For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!
“Schindler’s List” is Steven Spielberg’s final appearance on AFI’s top 100. It was the fifth to appear, after “E.T.,” “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “Saving Private Ryan.” The common thread is Spielberg’s uncanny ability to choose compelling subject matter. With this film, Spielberg choses a subject that is a compelling visual story, one which gives insight into the dark history of German activities during World War II.
Oskar Schinder, (Liam Neeson) is an unlikely hero. A pragmatic war profiteer, he he at first takes advantage of Jewish labor, and then finds himself sympathizing with Jews in Krakow. He even goes as far as to transport and protect a large group of the laborers until the end of the war. The film builds slowly, the violence gradually building. We are introduced to Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), a truly terrifying and despicable commander, and we see the relationship Schindler must create with him. All of this changes when the bodies of those killed during the forced expulsion of the Krakow ghetto are exhumed and incinerated. Schindler emerges from his factory to find ash raining from the sky. He discovers the source as the mountain of burning bodies, and sees the body of a little girl he had seen walking the streets before, and suddenly realizes he must do more than just half-heartedly allow his Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) to harbor Jews in his factory who would otherwise have faced extermination.
Schindler puts together a list of over a thousand Jews as workers necessary to the war effort. He moves his factory and entire labor force from Krakow to Chzechoslovakia. The men on the list arrive safely, but there is a mix-up with the women, and they are accidentally sent to Auschwitz. The images are hard to watch. Schindler discovers the error, and bribes the right people to insure that the women are spared. As the women are loaded back on the train, the girls are separated, but Schindler makes a passionate appeal, claiming that only their hands are small enough to polish the insides of shell casings. With everyone finally loaded we can breathe a sigh of relief. At the end of the war, and the film, Schindler has a breakdown, upset that he could have saved more lives. It’s a very dramatic and very Spielberg moment, but it is also heartfelt. At the end, we are shown the actual remaining survivors of Schindler’s list, and some of their families.
For most of this film, it is almost as though Spielburg just turned on the camera and let things happen, it is that good. The story plays out in rich black and white with touches of color here and there to make a statement and drive the plot. Although the ending with the survivors in 1993 is of very packaged, it drives home the importance of the story. It’s a powerful moment as they place rocks on Schindler’s real life grave, and we are shown how amazing Schindler’s actions were, and how many people who were born because those people who were saved.
In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns: