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Vintage Sunday Review: Schindler’s List

The 25th anniversary of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List marks the Holocaust Memorial Day in remembrance of the six million lives lost

Photo Credit: United International Pictures (UIP)

9/10

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Embeth Davidtz

Length: 3 hr 15min

Rating: 15


Sunday the 27th of January marked a notable day of remembrance around the world, commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau and subsequent end of the Second World War. On this day, and every year hereafter, we come again to reflect on the monumentous loss of life under Nazi Persecution and acknowledge a world debilitated by genocide. On this day, we commit to a brighter future, recognising the absolute brutality of our past by remembering the countless lives lost to needless violence and savage cruelty. From the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, to its end in 1945, six million Jewish women, children and men had their lives taken mercilessly across concentration camps, ghettos and extermination camps; and on this day we pledge to better our commitment to the preservation of human life, vowing to never again repeat the heinous crimes of our betrodden past.

25 years ago Schindler’s List hit the screens and captivated audiences for this very reason: it is at its core unafraid of being utterly difficult to watch. This is not a film that wants to entice you in with a block buster production or show stopping cinematics. The film has both of those things, Spielberg ensures that— but at its core Schindler’s List forces us to pull the wool from our eyes and recognise the reality of an all too recent atrocity. The seven time Oscar winner simply refuses to hold our hand. You only have to see this film once: its brutality will crawl inside your brain uninvited and take refuge.

Schindler’s List is a true story detailing highflying profiteer Oskar Schindler, a businessman from the Czech Republic operating an enamelware factory during the War. Schindler’s development is crucial to the storyline, as when he discovers the horror of the regime he realises he cannot stand by indolently in amassing his fortune. To save over 1,000 Jews, he employs a Jewish workforce to stave off their persecution. Based on Schindler’s Ark, a novel by Thomas Keneally, the events detail human nature in the throes of a moral plight against the depraved, and depicts both the necessity to survive and the nefarious actions of man when he receives a vast sum of power. The latter the film depicts chillingly, rejuvenating the barbarianism of the events of the war and bringing the genocide back to the forefront of our minds over 70 years later.

Ralph Fiennes imitates this indifference to suffering perfectly. In one scene —portraying SS Commander Amon Goeth— he sits shirtless and rifle in hand, lavishly strewn across his penthouse balcony. Nursing a hangover and peering back at a woman sprawled across his bed, he idly picks out his next victim in the concentration camp below with a cigarette dangling from his lips, barely pausing to aim. These scenes spare no sensitivity to violence, flirting with graphic bloodshed so nonchalantly it reminds us of the acts of cruelty we often believe humans to be incapable of. What Schindler’s List does so effectively is reminds us of the reality of war; takes us beyond clinical military action and exposes the unadulterated violence entailed by it. With each lingering shot depicting death as casually as the last, we are held hostage in an ongoing nightmare which unapologetically desensitises us to death. We are not spared our dignity; we are given no warning of the gore which creeps round the corner. This is not fiction, we are reminded repeatedly, with each moment of realisation more disturbing than the last.

The 1990’s monolith features a monochromatic colour palette from start to finish as a way to do away with verbose cinematography and romanticisation, focusing directly on the film’s contents and historical depiction. Colour is used sparingly to hold our attention, most notably in the iconic image of a little girl’s red coat. This is the first moment in which we notice Schindler’s sympathy, introducing the moral conflict between personal morality and loyalty to government. Liam Neeson holds this character well—even if his acting may be lacking at times— and we come to admire Schindler deeply for his courage.

Schindler’s List stands out in Spielberg’s collection for good reason. Unafraid to do away with conventions of what may be acceptable to depict on screen, it is unflinching in its portrayal of the inhumanity of the period and determined to offer a non-commercialised picture of genocide. In this way, Schindler’s List forces us to reconcile with the viciousness of our past, compelling us to think sensitively and comprehensively about our behaviour and urging us to aim towards building a better future: one in which we learn from the depravity of man.

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