Every genre has at least one defining film that comes to mind when thinking of or discussing the genre. When one thinks of Holocaust films, there one film that automatically comes to mind: Schindler’s List. Release 25 years ago, this iconic film still stands out not just as an exemplary work of art, but a reminder of what happens not only when hate takes over, but also when there is life in the bleakest of circumstances.
A Quick Synopsis
World War II is at its height, as is the Nazis persecution and destruction of European Jewry. Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is a businessman who is content to stay out of the war and focus on his business. He does what he needs to get by, even if those actions can be described as morally ambiguous. He spends his non-working hours socializing with fellow members of the Nazi Party and frequently cheats on his wife. But then something changes in him and he uses his contacts and status to save over one thousand souls from the gas chambers and mass graves.
An Artful and In-Your-Face Re-Telling of One of The Most Horrific Times in Human History
Based on a book by Thomas Keneally, a screenplay by Steven Zaillian and directed by Steven Spielberg, this film pulls no punches. Filmed in stark black and white (with only two brief moments and the final scene in color) and filmed on location in Poland and Israel, this movie forces the audience to take a hard and unflinching look at what hate does to people.
In the beginning of the film, Oskar Schindler is apathetic to what is happening in the world around him. He is content to run his company, have multiple partners outside of his marriage and enjoy his status as a member of the Nazi Party. Like many Christians, he is aware of what is happening to the Jewish denizens of Poland (where his factory is located), but chooses to look away.
In 1944, Oskar Schindler has owned an enamel ware factory for three years. Most of his workforce comes from the Jews who were forced into the Krakow ghetto, because the Nazis have imposed limits on the salaries that the Christian/Aryan employers can pay them. His assistant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) is more than an accountant. He is trying to save lives by employing as many of his fellows Jews as possible.
Then Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes) enters the picture. His job is to ensure that the Plaszow Concentration Camp is completed on time. Once the concentration camp is built, the surviving residents of the ghetto will be transported (along with Jews from other part of Europe who have yet to be killed or die from starvation or disease) to the concentration camp to be murdered. Using his position and income, Schindler bribes Nazi officers to not only save the lives of the Jews who work under him, but also as many other Jews as possible. By the end of the war, Schindler is penniless, his marriage is over and his reputation is in tatters. But he has saved the lives of his workers. It’s arguably Spielberg’s most human story.
As the Allies are closing in, he receives a gift from the people who lives he has saved. It is a gold ring with a quote from the Talmud. The quote is as follows:
“He who saves one life, saves the world”.
The Final Scene Says It All
The film ends with one of the most touching and hopeful scenes I have ever seen on film.
Moving from black and white to color, the audience meets the real Schindlerjuden and the actors who played them in the film. One by one, they walk in pairs on a single line side by side and place a stone on the final resting place of Oskar Schindler as the song “Jerusalem of Gold” plays over the scene. In Judaism, when one visits deceased love ones in a cemetery, they place a stone on or near the gravesite. The last person to place a stone on the headstone is Liam Neeson.
Schindler’s List Is Still a Powerful and Emotion-Inducing Film
There are some films that fade from the public consciousness after it has left theaters. Schindler’s List is not one of them. 25 years after its initial release, its power, influence and the ability to affect the emotional state of the audience has only increased. Aside from the film’s artistic value, it is a haunting reminder that even in the darkest of times, when hate, destruction and murder are an everyday event, there can still be a faint light of hope in the darkness.
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