The Greatest films of all time: 79. Schindler’s List (1993) (USA)


From the science fiction and fantasy filmmaker of “Jaws”, “Close encounter of the third kind”, “E.T.”, and the “Indiana Jones” series, comes the serious drama film of “Schindler’s List” about the Jewish holocaust survivors of the World War II. Steven Spielberg who was busy making his first edition of “Jurassic Park” in the same year of 1993, was finally convinced by one of the real Polish Jews on the Schindler’s list, Poldek Pfefferberg who survived the extermination in Auschwitz by Nazis to make the film, the same way he convinced the Australian novelist, Thomas Keneally to write the novel “Schindler’s Ark” that the film was adapted from.

Spielberg who was not certain of his capability to make such a serious film and had suggested directors, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Sydney Pollack and David Lean to make it, finally decided to make this different film for personal and family reasons and not profit. By chance and a right decision, Spielberg made his greatest film of his life, and in contrast with his other science fiction digital films in color, he shot this film in black and white and with the assistance of the cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, the film took well its real melodrama tragic context of an inhumanity stain on the humans’ past history lest not to forget. On many list of the greatest films of all time, “Schindler’s List” won 7 academy awards out of 12 nominations, including the best picture, best director, best adapted screenplay, and best original score by John Williams. It ranks number 8 on the AFI of 100 best American films of all time’s second edition in 2007.

Although slow to pick up at the start, as Spielberg tried to give it a documentary format, the film’s two great sections and scenes of liquidation of the Jews in Krakow Ghetto and the final scene of the speech of Oskar Schindler, hours before the Germans’ surrender and the end of the war, and the wide respect and recognition of the survived Jews to him as their savior are the sensitive moments of the film to make it great. In the liquidation scene, Spielberg puts a little girl walking in a red coat while the rest of the film is still in B&W to symbolize how the American government was ignorant of the Holocaust and the Jewish genocide. “It was as obvious as a little girl wearing a red coat, walking down the street, and yet nothing was done to bomb the German rail lines. Nothing was being done to slow down … the annihilation of European Jewry”.

One of the greatest impact of the film has been perhaps on the conscience of the Germans’ people that why not like Schindler they helped in the survival of many men, women and children who were massacred by the mass frenzy of Nazis in the name of survival of a better race against a lower one. The fact of the real existence of Schindler as a member of Nazi party to save 1200 Jews from death in Auschwitz has been hard to believe even for Spielberg after reading the story, and lies in the center of the story subject. While at the start, his agenda was a profit making enterprise of running his metal factory with free labor of the Jewish prisoners, over time he recognizes his role in their survival. Appreciation by his captive Jewish workers for saving their lives, particularly at the end when all gather to listen to his redemption speech breaks his heart so to regret in tears why he did not save more.

Schindler’s List: Schindler’s Ark

The list of 1200 Jewish men and women that Schindler made and saved as per title of the novel of Thomas Keneally has been compared by the survivors to Noah Ark. The real Oskar Schindler was a German industrialist who took over a metal factory for profit making with the use of free labors of the captive Jews in Krakow, but over time he gets attached to his workers and tries to rescue them from the atrocities of the Nazis and saves them from extermination. Schindler (Liam Neeson) with the aid of Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), a captive Jewish accountant meets with several wealthy Jews in the ghetto and asks for money for bribing the top German officers to let them work in his factory and also rescue their lives from extermination while his venture gets off the ground.     

Things were working well until the psychopath killer, the lieutenant Amon Goth (Ralph Fiennes) arrives in Krakow to oversee the construction of the camp. Blood thirsty and full of hatred of the Jews, he enjoys shooting and killing them even while working in construction from the balcony of his apartment like a sniper shooting enemies. At the end he orders the liquidation of the ghetto after the conclusion of the construction. Attempting to get close to him and bribe this merciless Nazi killer as well, Schindler watching the killing of the innocent Jewish civilians, becomes more affectionate towards them. A Jewish man having lost an arm going to his office thanking him for saving his life, shakes up Schindler emotionally and at the time of the liquidation of the camp and closure of his factory, he tries to convince the Nazis including Amon Goth that his factory could build armaments as well and not only pots. At this point with the aid of Stern, he creates his “Schindler’s List” of 1200 to save them from extermination in Auschwitz.

On the brink of the end of the war and surrender of Germany, Schindler persuades the SS guards not to kill his Jewish workforce per authority orders and “return to [their] families as men, instead of murderers.” In an emotional speech, he bids farewell to the large crowd of his Jewish workers before heading west and surrendering to the Americans, instead of being captured by the Red Army. The workers give Schindler a signed statement attesting to his role in saving many Jewish lives and present him with a ring engraved with a Talmudic quotation: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” Schindler is touched but also ashamed, as he feels he should have done even more. He breaks down sobbing, but is comforted by the workers, before he and his wife get on the train and leave for the west.

At the end the Jewish workers’ liberation was announced by the arrival of a Red Army officer and they leave the factory ground to the next nearby town. The final scene shows the execution of Göth, and Schindler being honored by the survived Jews and the Jewish world years later when a large group of the survivors and actors of the film pay their respect to him by visiting his grave and each putting a rock on his stone per Jewish tradition.

Could have been better:

Could the film have been better if a different filmmaker than Spielberg directed it, or a more experienced actor than Liam Neeson played in it (though Ralph Fiennes’s performance was great), or the film was shorter than over 3 hours length, or more importantly if the focus was not all on Schindler but on the captive Jews and their struggles against Nazis and their captivity and slaughter. True or not the film also shows the Jews even in captivity lending money and trading in the black market and above all the Schindler’s list seems to have picked the wealthy Jews who had the money to offer for their freedom. However as Spielberg has pointed out himself, the Schindler’s final farewell and plea for redemption for not having freed more victims, and also the liquidation scenes with the collection of the victims’ belongings including their gold teeth have given the film such sensitivity and at the same time horrifying impact on the viewers that still makes the film one of the greatest films of all time. But for the subject matter of the film that is unique in the history of the holocaust survivors, a more experienced direction, cinematography, music score and performances and a longer than 75 days of filming could have put the film in one of the top 20 or 10 greatest films of all time.

Despite any shortcoming of Spielberg in the production of the film, many filmmakers hailed his work, but some such as Stanley Kubrick criticized it as not being about holocaust but Schindler’s success: “Think that’s about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn’t it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who got killed. Schindler’s List is about 600 who didn’t.” Jean-Luc Godard also accused Spielberg of using the film to make a profit out of a tragedy while Schindler’s wife, Emilie Schindler lived in poverty in Argentina. The film has also been criticized by the filmmaker and lecturer, Claude Lanzmann who has made a 9-hour Holocaust film “Shoah” by commenting that Schindler’s List being a “kitschy melodrama” and a “deformation” of historical truth, and depicting the Holocaust through the eyes of a German.

But despite all the criticism, Schindler’s List is on a number of greatest films lists such as of TIME and Time Out magazines’ top 100 films, and the Vatican’s list of the most important 45 films ever made. The film has also been received positively by the most American critics and has won the best film awards other than Oscar, from the National Board of Review, National Society of Film Critics, New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics among some more worldwide.  


In closing remarks “Schindler’s List” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:  

  1. Originality: “Schindler’s List” while not original in any aspects of filmmaking, but it is original and unique in the subject matter of the story, a historical fact that needed to be depicted on the screen and reach out to a wide audience across the world.
  2. Technicality: Although there is not much novelty in technicality in the film, “Schindler’s List” could boast in the scenes of liquidation and exterminations of Jews in the camp, the final farewell of Schindler’s and the little girl in the red coat in a gloomy black and white background of other victims.
  3. Impact Factor: The influence of “Schindler’s List” has been on many filmmakers in more productions of holocaust films and on the global audience to realize the atrocities of Nazi Germany and also that even one person even on the enemy side could make a big difference in the lives of the people and have an impression in history. That’s why Schindler was respected immensely by the Jewish world and Israel where his body after death while in relative poverty was taken and buried in Mount Zion.  
  4. Survival: “Schindler’s List” has survived well to this very day in its impact on people of any race and faith’s mind not to forget what humans under racism, hegemony and hate could do their own kind.


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