BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #15: Schindler’s List, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
I had seen Schindler’s List once before and I never really wanted to see it again. Not because it was a bad movie or I didn’t like it – the subject matter was just so hard to watch. But I plucked up my courage and watched it again for this project. It was still a difficult sit, but I am glad I had a reason to revisit this incredibly difficult and challenging film.
I don’t usually mention politics in these articles, but I could not help but reflect on our present political and global climate while watching Schindler’s List. Anytime I read about the Holocaust or watch a show or film about it I ask the same questions: How could it have happened? How did it get to that point? Of course, there are many factors that lead to the Holocaust, but people like Oskar Schindler at the beginning of the film were a big factor. People who sat back and not only let the Jewish people around him be rounded up and placed in ghettos, but saw it as an opportunity for profit. He turned a blind eye to the horrific suffering around him to make money. Schindler makes a complete one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn by the end, but by then it was too late to turn back time. In today’s global climate of division and accusations we need to remember to fight for each other. As Schindler realizes at the end of war, nothing is more precious that human life and we are all global neighbors and owe each other our best.
It would be easy to write about the horrors depicted in the film but honestly, I don’t think I could take it emotionally and I don’t think that is very interesting. Instead I’d like to focus on what, beyond the story, that makes this the 15th best film according to the Battleship Pretension audience. Steven Spielberg’s direction of the film is spectacular. His choice to make the film in black and white was bold and perfect for the film, as are his select uses of color. There are many moments in the film, especially at the concentration camps, that looked like pictures out of a museum or history book. The few moments when he uses color are deeply touching. The little girl in the bright red coat making her way down a crowded street as the ghettos are cleansed. All around her is chaos and death but she picks her way down the street unharmed at Schindler watched her from the hillside above. She then sneaks into a building to hide from the Nazis. When Schindler sees her dead body later, it is almost so covered in mud you can barely see the red of her coat. It is like a punch to the gut, but a punch at the end of a brutal fight because so many other horrible images have already gone by in the film. Spielberg also uses color at the very end, when the generations of survivors come by to place rocks at Schindler’s grave. It is an extremely moving scene and an earned use of color at the end of the film.
There are so many brave and good performances in the film, Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler being one of the best. Neeson has always been an actor that delivers a committed performance but his work as Schindler is some of his best. Neeson’s intimidating physical presence works to his advantage when he trying to manipulate people like Amon Goeth, but he also seems to crumble at times when faced with the horrors he sees before him. Ralph Fiennes as the aforementioned Nazi Goeth is perfectly cast. Fiennes is so handsome and charming (when he wants to be) that he is like a coiled snake. When he strikes it is equally beautiful and terrifying. Spielberg shot Fiennes in a way that showed off his beauty, but also never steers away from his monstrous behavior. You can see how he got to his position of authority. Ben Kingsley delivers a quiet performance as Itzhak Stern. The other Holocaust prisoners were brave and sympathetic. But I have to call out Embeth Davidtz as Goeth’s maid Helen Hirsch. Her performance throughout the film is impressive. She knows she is a breath away from death every moment that she works for Goeth, but she has also accepted her fate as a dead woman walking. Her performance in the scene when Goeth comes downstairs, clearly lonely and horny and trying to convince himself to sleep with her. She is completely silent as Goeth stalks around her speaking for her. Davidtz stands in the center of the room wet and nearly naked and paralyzed with fear. But she shows so many emotions throughout the scene, you see her terror, resolve, acceptance, revulsion, and dread as she stands there and shakes.
I think I might have seen Schindler’s List for the last time, but I am glad to have revisited the film. We need films like Schindler’s List to remind us to never let something like that happen again, but also to remind us that when we see a difficult situation that we have to do our best to change it. Fighting for human rights, respect, and freedoms is never a waste of our time, money, and effort. Oskar Schindler learned the value of human life late but not too late. It is a lesson we can all learn and practice every day.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Schindler’s List ranking: Carrier