US Release Date: 11-30-1993
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
- Liam Neeson, as
- Oskar Schindler
- Ben Kingsley, as
- Itzhak Stern
- Ralph Fiennes, as
- Amon Goeth
- Caroline Goodall, as
- Emilie Schindler
- Jonathan Sagall, as
- Poldek Pfefferberg
- Embeth Davidtz, as
- Helen Hirsch
- Malgoscha Gebel, as
- Wiktoria Klonowska
- Shmuel Levy, as
- Wilek Chilowicz
- Mark Ivanir as
- Marcel Goldberg
Spielberg makes brilliant use of symbolism.
Schindler’s List tells the story of how German businessman Oskar Schindler saved more than 1,000 Jews from the Nazi’s during WWII. This 3 hour black & white epic is an emotionally draining movie going experience. This is based on a true story. Now whether or not Oskar Schindler was exactly as he is portrayed in this movie is open to debate. Still, whatever his motivations or emotional connection to the Jewish people of Poland, he did, in fact, save hundreds of lives that would most certainly have ended in brutal deaths in concentration camps.
This was clearly a movie that Steven Spielberg felt compelled to make. It shows an unflinching look at what is probably the single greatest example of the depths to which man’s inhumanity to man can sink. The horrors of the Nazi war machine and treatment of Jews is shown brilliantly by Spielberg. He manages to show the big picture but also to make the story very intimate and personal.
At the beginning of the movie Oskar Schindler is a womanizing, hedonist who happily profits off the slave labor of Jews. As he witnesses more and more atrocities he slowly develops a conscious, until he eventually drives himself to bankruptcy “buying” Jews from Amon Goeth. Played superbly by Ralph Fiennes, Goeth is one of the most despicable and completely evil characters in movie history. For amusement this guy randomly shoots prisoners at his concentration camp from his balcony overlooking the prison grounds.
The deaths in this movie are so realistic that you actually feel as if you are witnessing history. One scene in particular where a woman is shot while kneeling in the snow is unforgettable. How did she flop down and jerk-up so lifelessly? Another powerful scene is where a train filled with prisoners is sitting in the hot sun while German soldiers relax in chairs. Schindler convinces them to spray water into the train cars, presumably for their sick amusement, but in reality as an act of kindness to the parched half-dead people inside. At one point Goeth says to him, “Oskar, you’re giving them hope. Now that’s cruel.”
The acting is great. Liam Neeson is perfect as Schindler. He embodies the blond, steely eyed German thinking only of his own interests. Slowly he awakens to the horrors happening all around him and realizes his own culpability; eventually leading to his redemption. Ben Kingsley plays Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s Jewish bookkeeper. He senses the good inside Oskar and plays on his conscious. As good as Neeson and Kingsley are though, Ralph Fiennes steals the movie as Amon Goeth. His evilness is so natural and complete that he doesn’t have a clue what a monster he is. It’s a truly chilling performance.
This is not a movie to be watched often. It is a brilliant and powerful vision of one of the worst nightmares ever endured in human history. So what if Spielberg took a few liberties with Schindler’s personality for dramatic effect? This isn’t a documentary. To me a man’s actions are what makes him a hero, not his thoughts. I don’t care if Oskar Schindler never really broke down and cried because he wished he had saved more innocent lives. He did, in fact, save more lives than many people who were more sympathetic to Jews and who abhorred the German war machine from the start. In my book he is a hero and Schindler’s List is a masterpiece.
Return to your families as men instead of murderers. -Oskar Schindler
I was really put off by Schindler’s List when it first came out. Everyone fawned over what is essentially a pretentious piece of work. Spielberg annoyed me when he talked about how he decided not to use any boom shots on a dare. The use of the little girl in the red coat is likewise ostentatious. It serves no purpose to the film other than to cause people to comment. Spielberg felt this was such an elevated piece of film that he had the ratings board use the term "actuality violence" when giving it a rating.
I went through a period where I was fascinated by the holocaust. I watched every movie about it I could find. Escape From Sobibor is based on true events of the only known breakout from a death camp. Europa Europa is likewise a shocking story based on true events. I read Simon Wiesenthal, Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel. I was touched by this subject deeply. To give Spielberg so much praise and credit for making a movie about such a horrific subject seemed to raise him above those that actually suffered, died or survived it.
Even with all of my personal animosity, I sat down to watch the DVD as a film and not a social studies assignment. Spielberg encouraged this movie be shown in schools to educate youth on the holocaust. He has every right to be proud of his film but his arrogance towards it is a bit off putting.
To be fair, this is a great film on almost every level. Spielberg treats Schindler very fairly. He tries hard to show that Schindler was not a man of high morals or ethics. Schindler is a very well rounded character, who, as Patrick pointed out, comes around from being a shameless opportunist to a savior.
Goeth is an interesting, although sadistic character. You never know how he is going to react to something. The scene with the Jewish engineering student comes to mind. Although Fiennes does a great job in the role and Goeth is the perfect antagonist, his role is larger than it needs to be. This is Schindler's story, not his. Any scene he has without Schindler could have been cut without lessening the plot, and would have certainly helped the three hour plus running time.
My biggest complaint about the film itself has always been the scene where Schindler breaks down and cries about not saving one more Jew. Although I appreciated this film watching it again, I still see that scene as not ringing true. It is over the top. It is out of character for Schindler to show so much emotion. Spielberg admitted that the scene was manufactured but felt it necessary.
It is as if Spielberg wanted it both ways. He did lots of research to make this historicaly accurate, yet took creative license when he wanted to. This movie was filmed in the real apartment that Schindler lived in and the factory he owned. It uses some of Schindler’s actual speeches in the dialogue. It seems contradictory for Spielberg to attempt such a realistic depiction of a man and then abandoned it for dramatic effect. Patrick points out that this film is not a documentary, but Spielberg ends it like it is when he shows the real Jews, and the actors that portray them, visit Schindler’s grave. There is too much hypocrisy at work here.
Photos © Copyright Universal Pictures (1993)