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Schindler’s List

July 26, 2007

It’s been fourteen years since Steven Spielberg’s magnum opus, Schindler’s List, first appeared in theatres.  Until a few weeks ago, I had never seen it, but I finally watched it while at home (recovering from a severe ankle injury).  In case you’re wondering, yes, Starla watched with me, and no, we did not make out during the film.

Like most Spielberg films I’ve seen, Schindler’s List rubbed me the wrong way.  I find his cinematography to be generally impressive, but his heavy-handed moralizing to be insulting.  There’s nothing worse than his distilling the Holocaust down to a pithy fortune cookie saying:  “even one person can make a difference.”  Still, even despite typically Spielberg-ian defects, Schindler’s List is an impressive film, one that should be given due credit (as the American Academy Awards have done).  However, I don’t believe we should let it off the hook for its ideological compromises either.

I have a habit of visiting Rotten Tomatoes after watching a film to see how its “freshness rating” corresponds with my opinion of the film.  I expected more reviewers to be somewhat reserved in their praise of Schindler’s List, but alas, the film has a 96 % freshness rating.  On the main page of reviews, only one critic suggested that the film was rotten, a self-published guy who calls himself the Movie Martyr.  In his review, which I encourage you to read, Jeremy Heilman sums up the film’s flaws: “There’s no trust here from the director that the audience might be able to fathom the horrors of the Holacaust if the lines between good and bad aren’t distinctly drawn.”

Heilman’s review, coupled with the film’s reception in our culture, its rapid canonization, and its lofty place among the AFI’s Top 100 Films of all Time list beg a number of questions.  Why does our culture respond to Spielberg, specifically Schindler’s List, so uncritically?  Or, is Heilman’s review way off base?  If Heilman is correct in saying that the typical Hollywood film simply cannot depict an event so horrifying and ideologically complex as the Holocaut, what art form is adequate?

I’m interested in these questions, and I hope those interested in this film will kick some ideas around with me.

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From → Film

3 Comments
  1. Heather permalink

    nice seinfeld allusion.

  2. Phil permalink

    I promise to watch it again soon and let you know my most recent response. I will say this much: the ending by the traintracks is over-sympathetic and contrived. I own and love the movie. My memory tells me there were more shades of gray in it than you contend. And, you are not the only person (nor Jeremy Heilman the only critic) to reach this conclusion. The first who springs to mind is Ebert’s website editor, who runs a blog that is linked at the bottom of http://www.rogerebert.com.

    Anyways, have you seen Munich yet?

    Also, The Pianist is superior to Schindler’s List, although it is not a Holocaust movie per se. Rather, it is an existential meditation on an artist’s survival of the Holocaust.

  3. You’re right, Phil. There’s much more wrong with Schindler’s List than I let on in the brief blog post. Heilman makes some great argumens, and he also gesutres to other notables, the foremost of which being Stanley Kubrick, who have already criticized the film.

    I have not seen Munich yet, and I generally don’t like watching Speilberg’s films. He ranks just below Robert Zemeckis on the list of my least favorite directors. I have seen parts of The Piano, and I should give it a full viewing sometime soon.

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