RogerBW's Blog

Schindler's List 11 April 2022

1993 drama, dir. Steven Spielberg, Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley: IMDb / allmovie. As the Jews of Krakow are rounded up into the ghetto, one Nazi businessman sees a way to get rich.

There are things this film does very well, and things it does badly, and one thing it doesn't seem to me to do at all: try to answer why Schindler felt, and was unable to suppress, pangs of conscience at the ill-treatment and later murder of the Jewish population of Poland, when almost all his fellows not only didn't object but actively cheered it on. And I think any attempt to answer that in a film would be a failure: the Hollywood standard approach would be a trite moment, the suffering of one individual getting through when the thousands haven't, and that would undermine anything like actual characterisation. Schindler remains something of an enigma, and that's good.

I do feel that there are two Spielbergs fighting here. One is the serious grown-up filmmaker, who's been known for pleasing the kiddies for the last ten or more years and wants to be taken a bit more seriously. (A string of relative failures can't have helped, even if he was editing future megahit Jurassic Park in the evenings after shooting this during the day.) This is the Spielberg who's rediscovered his Jewishness after Kate Capshaw insisted on converting before they got married in 1991, the Spielberg who'd heard about the story from the book Schindler's Ark ten years earlier but didn't think he was mature enough as a filmmaker yet. That's the Spielberg who's in charge most of the time.

And then the other Spielberg gets through, the one who knows exactly how to play on the kids' emotions, the one for whom subtlety is a dirty word. And for me that's where we get the Girl In Red (the one spot of colour in the black-and-white main narrative), who does indeed come close to being that one individual whose suffering changes Schindler's mind… but it smells of the lamp, it's consciously and distractingly artificial, in a way that for me quite broke any sense of immersion I'd gained from the excellent sequence of the clearing of the ghetto. And that's the Spielberg who insists on putting in Schindler's breakdown in his last scene, the melodramatic moment that undermines the genuine power of his address to the about-to-be-liberated Jewish workers just before.

Yes, it's all a bit great white saviour; on the one hand the Jews were largely powerless, but on the other hand there were Jews who were people-smugglers and Resistance fighters and all sorts of other things and we never see them here. All we do see is them being moved here and moved there like game pieces. Except for Stern – Ben Kingsley back when his name in the credits didn't guarantee a terrible film – who does an excellent job of showing a character for whom this isn't a mere business venture but a chance at life for himself and some of his co-religionists, someone who's worked out the way things are going and isn't doing the usual thing of trying not to think about it.

It's perhaps unfortunate that all the other Jews are shown as basically squabbling businessmen with hearts of gold, and the Nazis are cartoon villains. Where is the guy who was like Schindler, happy to make a profit wherever he could but not wanting to be a bad person, but who didn't grow a conscience, who just gradually went along with more and more horrors until someone strung him up and he didn't even understand why? To make the Nazis we see up close Satanic caricatures is to reassure the audience: I'm not the sort of person who'd pot at the prisoners from my balcony, so whatever I'm doing short of that, I'm not a villain, I am a Good Person. And that's how you make more Nazis.

I have a black and clinkered heart, and I wasn't moved the way I was meant to be; and the film's a victim of its own success in that the basic story is now widely known. But I thought it was still (mostly) very well-made, and well worth watching: it's a three-hour film that I felt no urge to edit.

Once more if you want more of my witterings you should listen to Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 02:11pm on 11 April 2022

    During work on this film John Williams is alleged to have said to Spielberg: "You need a better composer than me for this film". Spielberg's alleged reply: "I know but they're all dead."

Comments on this post are now closed. If you have particular grounds for adding a late comment, comment on a more recent post quoting the URL of this one.

Tags 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s 2000s 2010s 3d printing action advent of code aeronautics aikakirja anecdote animation anime army astronomy audio audio tech aviation base commerce battletech beer boardgaming book of the week bookmonth chain of command children chris chronicle church of no redeeming virtues cold war comedy computing contemporary cornish smuggler cosmic encounter coup covid-19 crime crystal cthulhu eternal cycling dead of winter doctor who documentary drama driving drone ecchi economics en garde espionage essen 2015 essen 2016 essen 2017 essen 2018 essen 2019 essen 2022 essen 2023 existential risk falklands war fandom fanfic fantasy feminism film firefly first world war flash point flight simulation food garmin drive gazebo genesys geocaching geodata gin gkp gurps gurps 101 gus harpoon historical history horror hugo 2014 hugo 2015 hugo 2016 hugo 2017 hugo 2018 hugo 2019 hugo 2020 hugo 2021 hugo 2022 hugo 2023 hugo 2024 hugo-nebula reread in brief avoid instrumented life javascript julian simpson julie enfield kickstarter kotlin learn to play leaving earth linux liquor lovecraftiana lua mecha men with beards mpd museum music mystery naval noir non-fiction one for the brow opera parody paul temple perl perl weekly challenge photography podcast politics postscript powers prediction privacy project woolsack pyracantha python quantum rail raku ranting raspberry pi reading reading boardgames social real life restaurant reviews romance rpg a day rpgs ruby rust scala science fiction scythe second world war security shipwreck simutrans smartphone south atlantic war squaddies stationery steampunk stuarts suburbia superheroes suspense television the resistance the weekly challenge thirsty meeples thriller tin soldier torg toys trailers travel type 26 type 31 type 45 vietnam war war wargaming weather wives and sweethearts writing about writing x-wing young adult
Special All book reviews, All film reviews
Produced by aikakirja v0.1