Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Film Review: Schindler's List
Two weeks ago Schindler's List was playing on Direct TV. Since it has literally been since the film released back in 1993 that I'd seen this film, I recorded the movie to watch it again. One of the challenges I'm participating in, the Period Drama Challenge, gave me the perfect opportunity to revisit this iconic film about the Holocaust.
I have very distinct memories surrounding my first viewing of the film, that actually give it a bit more personal twist. Having grown up in a small conservative community, I still remember the "hub-bub" around what was considered a pretty graphic movie coming to town, about the Holocaust. Many of the people in my town chose not to watch R-rated movies, so there was quite a division among people I knew, not only because of the R rating, but also because of the subject matter. After some discussion, my parents decided that it was important to see, and my dad said that we would be going together as a family. Now, I remember that as being a pretty huge deal. My father, who has been deceased now for eleven years, was a huge history buff; he read history books and watched PBS documentaries about war and history almost enough to drive me mad as a teenager. However, his conviction about taking me to see the film so we could discuss it as a family had a huge impact on me.
I still remember entering the old movie theater in Rexburg, Idaho. It was on a Monday night, and my parents were somber as we went in. Honestly, although I'd read Night in high school, and read about the Holocaust in my history classes, I really didn't know what I was about to be exposed to. The film completely gutted me. I wanted to turn away from the screen as Spielberg captured in celluloid the emptying of the ghetto, the shooting of Jews at work, the coldness of the Nazis, the humiliation of the camps, and the horror of each Jew's death. I remember the discomfort and horror I felt, followed by an overwhelming realization of the magnitude of what Oscar Schindler had ultimately done in saving his handful of Jews. The realization Schindler makes at the end of the film, of how even the smallest material wealth (meaningless in the moment & grand scheme of life), could have been used to save a life, tore me to shreds that night.
We walked quietly from the theater that night, and as we returned home in the car, my father asked me a few simple questions about how I felt. At the time, I couldn't put them into words, but I recall telling him and my mother how shocked I was by the feelings of clarity and purpose I felt, feelings of wanting to build and give back to the world I live in. I didn't feel voyeuristic or guilty about what I'd watched, but enlightened, empowered, and eager to do better by serving others.
Fast forward to two weekends ago. I revisited this experience, one that in hindsight made me so appreciate my father for tackling the film together as a family. How my adult self respects him for recognizing a learning opportunity, and for all that taught me. Today in 2009, as I watched the film again, and after taking several college level courses specifically about the Holocaust, my knowledge base had changed. However, that book knowledge did not change the take away message of the film for me. In the closing scenes of the movie, I once again felt the compulsion to do, to act, to be better. I felt that desire to see people as the precious human beings that they are, with potential and choices of their own to make. If one man could bring about the eventual progeny from the group he saved to outnumber the Jews in Poland at the time of the film, then what can our small acts accomplish? The message of the film to me then and today is one of hope in what each individual can do, and the precious nature of life. How could I ever quite see the world the same again, and should I want to?
Rather than rate the film, I felt it important to respond to the impact it had on me. For some, Schindler's List might be too much for those too sensitive to watch the brutality of the scenes depicting violence and cruelty. In that case, there are lighter-handed Holocaust films that get to the heart of the value of one life, such in Life is Beautiful. I do recall feeling, however, that the Oscar winning film glossed over the brutality and used a light hand in depicting the fear and violence faced by Jewish prisoners on a daily basis. The film is still a good one, but with a lighter approach and touch.
The Holocaust remains a topic few of us, if any, can grasp. Regardless of the film, book, or play, genocide and loss of human life leaves scars on all of us. As I try to express to my students today, genocide cannot occur anywhere in the world today, without it touching all of us. For this reason, I have a renewed desire to learn and to do more than I have before.
For more information see: Schindler's List (Widescreen Edition).
***This film counts as the third film for the Period Drama Challenge.