Image provided by Iman.com, trailer courtesy of youtube.com
What sets director Steven Spielberg apart from others is his proper character development. All of his films show how significant events change characters; from shark attacks, aliens, dinosaur infested islands and war.
In 1993, Spielberg released his most influential piece Schindler’s List. Although the film is set in Europe during the Holocaust, it concentrates more on how these insidious events can change a person.
One of Spielberg’s finest talents is showing subtle character change. He is notorious for using an abundance of passion and drama to depict how events happen.
The image above is, for me, one of the most emotional scenes of film: the little girl in a red coat innocently walking amongst her chaotic, hopeless and desperate people. This shot, made famous by the films use of black and white, represents only one of two scenes that have color.
Some say this girl represents innocence at its most extreme. If it were an adult, the scene wouldn’t have the same effect. This fading red coat can represent the fading strength and hope of the Jewish people. It can also be the ‘moral trigger’ that goes off in Schindler’s head. As his character watches this young girl aimlessly wondering around piles of mangled bodies, something is triggered in his head. Later in the film that we see this young girl again and, in my opinion, it is there that Schindler transforms his monetary profit to a 13-page list of living profit.
Schindler’s List is a unusual film for Spielberg. His hero characters are typically good men with morals; Tom Hanks in “Catch me if you can,” Sam Neil in “Jurassic Park,” Haley Joel Osment in “A.I,” however, our main character Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) is one of many flaws. He drinks, gambles, cheats, bribes, lies and profits off of Jewish labor.
At the onset of the Jewish persecution in Europe, Schindler saw an opportunity to profit off this ‘slave-like’ labor. His goal of becoming a millionaire was achieved, but not for long. We see Schindler waste millions, yet by the end of the film, he is penniless. We see him bribe high-ranking Nazi officers with Cuban cigars and German cigarettes; in exchange, they welcome his idea of opening his own Jewish labor factory.
One character in particular is Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), the commandant for the labor camp that Schindler uses Jews from. Goeth is a particularly difficult character to have in one’s pocket; he attempts to impersonate Schindler because of his apparent understanding of the word “Gratitude;” the irony being that Goeth is everything but grateful.
Not only is he unintelligent, but his easily manipulated character is also psychotic. Schindler not only has to persuade Goeth to have his Jews, but also to keep him from killing them. A terrifying example of this is shown when Goeth is sniping Jewish workers from his villa balcony.
Although Schindler is seen as intimidating and cunning; taking pictures with Nazi officials, bribing guards and lying, his character is a facade. Throughout the film, he barely gets by. The facade is his only protection from being killed.
This film, based on actual events, uses no cheap tricks. It shows how a Nazi saved Jews, starting as a greedy war profiteer and ending up broke. This film wasn’t created to exploit or exaggerate, it was created to illustrate what really happened. Spielberg based the film off the Thomas Keneally book.
And although it took Spielberg some time to mature for this film, even attempting to push the script on Martin Scorsese (“GoodFellas”) and Roman Polanski (“The Pianist”), he was forced to do the film himself. The result was a film that ranks number eight on the American Film Institute’s top 100 list.
A combination of things helped get this film into the top ten on IMDB and the American Film Institute. First, the use of black and white. As I stated above, the symbolism of the girl in the red coat would not be possible if it were not for the use of black and white.
This technique was also useful in other ways; showing good versus evil. Not only does black and white shows the Nazi mindset of seeing things in ‘black and white,’ but it also shows the Nazis as these dark, demonizing entities, whereas the Jews were always very well-lit with emphasis on their faces. Schindler’s face is only half lit until later in the film; possibly showing his split personality – half greed and half moral.
The next extraordinary aspect of this film is the relationship between Schindler and his accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Schindler starts out by taking advantage of Sterns accounting abilities; the two characters never have a deep conversation nor can Stern willingly look at Schindler, but as the film progresses and Schindler’s moral center is reestablished, this cold acquaintance is turned into an emotional bond.
As I have stated in other reviews, I strongly feel that John Williams is the best film score composer to live. It was watching Schindler’s list that helped me secure those feelings. The score is overwhelmingly emotional. Williams even used renowned Jewish violinist Itzhak Perlman to perform the bone-chilling score. It was the violin solo by Perlman that we hear in final scene of the film.
Considered the most clever, yet emotional scenes of the entire film, Spielberg uses the actual Schindler Jews, accompanied by their corresponding actors, to honor the grave of the actual Oskar Schindler buried in Jerusalem. It is in this final scene that we can only start to fathom what these people went through. Seeing an actor is nothing compared to seeing the actual person.
What is most ironic about this film is that Schindler was this self-centered Jewish labor profiteer who managed to save more people than any other one man. He not only accomplished something that entire countries do, but it was also the first time a tree from the Yad Vashem Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem was dedicated to a Nazi-supporter.