Schindler’s List is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on true events that transpired during the Holocaust. The film stars Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, Ralph Fiennes as SS Oficer Amon Goth, and Ben Kingsley as Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern. The film was a huge critical success and won seven Academy Awards including “Best Picture” and “Best Director.” In less than 20 years since the film’s release it has consistently been listed towards the top in countdowns of the greatest films of all time. So does this almost universally praised film deserve the accolades?
Should this film be considered a classic? Here’s one that can be answered with a resounding, “Yes!” A film about the Holocaust walks the narrowest of tight ropes. It has to tell a story without being exploitative. It must portray truly gut wrenching violence in a way that is realistic but not over the top. It must put onto film scenes that no one wants to contemplate but which are a documented part of the history and thus the story that must be told. It must endeavor to tell the story in such a way that it honors the memories of the millions who were senselessly murdered. Schindler’s List walks this tight rope, arguably, better than any other movie that deals with this difficult subject. What makes this film better than, say, Polanski’s The Pianist? It is the way Spielberg tells the story. He is able to do something very difficult. He tells a large story with a huge number of characters in an intimate way. The hinge point for the story is Neeson’s Schindler, but the real emotional punch comes from the small narratives of the Jewish families and individuals that are spread over the length of the film. This means the viewer follows these families from the relative peace that begins the film, to the ghettoes, to the blistering and freezing train rides, and right into the death camps. The camera never flinches from telling the story but I often did. This is a brutal, violent film. It tells a brutal and violent story in arguably the best way that this story has been told on the medium of film (The Pianist is a close second).
Would I own this film? Yes, but it is one I revisit rarely. It is a masterpiece that Spielberg will likely never equal but it is not one of those films that you should want to revisit often. The images on the screen will stay with you for years (much like Saving Private Ryan) and will continue to impact you long after the credits have rolled. This is a story that needed to be told and must continue to be told. For that, Spielberg did all of us a great service in making a film that honored the murdered by making sure we never forget them or the events that led to their deaths.