Monday, August 1, 2011

865. Schindler's List (1993)

Running Time: 195 minutes
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Written By: Steven Zaillian, from the novel Schindler's Ark by Thomas Keneally
Main Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz, Caroline Goodall

NOTE: The next film in the "Spielberg Week" line was SUPPOSED to have been "Jurassic Park". However, when I received the disc from Netflix, I quickly realized the incapability for Netflix customers to simply remove a disc from it's sleeve, place it in their DVD players, watch it, remove it from the players, place it back into the sleeve, place it in an envelope and stick it in the mailbox. In other words, it was damaged and thus, at the forty minute mark of "Jurassic Park" I was abruptly halted. With the replacement disc of "Jurassic Park" not shipping until today and the fact that I had already received Schindler's List, I just decided to go ahead and jump ahead. They're both from 1993 anyway, so it's not that big of a jump. Now then...


"Schindler's List" arrived to me in the form of two DVDs and admittedly I watched the film in two sittings. I wanted to watch it all in one, but last night the desire to sleep overtook me and wanting to give this film my undivided attention, I waited until today to finish it off.

The story of "Schindler's List" is actually quite a simple one. It's actually the story of hope. The story of one man with a heart, in a time and place where only heartless souls seemed to exist. The story of how, even in the most evil of times, a little good will always shine through. Liam Neeson is Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi Party who arrives in Krakow, shortly after the beginning of World War II and the Nazi invasion. Schindler's initial motives are to profit from the war by opening up a factory and manufacturing mess kits. Not knowing anything about the subject though, he meets up with Itzhak Stern (Kingsley), a member of the Jewish community and the Krakow Judenrat, who has ties to the Jewish business community. With the help of Stern, Schindler gets his factory up and running, hiring many Polish Jews and deeming the "essential" to the German war effort, thus saving them from annihilation. Meanwhile, Amon Goeth (Fiennes) arrives in Krakow, a heartless man (to counter Schindler's heart) who serves as SS Lieutenant and Commander of the Plaszow concentration camp. Goeth is evil incarnate, who will draw his pistol at the drop of a dime, executing Jews for no apparent reason. As the film progresses, Schindler rises in the ranks of the Nazi community, getting on Goeth's good side, while at the same time doing his best to keep his workers safe.


When I first started this blog, I used to harp on the fact that I was rating each film by my pure enjoyment level. I remember, one time, someone told me how that was a mistake and that not every "must see" film is going to be an enjoyable experience and that there are other facets to look at when rating a film. At the time, I wrote it off, but today I realized that the person who said that was correct. "Schindler's List" is not going to provide you with an enjoyable time at the movies...unless of course you're a heartless bastard. But, it is a "must see", great film. It's a great film for many reasons, reasons of which we'll get into and discuss.

Let's tackle the acting first. For starters, Liam Neeson was neither great, nor terrible. I think a lot of times people confuse the greatness of the real Oskar Schindler with the good acting that was Liam Neeson AS Oskar Schindler. Neeson did a fine job, but I wouldn't go so far as to call it outstanding. The real acting home run that was cracked out of the park here, was Ralph Fiennes as Amon Goeth. The fact that Tommy Lee Jones was given a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "The Fugitive", while Fiennes stayed seated, graciously in his chair, is laughable. Fiennes was the Best Supporting Actor of 1993 and another one of a long string of reasons to dismiss the Academy Awards. Fiennes plays the character of Goth to subtle perfection. You could literally pick apart his portrayal and study it for little nuances, that made his character that much more human and more evil. To me, Goeth was an easily manipulated man. Someone who, if he respected you, you could get him to do whatever you wanted. Someone weak, someone who covered up his weakness with his self imposed power to murder. Goeth respected Schindler and you can see that in the way he thanks his servant, only when Schindler thanks her first. In the way that he tries his best to be forgiving, only after having a talk with Schindler on the very matter. Fiennes was brilliant.

And while we're on the subject of Goeth (pretty much the sole perpetrator of all the violence in the film), kudos to Mr. Hollywood, Steven Spielberg for not painting the holocaust with a rose colored brush and actually stepping up to the plate and showing us the horrors that were committed. I'm not saying, "Thank you Mr. Spielberg for showing me images that will surely haunt me, because I'm a psychopath who likes to watch these sorts of things" - I'm just saying that ANY Holocaust story needs to be painted with it's true colors. Violence and bloodshed need to be shown and the point, that this was a true massacre and an injustice, really needs to be hammered home.

In a way though and I could very well be wrong, this whole film just felt like a frail attempt from Spielberg to garner a larger audience. It just reeked of someone who felt he was selling out to such a degree, by making so many big budget blockbusters, that he said "I'm going to make a really beautiful movie, about the horrors of the Holocaust and I'll show my naysayers that I'm more than just the prettiest girl at the ball, but that I also have talent." I mean, is it just a coincidence that Spielberg picked the one good hearted Nazi to focus his camera on? Out of all the true evil that existed during that time, couldn't Spielberg have really stepped up and just told us a very evil, very ugly story? It was almost as if Spielberg wanted to show us a real life Indiana Jones and so he picked Oskar Schindler and said "Here, look at this guy, he's real and he's good and look at my beautiful movie, which I shot in black and white to prove that I'm an artist and not a Hollywood sell-out, for which I'll surely WIN many accolades!" OR I might be all wrong. Surely a man capable of making "Schindler's List" is in the movie business for more than just accolades and a pat on the head. Surely, someone capable of only making big budget blockbusters, wouldn't know the first thing about making a film as great as "Schindler's List".

What did the little girl in the red jacket mean? The film is shot in black and white and it has a couple of scenes in which color is spliced in. The ending, where the real Schindler Jews walk by Oskar's grave and place stones upon it, the lighting of candles (turning from gray to orange) and the appearance of a little girl, wearing a red coat. What was the significance of that? I don't know for sure, but I have a theory and I wanted to throw it out there. To me, it was simply to show that Schindler had a heart. When we first see the girl, Schindler is sitting atop a hill, watching the Nazi's proceed with the final liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto, as they comb the streets carrying out mass murder. The child appears, in her red coat, and Schindler, not able to bear the executions, focuses on her - watching her pass through the streets and ignoring the evil. It even serves slightly to take even the audience's eyes away from the violence, as I found myself focusing on the girl and hearing artillery fire. Schindler didn't want to look weak, so he picked that one girl, in her pretty red coat and focused on her and watched her and imagined her finding a safe haven. She served as a way for him to ignore the atrocities of his own party and simply find one beautiful thing in all the chaos and focus on it. Later, right before the Plaszow concentration camp is to be relocated to Auschwitz, we see the girl again - this time she's dead and lying atop a pile of dead bodies. This, in my opinion, is symbolic of the fact that Schindler couldn't ignore the pain of the Jewish people any longer. He could no longer focus on something pretty, but he was now going to have to force himself to pay attention and take action. I could be totally wrong with that assumption, but that's what it meant to me. I haven't actually looked it up yet, to get the general consensus on what it actually means, so I'll have to do that.

"Schindler's List" is a "MUST SEE" movie. As much as I might believe Spielberg to lack genuine emotion and talent, you can't deny him here. He produced a film worthy of every film goers eyes and told a really, horribly sad story. In the midst of all that pain and sadness, however, shined a soldier of fortune - someone who took a dire situation and cast even the smallest of hope toward a fledgling peoples way. I'm not sure how many more times I'll revisit "Schindler's List". It's a film that is tedious to watch at times. There's a whole middle portion where not a whole lot seems to take place. BUT, the film makes good use of it's 3+ hour time limit and flows along quite nicely. I'll go ahead and stop there, because this is turning into an epic rant and I think I've said all that I needed to say.

RATING: 9/10 We'll call it a '9' for now and depending on how long it stays with me and how much I think about it over the next few weeks, we'll see where it stands when I do my August recap. It very well may climb to the full monty of ratings by then.


August 1, 2011 3:22pm

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