Rated PG. Running time: 3 hour 15 min.
Our Advisories: Violence 7; Language 5; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 5
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.”
Stephen Spielberg’s epic is a rare film that not only lives up to its advance hype and fanfare but actually surpasses it. If he makes no other film than this adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s fact-based novel, Spielberg’s place in film history is secure. There are many fine films about the Holocaust, but none as well crafted as this masterwork, from the writing, direction, acting and music to the documentary-like black and white photography.
Liam Neeson is superb as the enigmatic German businessman who comes to Krakow shortly after the Nazi conquest of Poland. Intent on getting in on the quick profits to be made by taking over confiscated Jewish businesses and factories and by using Jewish slave labor, the young German has no inkling of what is soon to be in store for him. Both film and book make clear that Oskar Schindler is no saint – he loves women, liquor and fine clothes and cars too much. But as he wheels and deals, coming into contact with Jewish men like Itzhak Stern, who becomes Schindler’s manager and chief bookkeeper, the profiteer slowly changes. Offended by the brazen brutality and arrogance of his fellow Germans, he begins to sympathize with their Jewish victims. The turning point of his life comes when he sees a little girl in a red coat amongst the Jews being rounded up on the last day of the ghetto in Krakow.
Although there are many scenes of brutal inhumanity, the dignity of the Jews and Oskar Schindler’s many moments of grace make this a very hopeful film to which the words of John’s Gospel might be applied: “and the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not put it out.” Neither the film nor the book try to explain why this man who had shown no signs of greatness before the war would take such risks and use up all of his ill-gotten wealth on behalf of “his Jews.” The righteous gentiles came in all shapes, sizes and personalities, some very religious, and others, like Oskar Schindler, apparently possessing a long buried decency that was called forth when confronted with the barbarism of the Nazis. In the case of the latter God truly does “move in mysterious ways.”
Wonderful moment of grace with hint of baptism: Oskar and Camp Commander Amon Goeth are sitting on a hot day with some other officers watching the trains go by when a train loaded with Jews in cattle cars stops. Oskar, pretending to joke, says that they could easily hose the cars down with water to slack the thirst of the suffering prisoners. Goeth and the other Nazi’s laugh, indicating it would be permissible. Schindler directs the soldier manning the fire hose to make sure that the cars are heavily doused with water, even getting an extra hose in order to get water to all of the cars down the line. The suffering prisoners drink as much as they can contain within their cupped hands. His act of mercy does not save these Jews, as he had been able to do so for “his” Jews, but at least for a brief moment these doomed passengers knew a moment of kindness, probably the last one they would ever receive. Amon laughs and asks Oskar if he thinks he is Moses. Actually, Oskar is acting as if he were Jesus, so that by the end of the film we see that he is indeed an unusual (and unlikely) Christ figure.