Thursday, May 18, 2017

Schindler's List

I got food poisoning yesterday so I had to leave school early.

I was scrolling through Netflix looking for something to watch while I was bumming around, and I noticed that I still hadn't finished Schindler's List.  I watched the first twenty minutes about a month ago, but I never had the time or patience to watch the whole movie.  It is quite long!

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But even though being infirm was definitely not fun, it may have been a good thing because it forced me to sit back and made it impossible for me to attempt to multitask while watching this film like I normally would.

Schindler's List tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a German businessman and member of the Nazi party who, through various efforts and expenses on his part, manages to save about 1,200 Jews from being killed in the Holocaust.

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He originally hires some Jews just because they are cheaper labor, but later figures out that he can buy them and take them to his factory as workers (even if they aren't necessarily very good workers--he saves many children for instance) and therefore prevent them from being killed.

First of all, I really liked the character of Oskar Schindler and how he was portrayed by Liam Neeson.  Sometimes people like to whitewash the protagonists of stories, particularly true stories (as Schindler's List is) and make them completely heroic or completely awful.

Oskar Schindler was not whitewashed in this movie: he was shown as a man with deep issues and problems he had to conquer as well as a man with a compassionate soul deep down.  The movie didn't shy away from his ties with the Nazis--he is shown wearing the Swastika pin--and they acknowledged that he had a problem with womanizing and being unfaithful to his wife.

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The same goes in the reverse.  Amon Goeth was of course a very terrible man who shot Jewish people from his balcony at the camp, but there was conflict within him.  He began to sort of fall in love with one of the Jewish girls, and wrestled with his notion that Jewish people were like rats--for how could her's be the face of a rat?  In the end Goeth was not able to make the correct decision, and didn't change for the better.  But I did like that the film didn't paint him as a completely callous man who never faced any internal conflict.

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Aside from the wonderful characterization, the acting itself was superb.  Ben Kingsley who played Schindler's secretary, Itzhak Stern, had a particularly outstanding performance, as did Embeth Davidtz, who played the Kommandant's maid, Helen Hirsch.

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The movie was very well made, and I found the choice to show it in black and white quite interesting, and something that sets it apart from other WWII films.  I suppose that when I think of WWII images I always think in black and white, so to see everything happening in black and white made me really think it was history rather than people play-acting history.

The music was awe inspiring, though I wish there would have been more of a prominent presence!  I adore the Theme from Schindler's List, and actually that is the primary piece I am working on playing on the violin, and I just wished that it would have been incorporated a bit more into the movie.

I thought the authentic Jewish prayers were very beautiful and heartbreaking to hear.

I must say that after a long time studying world history, there is a tendency to say "oh yes, the Holocaust, well that was horrible..." and just leave things at that.  One knows the facts of course, and knows that it was an awful occurrence, but sometimes I feel like we get a little desensitized to it because time has passed, and it is talked about so much (which it should be!).  But this film really was a bit of a wake-up call and sort of showed just how truly horrific it was.  I really felt that I was right there with everybody being carted around and pushed everywhere.  I think that is a very valuable aspect of this film; that it is able to bring something we know factually but don't understand emotionally to life.

One part I found very heartbreaking was when all the children happily waved goodbye from the trucks (because they didn't understand what was happening) but their mothers and families rushed after them crying because they knew they would never see them again.

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With that said, a lot of the ways this film brings out the truly painful aspects of the Holocaust is through some rather graphic details: shootings are shown very up close and very realistic--I must confess that I never really put together just how one's neck would be maimed if they were shot: it just never occurred to me.  Other instances of this include complete exposure of naked bodies as the Jews at the camps were forced to run around for health inspection.  This may be a little disturbing to younger viewers, but it was done in a respectful manner I think.

The inclusion of these graphic details was not for gory gratification at all, but I think it was to be realistic and not shy away from how truly awful everything was.

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Schindler's List does a great job of balancing the overarching atrocity of the Holocaust happening with intimate struggles of the main characters.  This movie is not too much of a character study, and also not too much of a history documentary.  It is able to balance both of these pieces quite wonderfully in my opinion.

So after this rave review, I don't think it's any surprise that I whole-heartedly recommend Schindler's List to anyone who feels that they are mature enough to handle the subject matter and graphic content.  This may be one of my top five films, and possible close to number one.

I recommend this review from TheCinemaholic which does a wonderful job of summing everything up.

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