There is so much that has been said about this movie and its patient slog through one of human histories greatest atrocities. Twenty five years after its release I finally took the time to sit and watch it. I had wrongly assumed that my knowledge of the movie, the references surrounding it, and my viewing of other films about the war and the holocaust would prepare me for what I probably now believe to be Spielbergs greatest accomplishment. This movie pulls you slowly into its story, not just because of the moments or scenes that punctuate the more memorable story beats, but because of the slow boil of violent oppression expressed on screen so well. It drives home the point that this was not one swift violent act no one saw coming, but a methodically planned and executed genocide that spanned years.
The deeply personal story of Oskar Schindler is one of the most moving things I’ve seen on film. Up until the last 30 minutes we see him show limited compassion, always couched with a practical implication. He needs his workers to make money. He doesn’t want to train new workers. They are his people (not in a familial way, in an ownership way). He is a member of the Nazi party, and even at the end, he does not deny that fact.
When he breaks down at the end, all at once, so desperately looking for grace and forgiveness, we as audience members break down as well. We realize how we were partially holding our breathe, wanting to see as many Jews be saved as possible, while at the same time being shackled with the historical knowledge that for so many it just wasn’t so. What could he have done to save just one more life he laments. Just one more… traded a watch, sold his car. We all break down along with Schindler. How often in life do any of us wonder, “could I have done more? ”
This is a story telling and cinematic masterpiece, plain and simple. The use of black and white adds a timeless quality. The acting is spot on. I am glad I didn’t see it until I was a little older. I believe it is the type of movie that requires the viewer to think, to process, and to really understand at some level grief and loss.
During his acceptance speech at the Oscars when Schindler’s List won Best Picture in 1993, Spielberg made a plea to educators across the country to teach the holocaust, and not allow it to become a footnote of history. His co-producer Branko Lustig, had this to say:
“My number was 83317. I am a Holocaust survivor. It’s a long way from Auschwitz to this stage. I want to thank everyone who helped me to come so far. People died in front of me in the camps. Their last words were: “Be a witness of my murder. Tell the world how I died. Remember.” Together with Gerry, by helping Steven to make this movie I hope I fulfill my obligation to the innocent victims of the Holocaust. In the name of the six million Jews killed in the Shoah and other Nazi victims, I want to thank everyone for acknowledg[ing] this movie. Thank you.”
Schindler’s List is one of the those rare movies that is as important as its it good, and it can never be lost in the history of cinema or world culture.