Blog Directory CineVerse: Schindler's List remains as moving and memorable as it did 30 years ago

Schindler's List remains as moving and memorable as it did 30 years ago

Friday, July 14, 2023

Steven Spielberg’s most important, personal, revered, and critically acclaimed work, Schindler's List tells the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who bravely saved around 1,200 Jewish workers during the Holocaust. Spielberg's exceptional storytelling abilities are evident in this picture, the screenplay for which was crafted by Steven Zaillian, based on Thomas Keneally's novel Schindler's Ark.

To hear a recording of our CineVerse group discussion of Schindler’s List, conducted last week, click here. To listen to the July episode of the Cineversary podcast, which spotlights Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, click here.

What makes this picture profoundly significant and relevant 30 years after its release? This is one of the most emotionally powerful films of all time, and the ending could be the most humbling, moving, and memorable conclusion to a motion picture ever created. More importantly, Schindler's List endures as a crucial historical document. Through its unflinching portrayal of the atrocities committed by the Nazis in Poland and different concentration camps, the film emphasizes the vital importance of learning from the past, embracing the truth about the persecution and mass killing of the Jews.

The power of Schindler's List also lies in its ability to offer a message of hope and compassion amidst the unspeakable evil of the Holocaust. The film showcases the courage of individuals who risked everything to help others during one of the darkest periods in human history, reminding us of the inherent goodness within humanity and the importance of standing up for what is right.

Furthermore, the film played a significant role in raising awareness about the Holocaust and its lasting impact on the world. It inspired a new generation of filmmakers to explore this pivotal historical event, leading to an increase in the production of Holocaust-related films and documentaries.

Its significance as a crucial cinematic text intended to raise Holocaust awareness and honor this true life story often overshadows another truism: that Schindler’s List is an excellently crafted film that could represent Spielberg’s finest work. This is above all a triumph of storytelling, with perhaps the most deserving praise going to the screenplay by Steven Zaillian and to Spielberg for his directing choices. Likewise, the performances deserve considerable kudos, particularly the portrayals of Schindler, Amon Goeth, and Itzhak Stern by, respectively, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Ben Kingsley – actors who seem to effortlessly inhabit these roles and exude extraordinary credibility and authenticity.

Schindler's List was groundbreaking and inspiring in numerous ways, as well. First, it was one of the first major Hollywood films to directly depict and seriously dramatize the Holocaust and the persecution and genocide of the Jews with dramatic realism and disturbing violence, an approach that had previously been largely avoided in mainstream cinema. The film portrayed the horrors of the concentration camps and the cruelties and atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis with unwavering authenticity and in distressing detail, creating a powerful and important work that, for many, remains the benchmark non-documentary Holocaust film.

The picture was also aesthetically memorable in its use of black-and-white juxtaposed with selective color. The choice to shoot in monochrome was astute, as it lends the movie an aura of gravitas and makes the narrative look and feel timeless. Black and white effectively captures the stark reality of the concentration camps and the unspeakable acts that occurred there; it creates a sense of historical distance that emphasized the gravity of the events depicted. But just as striking is the brief employment of color in merely a handful of scenes: The prologue, which shows a Jewish family celebrating the Sabbath; the red coat of the young girl running for her life during the ghetto liquidation scene; the later return of the red coat, whose young wearer is shown dead; and the epilogue, showing the actual survivors visiting Schindler's grave in contemporary times.

Schindler's List further stands out as distinctive by portraying the Holocaust through the eyes of a non-Jewish protagonist. This approach provided a fresh perspective on the theme of moral responsibility and highlighted the bravery and compassion of those who risked everything to help others during this dark time.

As a result of its critical and commercial success, Schindler's List had a lasting influence on the film industry, inspiring a new wave of Holocaust-related films and documentaries. Its impact helped to raise global awareness of the Holocaust and its ongoing impact on the world.

This is also noteworthy as being Spielberg’s first R-rated feature, containing several scenes with graphic violence, nudity, and profanity. Previously, this director was firmly associated with PG and PG-13 films, many of which were geared to all ages and families.

Thematically, Shindler’s List is, perhaps above all, an examination of the dichotomy between good and evil. First presented as self-centered and opportunistic, Schindler pivots between the influence of the malevolent Göth and the morally righteous Stern. He eventually chooses the path of the latter as Schindler undergoes a transformation from exploitive businessman to surreptitious rescuer, using his power and resources to save over a thousand Jewish lives. The main character demonstrates that each of us can be lured between these opposing poles but ultimately choose to be a force for good.

A handful of movies and filmmakers likely inspired by Schindler’s List and Spielberg include:
  • Life is Beautiful (1997) - An Italian film that tells the story of a Jewish man who uses his imagination to shield his son from the horrors of a concentration camp. Jakob the Liar (1999) - Directed by Peter Kassovitz, this film is a remake of a 1975 East German film and tells the story of a Jewish man who fabricates news reports about Allied victories during World War II to inspire hope among his fellow prisoners.
  • The Pianist (2002) - A biographical film that tells the story of a Jewish pianist in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation.
  • The Book Thief (2013) - Directed by Brian Percival, this film is an adaptation of Markus Zusak's novel and tells the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals books to share with others and resist the regime.
  • Ida (2013) - Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski, this film tells the story of a young woman in Poland who discovers that her parents were Jewish and were killed during the Holocaust. Like Schindler's List, it is a powerful exploration of the legacy of the Holocaust.
Among other movies about or set during The Holocaust that have been released since Schindler’s List are:
  • The Long Way Home - USA, 1997 (Documentary)
  • The Grey Zone - USA, 2002
  • The Counterfeiters - Austria, 2007
  • Inglourious Basterds – USA, 2009
  • In Darkness - Poland, 2011
  • Son of Saul - Hungary, 2015
  • Denial - UK, 2016
And here’s a timeline of notable feature films with the Holocaust as a primary focus, setting, flashback, backstory, or secondary element, released before Schindler’s List:
  • Night Train to Munich – UK, 1940
  • The Mortal Storm – US, 1940
  • The Great Dictator – US, 1940
  • To Be or Not to Be – US, 1942
  • None Shall Escape – US, 1943
  • The Seventh Cross – US, 1944
  • The Unvanquished – USSR, 1945
  • The Stranger – US, 1946
  • The Juggler – US, 1953
  • Nuit et Brouillard (Night and Fog) – France, 1956
  • The Diary of Anne Frank – US, 1959
  • Judgment at Nuremberg – 1961
  • The Pawnbroker – US, 1964
  • The Last Chapter – US, 1966 (documentary)
  • Hitler: A Film from Germany – Germany, 1977
  • The Holocaust – US, 1978 (TV miniseries)
  • Sophie's Choice – US, 1982
  • Shoah – France, 1985 (documentary)
  • Escape from Sobibor – US, 1987 (TV movie)
  • Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie – France, 1988 (Documentary)
  • Music Box – USA, 1989
  • Europa Europa – Germany, 1990

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