Friday, January 30, 2009

Schindler's List (live action movie)

I saw this movie for the first time just a few hours ago - it was part of a monthly "free movie night" thing that the Student Center at the university I work at has been doing. I'd heard about the movie before, of course, but I really didn't know too much about it. Until I started looking it up online before leaving for the movie night, I didn't even known that Liam Neeson is in it and that it's a black and white film.

For the most part, the movie focuses on Oskar Schindler, a German businessman whose main concern is making as much money as he can. World War II is good for him - he can get lots of cheap Jewish labor. However, after witnessing a massacre at the ghetto he had been getting his workers from, he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for as many Jews as he can, bankrupting himself in the process.

Anyway, I'll start with what I didn't like about the movie. I had a horrible time following things for a while in the beginning - it was hard to keep the characters straight, and hard to figure out what was going on. However, my complaints feel pretty minor because, quite frankly, I felt they ended up being eclipsed by everything else.

Even though the movie is more than 3 hours long, it doesn't feel long. I got too wrapped up in the people to really notice how much time was going by. I couldn't see how Schindler managed to afford saving as many people as he did - the way he ran his factory/refuge, it's amazing even his fortune managed to hold out long enough. Then there was Amon Goeth (played by Ralph Fiennes, very disturbingly). At one point, Schindler tries to say that it's war that brings out the worst in people, and that Goeth would probably be an ok guy during peacetime. I wonder about that, though. Can having a position of power and authority make a person as twisted as he was, or do people have to be pretty twisted inside from the start to do the things he did the way he did them? My gut says he had to be twisted from the beginning, but then I remember things like the Stanford Prison Experiment. If the experiment had continued, could some of the guards have gotten as casually murderous and brutal as Goeth?

As someone who is half German, I've grown up with some of that national guilt and shame. When I was younger, my mom (who is German and has now been an American citizen for many years) and I would occasionally have very uncomfortable and awkward conversations about the war. My Opa, who attended an engineering school during the war, has never said anything to me about the war or how he felt about it. The closest he's ever come to saying anything was a very confusing and exhausting trip into the former East Germany - we visited his engineering school (now a hotel) and a place that used to be a checkpoint after the war.

Movies like this remind me of that national guilt and shame, but even people who have absolutely no connection to the war should pay attention. When you convince yourself that, for whatever reason, certain people are less than yourself, or even not human at all, atrocities like these are possible.

I'm glad that the movie managed to end as happily as it did, or I'd likely be depressed for days. As it is, I can't help but remember pretty much all of the Auschwitz part and the scenes where Goeth casually killed someone.

  • Schindler's List (book) by Thomas Keneally - Try reading the book upon which the movie was based. The book is a fictionalized account of the real-life story of Oskar Schindler.
  • The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (non-fiction book) by Philip Zimbardo - Zimbardo is the psychologist who set up the Stanford Prison Experiment. Here, he revisits that experiment and applies it to historical examples of injustices and atrocities. He argues that anyone has the potential, under the right circumstances, to do terrible things. He believes that it is the systems and people that create these circumstances that should be blamed. Those who are interested in finding out more about how people could come to commit the kinds of atrocities shown in Schindler's List might want to read this book.
  • The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale (graphic novel) by Art Spiegelman - Just because the Jews in this graphic novel have mouse heads and the German have cat heads doesn't mean this is a cute story. In this classic work, Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents' experiences during the Holocaust and in postwar America.

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