For the most part we consider film to be a source of entertainment, this powerful medium has a more noble purpose, to record, to remember. With Schindler's List Steven Spielberg focuses his considerable talents to relate the story of a man that manages to save some other human beings for a terrible evil. Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) was a self serving man, one that made substantial profit through the war and black market. By most standards of how we judge our fellow men he would fall short. Schindler was a womanizer, on the verge of being a drunkard and held to dubious business practices. To consider this self centered man would become known for a shining moment of salvation for so many is almost beyond belief. Considering over ten million human beings were exterminated by the Nazi death camps saving eleven hundred may seem a small accomplishment, tell that to the survivors and families of those people saved.
This film makes no rationale for the change in Schindler’s behavior; no typical moment of ‘clarity’ is shown in typical Hollywood fashion. Perhaps the immersion in evil of such enormous magnitude was just too much for Schindler to take. He opened a factor that was supposed to manufacture munitions, to enhance his profit he was permitted to recruit cheap labor from the Jewish neighborhoods of Krakow. Since this was a protected war effort such work could greatly increase the chances of survival for the Jewish laborers. Here the contrast is present within this one man, his ability to manipulate the system once was used to enhance his life style, now, it brings life to others. There is a contrast between Schindler and the Nazis he nominally served. German Commandant Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) is such an embodiment of evil that few men could not be revolted and moved to action. Goeth uses the Jews in the streets below his villa for target practice, he views himself above the restricting morals of mere humans. While he overtly holds the power of life and death over others, Schindler quietly works on his list, granting life to a precious few. Adding Schindler is a Jewish accountant, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Stern knows the business end of running the factory. He witnesses the change in Schindler from making profit to saving ‘his Jews’. While many stood by in silent witness to this horror, giving consent with their lack of action, Schindler was moved to do what little he could, saving not only lives but his own humanity. Oskar Schindler was neither a monster like those around him or a humanitarian in the typical sense. He is shown here as a man that just found himself in a unique position and rose to the occasion.
It is impossible to even consider a change to this cast, it is simply put, perfection. Liam Neeson has the control and understated talent to pull off this internally conflicted man. Used to the high life he finds himself drawn to a higher calling. There is no real motivation shown, none is needed. Neeson simply presents a man unable to resist the call of history. If Neeson even attempted to instill motivation here the impact of the role would have been completely ruined. Instead we just sit by and witness the alteration in the scope and direction of one man’s life. Fiennes plays the Nazi more flamboyantly. After all here was a man that felt himself morally and genetically superior to those around him, he was untouchable in his little corner of the world. He was distracted from his heinous actions only by placating his enormous ego. Embeth Davidtz as the young Jewish woman who becomes the love interest of Schindler provides an insight into the man by allowing us to personalize the changes he is undergoing. Davidtz also gives the audience a brief moment of relief from the gravity of the situations that surround the characters. Even in the worse horrors mankind has seen love can grow. Kingsley, as usual, embodies his role. He doesn’t so much act as he does inhabit the character he presents to the audience.
Steven Spielberg is without a doubt one of the great story tellers of our time. Here he abandons the tricks of the trade he has gathered in his years as a director. With few exceptions he lets the story tell itself. We know about the horrors, there is little to gain by hitting the audience over the head every few minutes with overly graphic shots. Instead, Spielberg takes the more subtle approach. He relates scenes loosely connected together and permits the audience to immerse in the story. His use of black and white makes the film more realistic, providing an almost documentary feel at times. There is some color injected for impact. In one scene that has gathered some negative reviews a girl is shown in a pale red dress. The hint of red is seen later in a pile of bodies, showing the even those of tender years where not immune to the tragedy. To his credit Spielberg refused payment for his work on this film. He has stated that he considered it ‘blood money’ to gain financially on the death of others. Instead, he started and funded the Shoah Foundation, dedicated to the creation of a living history by those that survived this terrible time.
The DVD serves a film of this magnitude well. The video is usually up to contemporary standards with a few moments where the background is somewhat muted. Perhaps this was intentional but in any case it was not too much of a distraction. The audio is provided both in Dolby 5.1 and DTS. The DTS gave more of a sense of a fuller sound field. There were a few times where the sound stage appeared to collapse a bit but over all the technical aspects of this disc are excellent. This is not a film that serves only to entertain; it is an important work that shows that a single man can make a difference in even the most drastic of circumstances. Watch this film, be surrounded by the reality of the content and remember those that did not live to see it.