Schindler’s List (1993)
There are many films out there that have dealt with the disturbing subject of Holocaust in the past but rarely has there been an example in the very same genre which can match the level of precision in every filmmaking aspect that this movie represents. Not only is Schindler’s List a landmark moment in art & cinema but is also, arguably, the first film which truly exhibits the storehouse of skills that director Steven Spielberg possesses. One of the most shocking, incredibly moving & unquestionably important films with an emotional impact that is second to none, Schindler’s List is the closest cinema has been to perfection since The Godfather and is an outstanding achievement in both Spielberg’s career & motion picture history that is today widely regarded as one of the most honoured & significant films of all time.
Schindler’s List, in simple words, is a testament for the good in all of us and presents the true story of Oskar Schindler, an opportunist who arrives in Poland as a war profiteer but after witnessing the brutality of Nazi reign becomes highly compassionate and does everything in his power to save as many people he can from imminent death. The movie spans from Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939 to their unconditional surrender in 1945 but isn’t as much about World War II as it is about the changes it brings in Oskar Schindler, turning him from a greedy, money-minded businessman who didn’t care much for his workers into the very person who later risked his own life to save as many as possible. It is the triumph of one man who made all the difference and the drama of those who survived one of the darkest chapters in human history because of what he did.
Steven Spielberg had already crafted enough masterpieces with films like Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, & Jurassic Park to be acknowledged as one of cinema’s most gifted storytellers & most bankable directors, but nobody in their wildest dreams would’ve thought that he can pull off a movie like Schindler’s List, considering his previous successes mostly came in the adventure genre. Schindler’s List presents a totally different side of Spielberg to the world and everything about this film is also very different from his previous works. The subject of Holocaust being too sensitive to Spielberg’s own Jewish heritage only ends up unleashing the best of him and, even after 2 decades, this film remains his most personal, most mature effort & his best film so far. It not only cemented his legacy forever but also earned wide praise & respect from even his harshest critics. Screenplay by Steven Zaillian also deserves admiration for keeping its lead character at the centre of everything rather than getting distracted by the violence & brutality that the subject of Holocaust brings along with itself.
From a technical point of view, Schindler’s List is an absolute perfection with biggest contributions coming from cinematography & music departments. The film opens with fading colours changing into crisp black & white photography, which apart from providing a bleak & emotional mood to the film also added a timeless sense to it. Colours are used effectively in the beginning & end to signify the fading & rekindled hope respectively but none of them leave as lasting & haunting an impression that the red colour symbolism, which represented a little girl in the red coat, does. The handheld shots, the camera angles used, the slow zooms & controlled depths present a shooting style that is purely Spielberg’s own with a striking flair of cinematic art which was missing to a certain extent in his earlier films. Also, thanks to its superb editing, there isn’t a dull moment in this film & its grasp on our emotions effectively lasts throughout its 195 minutes of runtime. Finally, the score by John Williams & violinist Itzhak Perlman is a proud moment in the career of both as the entire soundtrack is a seamless blend of beauty & sadness, bringing its own vibe to the film and elevating some scenes into this film’s most powerful moments.
As far as performances go, there are three astounding ones in this film. Liam Neeson stars as Oskar Schindler and brilliantly nailed all the characteristics of his character; a charming personality, a clever businessman, a womanizer, & a compassionate human being that he slowly turns into later in the story. Ben Kingsley plays Itzhak Stern, Schindler’s accountant & business partner, and did a terrific job with his quiet, anxious & fragile portrayal of an individual who saved many “non-essential” deemed Polish Jews by forging their documents & employing them in Schindler’s enamelware factory. Plus, the scenes between Stern & Schindler are a treat to watch, thanks to both Kingsley & Neeson’s wonderful collaboration. And finally, the third great performance & certainly the most impressive of this film’s great cast belongs to Ralph Fiennes, who plays Amon Goeth, a Nazi SS officer in charge of Płaszów concentration camp. Looking pure evil & menacing, Fiennes brings a certain degree of coldness to his already sadistic & fearsome character and did an exceptional job as the psychopath who kills for his own amusement. Other supporting cast members include a number of real life Schindler’s Jews characters and overall, the sensible performances from its entire cast added the much needed realism & documentary feel this film was aiming for.
With its potent combination of impeccable direction, brilliant screenplay, documentary style photography, bravura performances, & haunting score, Schindler’s List succeeds not only as a hard-hitting cinema but also serves as a finely detailed historical account. It’s a must watch for everyone, whether they like films or not and deserves to be shown in schools or universities around the world. It’s not going to be an easy sit, the atmosphere it presents is depressing, the unflinching portrayal of the horrors of the Holocaust is bone-chilling and some sequences, notably the Liquidation of the ghetto & Auschwitz concentration camp, have enough strength to leave its viewers emotionally scarred for days. It demands a certain level of personal investment from its viewers but then, the end reward is as priceless as the movie itself. Nothing is more valuable than a human life & no human life can be replaced by another one and this film is a strong testament to that fact. As master filmmaker Stanley Kubrick said, “The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler’s List is about 1100 who don’t.” And I couldn’t agree more. An evocative & unforgettable exemplification of thought-provoking cinema with a universal message that transcends all man-made boundaries, Schindler’s List is Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus whose importance to cinema, history & an entire generation cannot be understated and in memory of the six million Jews murdered, this haunting masterpiece comes very strongly recommended.