There's a scene at the beginning of "Schindler's List," where Jews are forced from their homes, forced to register with the Nazis so that records can be kept of their whereabouts, and forced to move into cramped apartment buildings in Krakow, in what basically is the ghetto. As crowds of them walk, a young girl, with astounding hatred, shouts at them repeatedly, "Goodbye Jews!"
I was also deeply affected by the contrasting scenes at the beginning of the film and towards the end, first when the Jews register their names with the Nazis and then when they give their names to be confirmed on the list as Schindler's workers in Czechoslovakia, essentially saving them. To hear all these names, to see history vividly, it's touching in a way that doesn't always happen when watching movies.
But that one moment of that girl being so hateful toward the Jews, it's stunning, and perhaps even outweighs those name-giving scenes. How could anyone be like that? What could drive a person in that hatred? Even when typing that information out in two different categories outside of this review, I got teary. That scene was still so fresh in my mind, still so shocking as to how anyone could actually live in their own body with that intolerance.
Mind you, I'm familiar with the history of the Holocaust, so it wasn't a shock out of not knowing any of what was involved. It's a testament to the artistry of director Steven Spielberg, who makes sure that we know closely the atrocities in each scene. The Jews then suffered in ways we couldn't possibly imagine otherwise. Where is life and where is hope when subjected to the whims of the most inhuman monsters the world will ever know?
There is hope in this story and it comes from Oskar Schindler, a German businessman played brilliantly by Irish actor Liam Neeson, who, in contrast with Nazi Amon Goeth (played to chilling effect by Englishman Ralph Fiennes), has good in his eyes and his heart, even though it doesn't show right away. That's especially true in a scene where he asks his accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) what would have happened if he had arrived five minutes after the train carrying Stern left.
"Then where would I be?" asks Schindler, only thinking of his business, only thinking of the money he might have lost, never thinking of the predicament Stern was in with being aboard that train transporting Jews elsewhere, himself a Jew and therefore having to obey the same sudden new laws set down by the Nazis.
Goeth, on the other side of the abyss, is criminal, heartless, cruel, psychotic, with nothing to be found within him that could signal a sense of good. No good lies in that heart or in those eyes, not even when he considers Oskar's take on what power is, and tries to apply it to his own life, to no success. He kills Jews for personal sport from the balcony of his villa overlooking the Plaszow work camp. Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz), a Jewish maid he employs, is scared of what he may do next to her.
Like Neeson with Schindler, Fiennes crafts the kind of performance that prevents you from even picturing anyone else in the role. He lives this madman, knows what drove him, knows how he lived, and there he is, in all his terrible glory, lording over that prison camp ruthlessly.
Spielberg stands to the side, creating quietly and letting the action play out, such as in hand-held camera shots that are appropriate for the scenes in which the Nazis force the Jews out of the Krakow ghetto and kill if necessary. It's jarring and stops us, eyes at the screen, frozen, but minds racing, just wondering, wondering, and wondering some more about how these people managed to keep hope even in the presence of total darkness. It's even more devastating when, even though Schindler strives to save as many Jews as his money and ability to bribe will allow, there are those also on the screen who aren't as fortunate.
We know where they will go. It's an undeserving end for them. As with history already done, we can only sit and watch and feel deeply and understand, and hope to practice what the film subtly advises us to do, which is to not hate or be intolerant toward your fellow man. Another Holocaust should not happen so long as it is continually remembered what happened at the hands of the Nazis, and how many people died because of it.
"Schindler's List" not only holds up as the finest film Spielberg has ever made, but the most important to see and remember. Always remember. "Schindler's List" rates a 10 out of 10. (R Aronsky)