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Set in the most horrific period of world history, Schindler’s List tells the real life story of Oscar Schindler. Set in Kraków ghetto of German occupied Poland, Schindler’s List takes a look at the life and evolution of Oscar Schindler, a Nazi profiteer who changed the course of dozens of Polish Jews. Despite originally siding with the Nazis, Schindler goes on to save the lives of over a thousand Jews, who are deemed as essential for his enamel factory. The movie is an incredible epic of Schindler and the Jewish workers (called Schindlerjuden) he risked his life to save.
Unlike in other modern movies, Schindler’s List is shot in black and white. While black-and-white film is not obsolete, few movies of our time period utilize it and those that do often do not use it to the best of their ability. This element is one of the reasons that make Schindler’s List stand out from other films. Steven Spielberg, the director of the movie, chose to use black-and-white to better set up the historical atmosphere World War II. I believe his did this because many people psychologically associate WWII and the 1930s without color films or photography. In making this choice, we as viewers are put into the right mindset of the era on screen. While this makes the violence and thematic struggle of the film more impactful, it also helps to accentuate any of the time shifts or vital scenes shot in color. Like the Wizard of Oz, this effect focuses the attention of the viewers and changes their psychological mindset. Clearly, the producers realized that Schindler’s List would not have the same visual effect or cinematic presence in history if they had not chosen to shoot it in black-and-white.
Another important film effect that Steven Spielberg put into Schindler’s List is the use of parallel editing. This effect, more commonly known as crosscutting, weaves several different scenes, and in a more larger sense feelings, together with one another. While this is of course a fun visual aesthetic for the average viewer to see, Spielberg does it to contrast the poverty and desolation of the Jewish people during the Holocaust with the luxury and wealth of the Nazis ruling over them. An example is the scene splice of the Krakow ghetto and Schindler’s new apartment. I believe Spielberg does this to show the irony of that portion of World War II; good benefits for Schindler come from another’s heartbreaking loss. This filming technique helps to accurately show us the bitter, paradoxical time period that of world history that cannot be forgotten but has been overcome.
There is a scene in the film where the Schindlerjuden present Schindler a ring engraved with the Talmudic phrase: “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” This phrase perfectly represents one of the main themes of Schindler’s List: one person can make an impact. theme can be seen pretty clearly throughout the film. Primarily, we see this theme through the protagonist Oscar Schindler. After saving Itzhak Stern from a concentration camp, we know that Schindler goes on to save the lives of thousands of Jewish workers from mass extermination by the Nazi Party. Although we know that millions were killed by the Nazi Party at the time the Holocaust, if Schindler had not saved them, six times the amount of people who actually be lost (the number of descendants that came from Schindler Jews). Another example in the movie of one person making a difference is the girl in the red coat. Spielberg only uses color in four occasions in the film and one of them is on a small girl. Why would he do that? He did it to show the viewer that Schindler is starting to see the horror around him and grasping that what the Nazis are doing is evil. It is because of this young child, who even more astoundingly does not even have to speak to him, that all of Schindler’s actions and views are changed.
Another important theme of Schindler’s List is the easiness of denial. This theme can be seen many times throughout the movie and in the history of the Holocaust itself. Looking at Oscar Schindler, we see that throughout much of the rising action of the film, he cares little to none about the misery and persecution that the Jews in Kraków are facing. He cares only about the luxurious lifestyle and profits that he can get from swindling the Jews. It’s easier to turn a blind eye and bury himself in his own greedy thoughts than acknowledge the atrocities being committed around him. Schindler is not the only one, though. Many of the Jews working for Schindler and living in Kraków refuse to acknowledge the horrors of their situation. Even when forced from their homes, shipped into cramped ghettos, many still insist on seeing the good of the situation, even as Jews just like them are being killed at random. Another example of denial is the scene where smuggler Poldek Pfefferberg’s wife worries aloud about the rumors of extermination camps. She’s heard how dozens of Jews are being gassed and cremated at Auschwitz. Instead of being comforted or reassured by her fellow sufferers, they angrily rebuke her and insist that would never happen. Deep down, I am sure they knew the truth, but it was easier for them to deny it than face the reality of the horror surrounding them.
It’s quite easy to see why a film of this emotional depth about the Holocaust would make an impact on the world. Spielberg was motivated to make this film because he wanted to find a way to make Holocaust victims more than just tragic statistics. Traditionally, when we are taught about the Holocaust, we are truly overwhelmed by the horrors and atrocities that were committed and this overwhelming feeling tends to almost desensitize to it. We have so much disbelief that this could ever be allowed to happen that we can’t grasp the full emotional reality of it. It is that desensitization that Spielberg works (successfully) to overcome. Spielberg achieves his goal to communicate the fear and uncertainty the Schindlerjuden had, whether it was while they were in the ghetto, working for Schindler, or riding the train to his factory in Czechoslovakia. The audience feels like they are actively partaking in the action on screen instead of sitting passively by. We emotionally meet each character and devote ourselves to following their journey’s outcome. This viewer-to-character connection was goal Spielberg made the purpose of his film. By truly humanizing all of these characters, the audience is forced to deal with the atrocities that the screen and history show us. He needed every viewer to see and feel invested in each of the characters of Schindler’s List. He didn’t want them to walk out of their theater and return back to their mundane way of thinking. Spielberg wanted to remind the world of the horror of World War II and make it so that whenever genocide or discrimination was seen in the world, every viewer of this movie would not settle to passively sit by and do nothing.
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