Movie Notes: Schindler’s List
= 5 stars
Starring Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes
Directed by Steven Spielberg
German businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) hires Jewish workers, sparing them from certain death within a concentration camp run by sadistic Nazi Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes). Based on a true story.
- Classical direction in black and white, as if made in the fifties, but with thoroughly modern subject matter – Spielberg loses his family-friendly sensibilities and serves this story up straight. There’s a mix between documentary style and homage to classic movies (Schindler’s introduction). The result is a timeless feel, never dated, and will therefore always be remembered.
- Neeson is excellent as the morally conflicted and loyalty-ambiguous Schindler, who initially works with Nazis and seems after personal profit, but eventually saves thousands of Jewish lives. An early scene where Schindler skillfully manipulates young Nazi officers to pluck his accountant Stern (Ben Kingsley) off a train, foreshadows the entire plan to come. Reminds me of a great quote from Ghost World – become part of the system so you can screw it up as much as possible from the inside. Also great is Ralph Finnes as the sadistic, pompous Nazi commander Goeth, and Embeth Davitz as a Jewish prisoner.
- Powerful undercurrent of racism and the sinking feeling of a world going progressively wrong. We start with the eviction of the Poland Jewish population, driven from their homes and stripped of possessions, then a cruel “liquidation” where Nazis invade a Jewish ghetto, and the eventual survivors are carted off to concentration camps to meet even worse fates. No violence at any stage is hidden from view; we’re often forced into the moment as if experiencing the turmoil alongside the victims.
- Small complaint about the last color segment featuring actual survivors which feels a bit tacked on.
This is Spielberg at the top of his game, masterfully telling a complicated story with emotionally charged subject matter, plus several solid performances. But what’s ultimately interesting is how the personally best moments aren’t the sudden instances of extreme violence, but rather those with a stark simplicity: thousands of suitcases emptied to create piles of glasses, photographs, and teeth of unknown origin. A family swallows jewelry hidden within pieces of bread. A child hides in a toilet, looking up at the brightness above. And one lone, girl with a red coat, the only dash of color or even hope within this war-torn world. It all adds up to a timeless experience I won’t soon forget – which is good, because we never should.