Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s novel based upon the role of Oscar Schindler during the holocaust was very much his cinematic coming of age.
Many have criticised Schindler as a profiteer and coward for not taking up arms against the Nazis. He was not a soldier and if he had done, at best he may have killed a handful of inconsequential German troops before dying a “hero’s death”; and every man, woman and child who worked in his factory would have been murdered. Spielberg does not shy away from the fact that he was not a saint, showing him to be a womaniser and hedonistic opportunist but when he was faced with the human tragedy of his environment he acted; a reaction that was all too rare at the time. In fact Spielberg draws parallels between Schindler and Goeth, his counterpart in the military work camp but whereas the industrialist was a man of compassion, Goeth was the embodiment of the Nazi party; a cold, cruel and ruthless man who acted without conscience or mercy. It’s true that the film is guilty of button pushing, but it is the manipulation of a master story teller; the highlighting of the little girl in the red coat in particular is obviously Spielberg’s way around the old adage of “one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Putting a human face on an individual tragedy is the only way it is possible to process horror on such an unimaginable scale.
Beautifully shot and expertly played, Schindler’s List is a remarkable and moving film that will no doubt be part of a larger monument to an atrocity that must be remembered to ensure that it is never, ever repeated.