“This is very cruel, Oskar. You’re giving them hope. You shouldn’t do that. That’s cruel!”
Schindler’s List is, without a doubt, one of the most important films of all time. If you don’t know, it’s probably the best and one of the most accurate films about the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany (and Nazi-occupied Poland) in World War II, and it’s based on real people and events. It’s one I had always known about, but had never seen—partly because I was intimidated by it. The Holocaust is not an easy thing to watch, and I was worried it would be, well, a bit too much. I’m happy to report that, while there were some awful things portrayed, it remains very accessible and I actually loved this powerful film. Director Steven Spielberg (E.T., Jurassic Park) had a tremendous amount of respect for the subject and was careful to make a film that stays true to history, no matter how dark, and honors the survivors, some of whom make an appearance in the final scene. There are some heartbreaking scenes, but this is a truly great film that doesn’t just rely on the historical significance of its subject matter.
The plot follows Oskar Schindler, a wealthy businessman in German-occupied Poland during World War II. Jews are quickly losing their rights and their humanity and have to fight to prove their worth to society to avoid being taken away to concentration camps. Schindler opens a factory and employs only Jews, giving them proof that they’re contributing to society. At first, his decision is partly out of kindness and partly out of practicality—the Jews cost next to nothing to employ. But as persecution grows more severe and the stakes get higher, he finds himself making more and more sacrifices to protect his Jews.
And I asked him—I don’t know how, I could never ask him now—I said, ‘Why are you beating me?’ He said, ‘The reason I beat you now is because you ask why I beat you.’
As I mentioned, Spielberg made a great effort to keep things as true as possible in this film, but even beyond the subject matter, it stands very well on its merits as a deeply emotional drama. The acting is admittedly rather average, but the portrayal of how the Jews were dehumanized is gripping and chilling. Also interesting are the Nazi characters. It would have been very easy to paint all Nazis as these inhuman villains without a scrap of goodness in them, but inhuman acts are often carried out by people who still have a good deal of humanity. We see the Nazis, particularly the main antagonist Amon Goeth, carry out horrible acts, although they really struggle to hold onto their own humanity and shrink when they see it slipping away. The focus of the film is not merely on the bad things the Nazis did, but also on the good things they did—or, rather, the good things done by Oskar Schindler, a member of the Nazi party who would not sit idly by and let bad things happen. This is complex human drama at its best.
Schindler’s List is undoubtedly important, but is it entertaining? I would say yes, absolutely. This isn’t three hours of a concentration camp reenactment, and it’s not one of those that I’m glad I saw but will never watch again. Like any good drama, we see the characters in a variety of scenarios. There are business troubles, troubled monologues, romantic tensions, and even some tasteful moments of humor sprinkled throughout that keep this from being a chore. And the closing scenes are immensely powerful and emotional. This is an inspirational film, calling its viewers to stand up when they see injustice happening, but it’s also a great story that keeps viewers engaged from the opening scenes to the poignant ending.
If you’ve been scared of watching Schindler’s List like I was, it’s actually a really great movie. Be prepared, though—the atrocities of the Holocaust are not watered down here. There are a few scenes that are hard to watch. There are a few scenes that will make you cry. But at no point did I feel this film went too far. It’s worth watching, and this is one I truly think everybody needs to watch at some point in their lives.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Genres: biopic, drama, epic, historical