Tuesday, May 25, 2010
The Great Movies: "Schindler's List"
Stephen Spielberg, 1993
In the three years now that I've been working on the Great Movie project, I’ve often wondered what I was going to do about Schindler’s List. It is a film that I recognize as “great,” or at least as having a lot of merit, but watching it again is not an experience I especially care to subject myself to. My strongest memory of watching it the first time, in the theater, is of leaving for the restroom halfway in – not because I needed to pee but because I needed a break from the horror. There, I discovered my roommate, doing the same thing. He eventually headed back for the second half, and I followed him out a few minutes later.
At the time, I was taking a decidedly relaxed German-for-graduate-students-who-need-a-language-proficiency-to-get-their-degree class, taught by an affable gentleman whose wife was a survivor of Auschwitz. Schindler’s List came up in class, naturally, and we learned that my professor’s wife found the movie quite good – “although the actual experience was much worse than anything they could show, of course.”
Well, I can’t blame Spielberg for trying, and I certainly recall his movie being a powerful document. He certainly is to be commended for looking the Holocaust full in the face, as Roberto Benigni would so memorably fail to do in his allegedly uplifting, highly popular, and unspeakably vile Life is Beautiful a few years later. The only problem is this: I’m trying to live a happy life here, and being interested in history already gives me more than enough challenges in pulling that off. Wallowing in some of the very worst moments of recent history is just asking for trouble. Being responsibly knowledgeable about the more hideous examples of what they used to call “man’s inhumanity to man” will have to do. For Schindler’s List, once is enough.
Plot: German industrialist attempts to balance his survival and his new-found humanity in the terror state of the Third Reich, trying to maximize the number of people he can keep from being sent to death camps.
Visuals: Well, it’s been a while. I remember highly effective use of black and white to both evoke the historical period and the bleakness of the situation. I also recall a single child portrayed in color, calling our attention to a single victim in much the same way that Israel called attention to a single victim, if memory serves, in the trial of Adolph Eichmann. Very effective stuff. [Note: Memory apparently does not serve. But there was some trial like that.]
Dialog: I remember being impressed by the way that the characters’ choices of words and phrasing was used to illustrate aspects of their personalities.
Prognosis: Everyone should probably consider watching Schindler’s List once.