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.