Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List is a challenging film to review. The incentive behind this is not because it's a bad movie...but that it's such a powerful experience to exhibit and it's virtually unfeasible to illustrate its power by employing words. In a sense, Spielberg's Schindler's List is something much more than a movie: this is a phenomenon!
When it was announced that director Spielberg was taking the reigns, this declaration encountered nothing but abject incredulity. Beforehand the director had only helmed mainstream blockbusters and films exhibiting bright exuberance like Jaws, Always, The Sugarland Express, Raiders of the Lost Ark and several others. Questions and uncertainties began to surface concerning the director's aptitude and capability to tackle a project of such enormity. There comes an occasion in the career of a director when they step away from the genre in which they take an interest, instead attempting something new. Certain directors have failed, some have prevailed. When Schindler's List was set for release, audiences sharpened their knives due to their qualms regarding the director. But make the film Spielberg did, and the world came to watch.
Spielberg achieved his goal beyond all initial comprehension...this was a step upwards for the director and a significant milestone in contemporary cinema. For the film's three hours duration audiences sat under an overwhelming collective spell - horrified, beleaguered, fascinated, inspired. As movie-goers stumbled, erratically blinking, from the theatres of the world, moist-eyed and moved, it became clear that a new era of filmmaking had commenced. Spielberg traded in his stereotyped career in the year 1993 with an astonishing double-whammy - he envisioned an unparalleled Holocaust template with Schindler's List, as well as resurrecting the dinosaurs with his astounding vision in Jurassic Park. By 1994 Spielberg was presiding over the most lucrative motion pictures of all time, and finally he received his cherished Oscar.
The subject matter is correctly a delicate topic. After all, it was only a number of decades ago that Adolf Hitler instigated a policy that necessitated the annihilation of Jews. Personally, I have studied the Holocaust in detail and am knowledgeable in the intricate, heart-wrenching niceties regarding the events leading up to mass murder. On a daily basis throughout the Holocaust, thousands of Jews were executed in sadistic ways - people were cooked alive, some shot, even some were exposed to poison gas. The disturbing factor is that the Nazis never felt an iota of sympathy due to the attitudes they were so severely lead to believe.
The focus of Schindler's List is not to portray the horrors that unfolded in extermination camps at all. Spielberg keeps the focus purely on the more minor events, and above all the viewpoint from a select few characters. The heavy nature in its depiction of executions challenges out notion of tolerance. We are challenged not only by the staggering acts of cruelty we see, but by the equally confounding acts of kindness. As we observe these ghastly proceedings unfold, we are strained to identify those virtues within ourselves that are equally light and dark. Schindler's List is not a film that we can impassively scrutinize. We are propelled into the dismay and the panic...the indignity, the brutality. As the title would suggest, this film is mainly the story of one man: Oskar Schindler (Neeson). Schindler is a Czech of German ethnicity who travels to Poland with the intention of becoming a war profiteer. He employs assistance from Jewish investors in order to buy his own pots-and-pans factory. At the outset, Schindler uses forced Jewish labour because it was inexpensive compared to hiring Polish workers. However, Schindler witnesses as World War II and the Holocaust develops with devastating results. These events are too overwhelming to fathom, and Schindler begins experiencing a slow, subtle moral awakening. His poignant story of bravery and generosity launches when Schindler cons the Nazis as he places more than a thousand Jews under his protection. By the conclusion of World War II, Schindler had exhausted his whole war-generated wealth to guarantee that his Jews would never again be touched by the Nazis.
On a more subtle, thematic level the screenwriter portrays a battle for Schindler's soul between camp commandant Amon Goeth (Fiennes) and Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Kingsley). Schindler's story is a staggering one. In a cacophony of death clouding his existence, one man managed to save roughly 1,100 Jewish lives using charisma, bluster, and trickery. The Holocaust has been previously described as a mechanical insanity because of the enormity of people who followed the philosophies: they are like cogs in a machine. It took a single person...a single machine cog with alternative ideas and an ethically problematic lifestyle (Schindler treasured alcohol and womanising) to mislead the Nazis (who regarded him as their frivolous comrade).
At the centre of the film we have a simply sublime group of actors. Liam Neeson nails the character of Oskar Schindler in a satisfyingly brilliant performance. Neeson perfectly displays Schindler's quiet method of expressing his morals. His outward show suggests he is a close buddy of the Nazis, but on the inside he's resentful and anguished towards the brutal, arbitrary termination of Jewish lives. Neeson was nominated for an Oscar. Ralph Fiennes was also nominated for an Oscar. His performance is utterly terrifying: he's intimidating and unnerving whenever he steps into the frame. His sheer established cruelty and viciousness will be enough to leave you in complete shock. This actor is focused as he portrays a character that appears to be soft-spoken when in fact his intentions are cruel and inhuman.
The meticulous screenplay was penned by Steven Zallian, and was based on the source material by Australian writer Thomas Keneally. Interestingly, Keneally was an accomplished author when he strolled into a luggage shop and immediately struck up a conversation with the shop owner. Said shop owner was one Leopald Page, formerly Poldek Pfefferberg: a Schindlerjuden. During their friendly conversation, Pfefferberg conveyed to Keneally the story of Oskar Schindler: the German industrialist who had saved him and 1,100 others from certain death in occupied Poland during the 1940s. Schindler was a Nazi who had not stood back. Keneally was so inspired and moved that he transformed this story into the Booker Prize winning novel Schindler's Ark. The rights were soon purchased by Universal boss Sid Sheinberg, and the transformation from book to movie was soon initiated. When Spielberg was involved in the project he originally offered the film to director Roman Polanski, but his own experiences in Polish ghettos were too tender for him to accept the director's chair. Thus Spielberg, who was at the time ensconced in post-production work for Jurassic Park, decided to tackle the directing duties himself. The director flew to Poland and began his masterwork for which he accepted no salary, saying that it would be akin to taking "blood money."
Spielberg worked intimately with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, and the project was lensed using stylish grainy black and white photography techniques. The film was undertaken without any storyboarding: Spielberg planned each shot instinctively as the cameras were about to roll, where all of his God-given skills as an accomplished director were distilled into something intuitional and turbulently expressive. The cinematography techniques created a realistic atmosphere of almost documentary footage: he utilised jarring hand-held filmmaking to portray the intense confusion for the Jews during times of complete chaos. Spielberg evokes these creative techniques to create the illusion of complete immersion: for the 190 minutes that make up this film's duration, you will feel transported to an entirely different world...you will feel engrossed in the occurrences. The music by none other than John Williams (Spielberg's trademark composer), is a poignant composition that adds to the atmosphere. But it's not the music that ultimately helps the audience get involved: it's the visuals. One scene was played to very little music; however it always makes me cry. The scene in question is when we watch as corpses are transported past Oskar Schindler to be dumped into the ground without an iota of sentimentality towards any of the victims. No matter how manly you consider yourself, your eyes will be moist.
Spielberg does not want his audience to endure a fun romp that you'll want to immediately watch again...he instead tells his story straight and with the utmost sincerity. World War II films cannot come more personal than the masterpiece that is Schindler's List. The reviews were exultant and the Oscar committee rewarded the film with twelve nominations. Although Spielberg did receive some criticism in relation to several aspects of the film, such judgements are hard to swallow after watching this film. While some slam the director for not including the prejudice towards the handicapped and the homosexuals that were also prosecuted, or that the focus was shifted away from the concentration camps...quite simply it does not matter at all. This is the story that Poldek Pfefferberg wanted told: a story that intimately examines one man and his struggle to come to terms with his morals during an internationally horrific event. This was never meant to be the definitive Holocaust film and hence doesn't need to concentrate on all aspects...this is a personal movie based on a personal experience.
After trying with such dedication since the commencement of his career, Steven Spielberg has finally achieved a mature production with Schindler's List. An extraordinary work by any standard: this intense historical and biographical drama, about an amazing Nazi industrialist, evinces an artistic intransigence and unsentimental intellect disparate from anything the world's most successful filmmaker had previously demonstrated. Infused with a brilliant screenplay, outstandingly sinuous cinematic techniques, three astonishing lead performances and an approach toward the traumatic subject matter that is both passionately felt and impressively restrained, this is the film to win over the Spielberg skeptics.
Even now, all these years after its cinematic release, Schindler's List remains an expressive, heartbreaking and remarkable slice of filmmaking that transcends all obstacles of theatrical disbelief. The film successfully draws us personally into the dark hearts of a dark age, and then liberates us with the few beams of light produced by the actions of the righteous few. The harrowing detail and poignancy of this production will enthral audiences for generations of movie-goers to follow. After you finish watching this movie you will have the words of Schindlerjuden profoundly present in your heart - "That it may never happen again." Winner of 7 Oscars including Best Picture 1993, Best Director (for Steven Spielberg), Best Cinematography (for Janusz Kaminski), Best Music (for John Williams), Best Film Editing (for Michael Kahn), Best Writing based on other material (for Steven Zallian) and Best Art Direction/Set Direction (for Allan Starski and Ewa Braun).