Oskar Schindler is a vainglorious and greedy German businessman who becomes an unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric German Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp, it is a testament to the good in all of us. Written by
Harald Mayr <firstname.lastname@example.org>
No more than a useful public service announcement...
Schindler's list is not a bad film per se - Liam Neeson is very good as Schindler and if you edit out some of the more overblown scenes - the story is still riveting. Yet it could have been so much more if the story just told simply and if the central theme were fully understood and developed.
Before the war Schindler and his friend, Goeth were boozy, flirtatious German businessmen. Both would have likely been uninspired failures had there been no war. In a kinder world, Goeth's and Schindler's moral differences might have manifested themselves in the size of the tip that they would leave the barmaid. In war, the consequences of moral choices are greatly magnified, resulting in Schindler becoming a most unlikely heroic figure, and Goeth becoming a loathed prison commandant. In the film, Spielberg elevates Schindler to sainthood status and portrays Goeth as a sadistic psychopath. By sanitizing Schindler's many faults (boozing, gambling, womanizing...) and by demonizing Goeth, Spielberg severs our connection with them and, ironically, blunts the conflict between them. Adolf Eichmann was far more chilling than Charles Manson. Unlike Manson, whom we could dismiss as psychotic, Eichmann was the faceless functionary that we have all experienced, whose defense of "following orders" is one that we have all heard, a defense that was used by many during the war, and one that we might see ourselves using under similar circumstances had we not Schindler's courage. By making Schindler a saint, Spielberg diminishes both his accomplishment and his inspiration to us - saints have no problems making the right decision - the rest of us do. Rather than a gaping chasm, there is but a fine moral line between Schindler and Goeth - one that we tread every day, which fortunately for us, rarely does more than determines a barmaid's salary.
Spielberg does not develop this simple theme, preferring to impress us with a grandiose view of a great moral tale. Instead, he comes off as the underskilled sous-chef drowning a wonderful filet mignon in an overly rich sauce. The quality of the ingredients still shine through despite the clumsy handling but does not approach its great potential. In the end, the best thing about the film is that it reminds Americans of a monstrous event in history. It is unfortunate that this reminder is necessary and that it reduces such a timeless parable to a useful public service announcement.
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