Not everything’s in black and white. Except for, well, this movie.
Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) was a German industrialist and Nazi party member, who came to Krakow in 1939 and capitalize on everything that was happening in this area at that time. Schindler is already a rich man, but he sees a way to get richer, so he decides to use various Jews who are being pushed from one ghetto to another, to his good use. Not only does he employ them for the easiest tasks, but he’s making all sorts of money off of it, too. With the help of Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), Schindler is basically able to keep going with this form of slave labor. However, what makes Schindler less terrible than he sounds, is the fact that these workers are called “essential”, meaning that they stop in the factories, and away from the gas-chambers. While Schindler doesn’t care too much about this at first, eventually, once he begins to see all of the pain and cruelty the Nazis are making the Jews suffer through, he decides to wage a small war of sorts, trying to get every single Jew he can find into his factories, so that they don’t have to die. Sometimes, it works. Other times, unfortunately, it doesn’t.
It’s difficult to do a review on Schindler’s List because, well, what else is there to say about it? By this point, it’s basically like reviewing water – “Yeah, it’s pretty good and all, right guys?” Some people obviously don’t like it, but others still and to this very day, love it with all of their hearts. Is there any problem with that? Absolutely not, as it’s one of the very rare movies that, no matter how many times you see it, still is able to conjure up feelings of anger and rage that only grow stronger as the movie goes on and on.
Then again, why you’d want to watch this movie more than once is totally up in the air!
Regardless, what Schindler’s List proved back in the day, and especially now, was that Steven Spielberg wasn’t afraid to get as heavy and as dark as he possibly could. Sure, the Color Purple showed some people the truly messed-up and scary feelings he was battling deep down inside of his soul, but if anything, Schindler’s List releases them on full-blast. No man, woman, or child is safe from Spielberg here and that’s how it should be when doing a movie on the Holocaust; there’s no bright, shining sun here, it’s all sadness, almost all of the sadness.
But like I said, it needed to be, in order to get what it’s trying to say, which is basically as simple as can be: The Holocaust was a terrible time for our world. While this may not be any groundbreaking news to anyone out there who has ever picked up a book or a newspaper, still though, Spielberg really does make you feel the chaos and wretchedness of the Holocaust, without ever pulling back. One sequence in particular is when the Jews are all moved from their ghettos, to the camps, and while you assume that the sequence is over once all of the Jews are in the camps, all safe, warm, and cozy, surprisingly, it isn’t. It continues to go on, while showing more and more Jews who tried to stay behind and hide in their homes, all get caught, gunned-down and treated awfully, even if they were trying something incredibly admirable.
This is all to drive home the fact that, yes, the Holocaust was horrible. Spielberg’s camera constantly focuses in on everything happening, without ever making it seem like we’re watching a movie of his, or a movie in general, and more or less, a viewpoint from someone who was actually there. This makes the movie all the more terrifying and also give you that feeling of suffocation that, no matter where you go, you cannot hide from the Nazis.
They love it that way, too.
Spielberg is smartest when he tones himself down and here, he totally does. The cheesy, overly sentimental moments, at least for the longest time, are all turned down so that Spielberg himself can just focus on the story, these characters, and most of all, this setting. It would have been very easy for Spielberg to pass judgment on each and every Nazi here, but believe it or not, he actually just shows everything for what it is; people get killed for stupid reasons, Nazis act out in vicious, inhumane-like ways, and human rights are violated every way from Tuesday, and yet, no judgement from Spielberg. He shows everything as it is, just as it would have been back in the day, which makes the movie all the more disturbing.
But Spielberg doesn’t just wallow in the sadness – in fact, he does feature a story here and a pretty compelling one at that.
What’s perhaps so interesting about Oskar Schindler and his story here is that we never get a full grip on just who he is, what he cares about, what he believes in, or exactly why it is that he’s doing all that he does here. Sure, he definitely wants to profit off of the helpless Jews and he also wants to have a whole lot more power to his name, but does he really care about all of this so much? The movie never makes a clear decision on what it is that Schindler is all about, and that’s perfectly fine; Schindler is as much of a mysterious to us, as he is to those around him. We watch him interact with Jews and Nazis alike, acting and speaking in two, entirely different manners; with the former, he’s soft and caring, whereas with the latter, he’s respectful, but also tricky and figuring out any way he can con these men into giving him what it is that he needs, or better yet, wants.
In fact, after watching Schindler’s List for the, ahem, second time, I’ve come to the conclusion that Oskar Schindler wasn’t entirely a good person and that’s alright – in fact, he’d probably prefer it as such. What’s so great about Liam Neeson’s performance is that while he always appear to be the hero in the story, the things that he does and says don’t always show this; sure, he was trying to save Jews from being wrongfully killed, but at the same time, didn’t he just want to make a quick buck without having to pay anyone else for it? Neeson makes us constantly think that the man is some sort of later-day saint, without ever fully converting and showing off his good features, and allowing for us to be confused by just who, or what kind of man this guy was?
The questions remain long after the movie, but still, they’re worth bringing up.
It’s also worth bringing up that Spielberg allows and dedicates some time to the Nazis and, incredibly, allows for them to be fleshed-out as much as they can possibly be fleshed-out. What Spielberg is trying to show with these Nazi’s, is that even though they’re going around, killing Jews because of silly orders they were given, sometimes, they don’t always like to do that; most of the time, they’re just bored, teen-like guys who need to blow-off some steam and don’t really have any other way that doesn’t involve shooting people for no reason.
Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Amon Goeth shows us exactly what it is that we need to know about these Nazis. While he himself is a terrible excuse for a man, the movie also shows that there is some breath of humanity in him that, despite never coming out, does exist. Fiennes is startling in this role; being both scary, twisted and naive, all at the same time, but never overdoing any of it. He could have definitely been an over-the-top, wacky and wild Nazi villain, but he plays it at just the right level to where we definitely hate him, but also realize that he’s a human being and unfortunately, he has way too much power and time on his hands.
Then again, same could be said for Hitler.
Consensus: Smart, provocative, well-acted daring, disturbing, and downright emotional, Schindler’s List is the high-mark in Spielberg’s career, and with very good reason.
9.5 / 10