Top 100 Movie Review: No. 003 – Schindler’s List (1993)

Ranked 003 on the IMDb Top 100 Movie List (as at May 2017).
Watched movie during the month of August 2020.

Cast: Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern), Ralph Fiennes (Amon Goeth), Caroline Goodall (Emilie Schindler), Jonathan Sagall (Poldek Pfefferberg), Embeth Davidtz (Helen Hirsch)
Directors: Steven Spielberg
My rating: 10 / 10

In Krakow during World War 2, the Germans have forced local Polish Jews into the overcrowded Kraków Ghetto. Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), an ethnic German from Czechoslovakia, arrives in the city hoping to make his fortune. A member of the Nazi Party, Schindler lavishes bribes on Wehrmacht (German armed forces) and SS officials and acquires a factory to produce enamelware.

To help him run the business, Schindler enlists the aid of Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), a local Jewish official who has contacts with black marketeers and the Jewish business community. Stern helps Schindler arrange financing for the factory. Schindler maintains friendly relations with the Nazis and enjoys wealth and status as “Herr Direktor”, and Stern handles administration effectively running the business despite Jews being outlawed to do as such. Schindler hires Jewish workers because they cost less, while Stern ensures that as many people as possible are deemed essential to the German war effort especially those who don’t have work skills that would otherwise save them.  Without Stern creating fake stories and histories about their skills they would have been transported to concentration camps or killed on the spot.

SS Second Lieutenant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) arrives in Kraków to oversee construction of Płaszów concentration camp. When the camp is completed, he orders the ghetto liquidated. Many people are shot and killed in the process of emptying the ghetto. Schindler witnesses the massacre and is profoundly affected. He particularly notices a young girl in a red coat, the only time colour is used in the World War 2 setting, as she hides from the Nazis, and later sees her body among a wagonload of corpses. This is the start of Schindler understanding the horrors of what is occurring.  Schindler is careful to maintain his friendship with Goeth and, through bribery and lavish gifts, continues to enjoy SS support. Goeth brutally mistreats his Jewish maid Helen Hirsch who he desires despite it being against the law and his briefs, and he randomly shoots people from the balcony of his villa, and the prisoners are in constant fear for their lives. As time passes, Schindler’s focus continues to shift away from making money to trying to save as many lives as possible. To better protect his workers, Schindler bribes Goeth into allowing him to build a sub-camp away from the Płaszów concentration camp.

As the Germans begin to lose the war, Goeth is ordered to ship the remaining Jews at Płaszów to Auschwitz concentration camp. Schindler asks Goeth to allow him to move his workers to a new munitions factory he plans to build in Brünnlitz near his home town Zwittau. Goeth agrees, but charges a huge bribe, he can’t understand how Schindler is making money from the deal but believe he much be as that is the only reason you would help Jews.  Schindler and Stern create “Schindler’s List” – a list of about 850 people to be transferred to Brünnlitz and thus saved from transport to Auschwitz.

As the Jewish workers are transported by train to Brünnlitz, the one carrying the women and girls is accidentally redirected to Auschwitz-Birkenau; Schindler bribes Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, with a bag of diamonds to win their release. At the new factory, Schindler forbids the SS guards from entering the factory floor without special permission and encourages the Jews to observe the Jewish Sabbath. Over the next seven months, he spends much of his fortune bribing Nazi officials and buying shell casings from other companies; due to Schindler’s own machinations, the factory does not produce any usable armaments during this period. Schindler runs out of money in 1945, just as Germany surrenders, ending the war in Europe.

As a Nazi Party member and war profiteer, Schindler must flee the advancing Red Army to avoid capture. The SS guards in Schindler’s factory have been ordered to kill the Jewish workforce, but Schindler persuades them not to, so that they can “return to your families as men, instead of murderers.” He bids farewell to his workers and prepares to head west, hoping to surrender to the Americans. The workers give Schindler a signed statement attesting to his role in saving Jewish lives and present him with a ring engraved with a Talmudic quotation: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Schindler is touched but also ashamed, as he feels he should have done even more. He breaks down sobbing, and is comforted by the workers. After he and his wife leave, the workers spend the night on the factory grounds and are awoken the next morning by a Soviet officer, who announces that they have been liberated. The workers leave the factory and walk to a nearby town, encountering a Red Army cavalryman who stares at them in silence when asked “are there any Jews left?”

An epilogue reveals that Schindler’s marriage failed after the war, as did his attempts to start new businesses, while Goeth was arrested, tried, and executed for crimes against humanity. Schindler was later honoured by Yad Vashem for his efforts to save his workers from being put to death. In the present, many of the surviving Schindlerjuden (or Schindler’s Jews) and the actors portraying them visit Schindler’s grave and place stones on its marker, the traditional Jewish sign of respect on visiting a grave. The final visitor is Liam Neeson, who lays two roses on the marker.

What’s to Like
The outstanding acting, the exploration of the morally grey Oskar Schindler, the cinematography, the haunting music.

What’s not to Like

This film is inspired by a real story of survival against the horrors of the Holocaust, it is both uplifting in that some managed to survive this evil but also depressing as this is one of those rare occasions of a thousand survivors against almost 6 million killed.  I have watch documentaries and read about the Holocaust and Oskar Schindler in particular, the filmmakers have to take some liberties to tell this story over a film when you really would need a mini series to go into key events and show the complexities of the individuals involved.  Spielberg decide to shot this film in black and white to give it a timeless documentary feel from the time.  A number of scenes where shot use hand held cameras showing the chaos of the moments involved.

The character arc of Oskar Schindler started as someone who saw a way to make a lot of money, to someone knowing what is occurring but not focusing on it, to someone slightly appalled, and eventually someone who couldn’t stand by and do nothing.  The redemption he finds is uplifting as it suggests people can find their better selves in the worst situations, it’s definitely needed to counter the hatred on display of the ‘other’ in this case the Jewish people.  It’s important we understand this historical lesson how so many so easily blame a minority group for their failures instead of lifting everyone up they look to push others down to steps on them.

It starts with a slow descend as Jewish people are stripped of their dignity, rights and humanity with that community not thinking extermination was the end goal.  Really how could most sane people think that was the end path of the Nazis as it isn’t a sane decision or logical path.  You can see how event escalate, one indignity added to another and eventually one horror added to another.  This film is the medium at it’s best, an essential film to watch.

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture – Winner
  • Best Director (Steven Spielberg) – Winner
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published – Winner
  • Best Cinematography – Winner
  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration – Winner
  • Best Film Editing – Winner
  • Best Music, Original Score – Winner
  • Best Actor in a Leading Role (Liam Neeson) – nominee
  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Ralph Fiennes) – nominee
  • Best Costume Design – nominee
  • Best Sound – nominee
  • Best Makeup – nominee

About Nathan

A World traveller who has so far experienced 71 countries (76 by June 2023) in this amazing world.
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