“Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t,” said Oskar Schindler.
Based on a real story about Oskar Schindler – a German businessman who saved thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied German during the World War II, Schindler’s List stormed the Oscars in 1994 with 12 nominations and won 7 of it, incl. Best Picture, Best Director for Steven Spielberg and Best Adapted Screenplay for Steven Zaillian. A story as epic as it is, narrated in 3-hour long black and white motion, is definitely a story of a lifetime; and I am pleased to finally watch it after nearly 24 years after it first screened.
The horror of WWII is immensely harrowing at many levels. We’ve seen many pictures of it, whether fictions or documentaries; whatever they are, they share mutual beliefs – it’s a dark age for humanity. Schindler’s List highlights the war-horror in Poland, the ground zero, where Polish Jews were forced to a hideous ghetto. During that period, Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrived in Poland with a purpose to earn money. He came just in time an SS lieutenant, Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes) arrived to oversee a concentration camp there. Moved by the suffering of those Jews he witnessed with his very own eyes, Schindler – who actually wouldn’t need to do anything about the cause – decided to save those Jews by employing them in his factory. He shifted his goal from earning fortune to saving as many lives as possible, hence the list.
I’ve personally seen many examples of compassion like these in many media; but, Schindler, as a character, ends up being one of my most favorite. I was once taught, in my Jesuit university, that a human would be a complete human if he/she owns these three things: competence, conscience, and compassion. Schindler, despite his initial motivation, has shown the quality of being a complete human from his deeds.
From the very beginning, he already has the competence – he’s wealthy, potential German; he’s able to build a factory and he got the negotiation penchant. He’s good at dealing with people and fortune; but when he witnessed the killing spree, his heart is deeply affected. He felt as he’s able to do something about it; there’s when his conscience embarks. One might be wealthy and feel sympathy; but there’s not much people really eager to actualize their sympathy. That makes Schindler a complete human being; he’s got his compassion took over control and he chose to act although it might cost his fortune and even his life. I wasn’t gonna be preachy about this, but Schindler’s List instantly reminds me to that dogma.
The way Spielberg depicts the horror and the miracle at once is what makes the experience lasts. The monochromatic cinematography is one thing, but when you suddenly realize there’s a girl with red cape breaking the color rule walks by, you know that this will make a great impact. How Spielberg crafts such details to create traumatic blow still renders me speechless until now. Not only with details, Spielberg nails it hard when he’s playing with set-pieces and grand production (those concentration camp scenes always bring that eerie feeling about how “cheap” human life is if gun takes control).
Things only get better approaching the end. In fact, the whole final 30 minutes are grandiose. Those Schindler’s speech and his remorse linger in mind for long time. 160 minutes that precede it are a tiring, difficult, and harrowing picture to watch; call it a Via Dolorosa; but, it pays off in the end with those series of strong scenes. When the “story” ends, the whole cinematography changes into color shot of the so-called Schindler’s Jews visiting Schindler’s grave in the real life; and when that happens, smile embarks and lasts.
Schindler’s List remains an essential historical picture in modern cinema. It sets the bar for saintly depiction of real-life hero without glorifying the person, but magnifying the deeds. A war epic has never felt that real and moving.
Schindler’s List (1993)