Thursday, March 10, 2011

1993: Schindler's List

After the Germans take over Poland and force the Jews into ghettos, a Nazi named Oskar Schindler decides to take over a metal factory that makes pots and pans, appointing Jewish accountant Idzhak Stern to run it for him.  In order to maximize his own profit, Schindler hires Jewish workers because they are the cheapest.  While he is initially only concerned with making money, eventually Schindler decides to do everything he can to keep his workers, even when he ends up having to spend everything he has made.  In the process, he saves the lives of 1,100 Jewish people, pretty much single-handedly.  And yes, this is based on a true story.

Long, disturbing and depressing don't even begin to describe this movie: it's over three hours long and about the Holocaust.  But a more moving and well-made film would be difficult to find.  It's powerful and very real, not only because the audience presumably knows that the depicted events actually happened, but because the filmmakers take us there and help us relate to the characters.  While the film's primary focus is on a few main characters, there are several supporting characters who are equally important to portraying the message.  Schindler's List isn't about 1,100 Jews; it's about individuals.  Each life has worth and meaning, which goes along with the whole premise that one person can make a world of difference.

The depth that is given to the character of Oskar Schindler is incredible.  I think it would be tempting, in a film like this, to portray him as an extraordinary hero who saved people out of the goodness of his heart.  Instead, he is - or at least, begins as - a selfish, greedy, adulterous Nazi.  He could very easily have turned out like the film's villain, Amon Goeth, whose idea of a good time is standing on his porch and shooting at Jewish prisoners who walk by.  But Schindler is disgusted by the killing, and eventually his entire world view shifts, so that by the end he is furious with himself for not saving more people.  Schindler insists at one point that war brings out the worst in people, but in his case, it brings out the best.

In addition to the character development and the way the story unfolds, which are phenomenal, virtually every other aspect of this film is fantastic as well.  The soundtrack, dialogue, camera angles, and lighting are brilliant.  The choice to film primarily in black and white greatly aids the portrayal of the dark, harsh reality that the characters are facing.  When occasional colors are used, like the red of a little girl's coat or the flame of a candle, they stand out, giving them emphasis that adds to the meaning of the story in ways that would not have been possible if the whole thing had been filmed in color.  The acting is all superb, led by Liam Neeson's incredible portrayal of Schindler.  Ralph Fiennes is fittingly horrifying as Goeth (it's a toss-up whether he's more creepy in this or in the Harry Potter movies), and Ben Kingsley plays a very convincing Itzhak Stern - which is even more impressive when you recall that he also made a convincing Gandhi in a different Best Picture Winner.  And of course, Steven Spielberg's direction brings the whole film to life.

I apologize for the length of this post, but it's difficult to do this movie justice in a few paragraphs.  Far from being just another long and depressing Best Picture Winner, this film epitomizes the long and depressing Best Picture Winner.  This is what all those other long and depressing films I've watched were striving for.  Some of them got closer than others, but I can't think of any that are quite this good.

Coming up next: Forrest Gump

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