Schindler’s List: Goodness above Religion
Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993) has been popular for many years. It is a dramatic and potent movie about the Holocaust. However, the filmmaker does not only refer to the terrible history, but he also depicts a heartbreaking story about a German businessman, who saved hundreds of Jewish lives, sacrificing his own fortune. In addition to these two story lines, there is the third one, namely description of a Nazi officer, which demonstrates that the human can behave as a real monster. The businessman and the officer embody good and evil features where the good win. While revealing these issues, Spielberg refers to religious matters, which are numerous in his works, not only in Schindler’s List. In addition to many appraisals, the film received criticism for promoting the twisted Holocaust reality and changing into a positive experience for survivors. Nevertheless, this movie is serious dealing with important matters, which help the audience remember the history despite its horrible, shameful, or humiliating experience.
Schindler’s List tells a story of a German businessman and a member of the Nazi party, Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson). Assisted by a Jewish accountant Ithzak Stern (Ben Kingsley), he saves lives of hundreds of Jews in Poland during the Holocaust. Schindler’s interest in enrichment through war disappears; instead he feels that he can and has to save innocent people from death. The mission Schindler chooses encourages him to refuse from all his money and sacrifice his life. He has to use all his charm, wisdom, artifice and assets to deal with Nazi authorities, especially Amon Goeth (Ralf Fiennes). Goeth intends to liquidate the ghetto and bring all Jews into the concentration camp. Despite difficult challenges, Schindler manages to save all his workers, but he loses everything. He has to flee in order to avoid the Red Army’s reprisal, but he saved 600 people from death. During celebration the saved workers gave Schindler a signed letter, acknowledging his actions as a rescuer of Jewish people. They also give him a golden ring with a quotation of Talmud, which says, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” When Schindler died, his grave became one of the holy places, where Jews make pilgrimage.
Normally, more that 90% of the film’s success depends on the actors. However, it is not the case with Schindler’s List. In his interview, Steven Spielberg admits that he was not searching personalities, who would exactly resemble real characters. He required emotional and mutual proximity of the actors to the characters. Consequently, he chose Liam Neeson and Ralf Fiennes because they “had the presence” of their characters (Royal).
Spielberg refers to religious matters in many works. Schindler’s List is not an exception, where the filmmaker demonstrates godlike representation in humans. Images of Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth embody good and evil as well as exhibit two extremities of a human being (Gallian, 2005-2008, p. 63). The audience watches two characters acting as God, who has the power of saving one’s life or taking it.
The first episode of the film relates to a religious matter. It is candlelight, which means the beginning of a new life, since light was one of the first things created by God. A Sabbath prayer is continuing; a Jewish family is glorifying the day of man’s creation. Soon the candlelight disappears, and there is no family at the table, which symbolizes death of many Jews. Under the circumstances of genocide, the list of factory workers also means creation of life, because those, who are included in it, will survive. Schindler is a very important person for his employees. He is their Noah, and the factory is the ark that will keep them safe during the war. Moreover, he is their Moses, who has to move to different places, leading his people with him. This reference is not explicit in the film because Amon Goeth asks Schindler, “Who are you, Moses?” Finally, Schindler is his workers’ god, whose own supplies are perceived as manna by them (Gallian, 2005-2008, p. 67). Schindler chooses his assistant Ithzak Stern, just as Jesus Christ choses his Apostles. Schindler often appears in the film accompanied by Christian signs, usually crosses and much light, which are also connotations of him as God.
Amon Goeth is Schindler’s antipode, he is “an imitator of God, mocking his actions” (Gallian, 2005-2008, p. 71). He also has control over other people deciding whether to take one’s life, and in most cases, he kills people. He slaughters them like animals. He is a barbarian, psychopath, and demon. He represents evil in the movie. Spielberg often matches Schindler and Goeth. He shows their opposite actions simultaneously demonstrating their similarity (as in the episode, where they both kiss Helen Hirsch, a servant in Goeth’s villa). Through these actions, Spielberg points that good and evil are interlinked and it is difficult to differentiate between them (Gallian, 2005-2008, p. 70). It is the evidence of unity and struggle of opposites. Spielberg also combines two religions, namely Judaism and Catholicism. Such blending of religions represents a “single idea of goodness” (Gallian, 2005-2008, p. 75), which is, indeed, more important than any religion. Sometimes one’s kindness can save lives of hundreds regardless of their faith.
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The idea of human transformation closely relates to the Holocaust tragedy in general. In Schindler’s List, Spielberg depicts terrible events that occurred in real life. In addition, he emphasizes that even in horror circumstances there is a place for human virtue. Sometimes this virtue belongs to people one never expects. Unfortunately, Oskar Schindler was the only one, who tried to prevent people extermination. The girl in the red coat is a crying reminder that the whole human community allowed such thing as the Holocaust to happen. Red is the only color in the movie and it can not be left unnoticed. It is a symbol of blood and death. The girl wearing the coat died, and the responsibility for this tragedy lies on all who did not pay attention to the Holocaust. However, in the face of evil as well as war and extinction, there is a scarcely noticeable hope for survival. Two people who fall in love and marry in ghetto without any chances for future, only prove this fact. Spielberg’s screen adaptation of the book is a kind of eternalizing the Holocaust. It reminds that the world should not forget that tragedy, and it is important to help those, who ask for assistance.
Schindler’s List has brought Spielberg much success and praise as well as criticism. The film proponents insist that Spielberg created it for memory rather than for entertainment and money. Spielberg provides “a visual memory of the event” (Wilson, 2012, p. 28). Moreover, he managed to make the historical event popular and easier for public understanding. He showed the ghetto from inside, putting seemingly inconceivable things into images. Regardless of the used techniques and crafts, he managed to attract the public’s attention to the important issues, which make everybody think and reappraise one’s life. The opponents do not agree with the social value of the picture since they believe Spielberg makes entertainment from the life tragedy of many people. Moreover, they accuse the filmmaker in twisting reality and offering own meaning of the Holocaust event to his audience (Kwiet, 2004, p. 48). Some of the Holocaust survivors find it offensive to remind of the tragedy, especially in details, as in the Spielberg’s story. They believe that people try to avoid regarding the Holocaust as a sad experience, “they want to turn it into a heroic experience of the survivors” (Kwiet, 2004, p. 53). Critics are convinced that the current generation is used to gaining knowledge by visual aids. They suggest people recall the image of the girl in the red coat while thinking of the Holocaust. Many researchers consider that this will lead to simplification and refusal from numerous scholastic arguments. “The danger of artificial imagery dominating our perception of historical reality is real” (Kwiet, 2004, p. 16).
However, the problem is not in Spielberg and his film. His film is only his understanding of those terrible occasions. The problem lies in those who perceive it as not real. It is doubtful that Spielberg’s aim was to increase his profit or to become more famous due to such a serious topic as the Holocaust. The Holocaust issue is very close to the film director because he is a Jew, and this event is an integral part of his people. Moreover, his relatives died in Oswiecim. Schindler’s List is Spielberg’s appeal to all people, in which he asks not to ignore those who need help, and to remain humans in any situation. He accentuates that human goodness is more important that belonging to any religion, race, or status. This virtue is always beyond any conditions and beliefs, and it is never late to choose the right direction.
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Spielberg, S. (Director), Spielberg, S., Molen, G. R., Lustig, B. (Producers). (1993). Schindler’s list [DVD]. United States: Universal Pictures.
Royal, S. Schindler’s list. An interview with Steven Spielberg. (n. d.) Inside Films Magazine Online. Retrieved from http://www.insidefilm.com/spielberg.html
Gallian, J. D.-C. (2005-2008). Man as a rescuer and monster in Steven Spielberg’s film text. Journal of English Studies, 5-6, 63-81.
Wilson, K. M., Crowder-Taraborelli, T. F. (Eds.). (2012). Film and genocide. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Kwiet, K., Matthäus, J. (Eds.). (2004). Contemporary responses to the Holocaust. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.