eyes, you see death”. Even going by Nazi standards, Goth ups the ante when it comes to perverted sadism. Goth orders the razing of the Krakow ghetto, and his orders are clear, any one who refuses to leave or cannot leave, should be shot dead. This massacre pricks Schindler’s conscience, till then indifferent to the Jewish suffering. He pretends to agree with Goth’s rambling against the “Jewish virus” to gain his trust. He starts to bribe Goth to ensure that the Jewish workers in his factory are not touched.

Orders arrive from Berlin to dismantle the Plaszow concentration camp and ship all the inmates to Auschwitz. All the dead bodies have to be exhumed. Its when Schindler watches the corpse of a little girl being taken away to be burnt, that the enormity of the evil strikes him. Schindler then pays off Goth, to take away the workers to his home town in Moravia, so that they can be spared from the Nazis. And in order to achieve this along with Stern, he prepares a list of Jews working with him, and this Schindler’s List, is essential to prevent them from being deported away. The list in a sense is the difference between life and death. Watch the rest of the movie, to find out how Schindler saves 1100 Jews from death.

Schindlers List is a movie that exposes the Holocaust in a way, that just hits you straight in the face. You just cannot look away from it. Consider this the Jews are being herded out of their homes, towards the ghetto. Among the Polish people watching the parade, a small girl screams out with hatred: “Goodbye Jews”. In a way that means good riddance. Hitler simply exploited this prejudice.

Goth orders his female Jewish engineer to be shot dead. Her crime she suggested some defects in the construction. He sleeps around with his housekeeper not knowing she is Jewish, and when he learns the truth, he beats her up and kills her in one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes. And his sadism is revealed to the full core, when he casually shoots Jewish prisoners running around, while having his breakfast. As if they were just hunting targets. Time and again while watching the movie, I had to ask myself “Could people be so cruel?”, and the sad truth is they were and they are.

The massacre at Krakow is an unforgettable scene. You have heard tales of the Nazi atrocities but when you see it on screen, of them beating up unarmed defenseless people, shooting old people it shows up what these people were. Far from being heroes, most of the Nazis were no better than bullies. And more than ideology, they were just plain money minded. For all his rantigs against the Jewish vermin, Goth, lets them go, when he gets his payoffs from Schindler. Another superb scene is when Schindler transports his prisoners and saves them from the trains meant for Auschwitz. Especially the part, when some of his workers, are mistakenly being taken to Aushcwitz and he fights with the German guards to get them back.

Technically Spielberg is just brilliant in this movie. The opening shot where a flickering candle turns into the smoke coming out from a train, is one of the best opening scenes you will ever see in a long time. The entire movie is shot in black and white, except for the last scene, and Spielberg wonderfully uses the light and shade effect. As also the subtleties like when Goth strikes his Jewish housekeeper, there is a shot of the light bulb being crushed under the feet, which is a custom at a Jewish wedding. Spielberg maintains the dark, gloomy tone throughout the movie, except for that Hollywood style speech in the climax, which I felt was the only sore point. John Williams maintains the mood with his wonderful background score.

The movie does not have any major stars, but works on 3 powerhouse performances. Liam Neeson is first rate as Oskar Schindler, depicting the right amount of sensitivity required for that role. As a philandering husband, a profiteer and an unlikely hero, he is just outstanding.

To say that Ralph Fieness is brilliant as Amon Goth, would be an understatement. He becomes Amon Goth. So realistic is his depiction of the sadistic Nazi commandant, that you just hate him. You feel scared to be with him. And he does it without any over the top flourishes. A smirk, a cold tone, my God, he just sends a shiver down your spine.

And bringing up the rear is Ben Kingsley, with a first rate performance as Itzhak Stern, the Jewish accountant. Low key, subtle Ben brings to life the mild Jewish accountant, who becomes Schindler’s right hand man.

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8 Comments
  1. Nicely written article Ratnakar. Apart from Schindler's List the other movie that moved me with the Nazi's inhuman treatment to Jews was "I was Seventeen" its a Russian movie. The story is told in very Russian style of movie making, I am sure you must have seen that 🙂

  2. One of the most beautiful and amazing movies ever made… I don't know Oskar Schindler, but with this movie I definately felt Steven Speilberg felt the whole of this situation, as shown in the movie is his baby … every single scene shot with a clarity and precision … its to hard to believe that the director would ve shot this movie very impersonally and like a task master to make sure its flawless… nonetheless it always seemed like Speilberg literally lived through Liam Neeson, to make sure everty delicate moment was well made… beauty of a movie … this one remains the all time best of what I have seen till date!!!

  3. Ved, not seen I was 17, but i did see The boy in Striped Pyjamas, one of the most hard hitting movies on the Holocaust topic, especially the ending.Another movie set against a Russian backdrop during WW2 i have seen in recent times is In Tranzit, this actually looks at the experiences of a group of German POWs held captive by the Red Army. From what i have seen, the Russians were as brutal as the Nazis. — Ratnakar

  4. Pras, I would rate Schindlers List as the best Spielberg has ever made, on par with Munich and A.I. Some of the scenes, just left me stunned. Interestingly Spielberg himself was reluctant to do it, he wanted Polanski to direct this. But he refused saying that the experiences in Krakow Ghetto were too personal for him, Polanski himself being a Holocaust survivor. Scorsese backed out saying that as a Catholic, he could not do justice to an essentially Jewish subject, and that is when Spielberg stepped in.

  5. Hey Ratnakar, nice write-up on this film. I agree with you that it's probably Spielberg's towering masterpiece–and I think he's made a lot of them.Just a correction: in the scene where Goeth is striking Helen Hirsch (the Embeth Davidtz character), he doesn't quite kill her. He does throw a wine rack down on top of her, but in a later scene we discover that she survived the blows. Schindler even has to buy her off Goeth's hands over a game of cards. In fact, Embeth Davidtz appears with the real Helen Hirsch in the cemetery sequence at the end.About the "I could have done more" speech, I understand your criticisms of it as a Hollywood ending. What I love about the speech, however, is that it reminds the audience that this is more than just "a movie about the Jews who lived". For every person Schindler saved, tens of thousands others perished because he was inadvertently condemning them to death. The moment when he tells Stern to stop adding names to the list is one of the most chilling scenes in the film, I think.

  6. sutikshandubey permalink

    Also the color of frock of that little girl was shown red. Only thing which was shown in color.
    I think by showing movie, Steven wanted to depict “lifelessness” of that time. And if there was life, it was only in that girl, which get killed and causes Oscar to change.

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