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Schindler's List

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chindler's List is a devastating film. Without comment or restraint, director Steven Spielberg shows us the nightmare of the Nazi extermination of Europe's Jews during World War II: imprisoned Jews building their own death camps; roadways paved with gravestones from Jewish cemeteries; truckloads of children who don't know they're on their way to Auschwitz waving happily to their parents; the economy of the Nazis, lining up their victims in order to kill as many as possible with one bullet; and perhaps most chilling, the hatred in the eyes of a young girl screaming "Good-bye, Jews!" to the masses shuffling toward a ghetto. It's easy to see how some people can deny the reality of what happened. Even the word "Holocaust" doesn't seem to cover the mind-numbing atrocity.

While Schindler's List is the least Spielberg-ian and least showy of the director's work, it demonstrates an artistry that is at times highly stylized. The film is a study in contrasts and ironies. The opening scene of Jew after Jew registering at the train station on their forcible arrival in Krakow, reciting their names for the Nazi clerks, is harrowing -- we know their future, and this is like a requiem for those not yet dead. Yet the scene is filmed in almost exactly the same staccato rhythm as one toward the end of the film, as camp denizens line up to give their names, to be checked against the list of workers to be sent to Oskar Schindler's factory -- the names on this list, we know, will survive. And note the beatific smile on the face of a Jewish hospital patient as a nurse feeds her deadly poison just before the Nazis arrive to eliminate those they consider unfit: In this atmosphere of unrepentant murder, killing nevertheless can sometimes be a mercy.

Spielberg's main characters -- Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), the German businessman and Nazi party member who exhausts his fortune to save 1100 Jews from death; and Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), the sadistic death-camp commandant -- are contradictory enigmas. Schindler is at first delighted by the war -- "it makes all the difference in the world between success and failure" in business -- and even as he is awakened to the horrors around him, he believes that war brings out "only the bad, never the good" in people. He doesn't notice his own transformation till the very end, and even then seems perplexed and overwhelmed by it. Goeth (Fiennes's performance is starmaking) enthralls with a kind of vicious sexiness, wholly unaware of his own evil except on a subconscious level -- he can barely acknowledge his attraction for his pretty Jewish housemaid except to be repulsed by it.

Spielberg uses his black-and-white film stock to great effect, mixing shadow and light as if to suggest that both good and bad exist in both these men -- Schindler may be mostly good, and Goeth mostly evil, but the opposite also glimmers in them. Schindler is at first driven only by money and is capricious in the Jews he chooses to employ -- the pretty girls get picked over the homely ones. And we see the briefest possibility of pity in Goeth when he momentarily pardons a Jewish servant who displeases him -- the moment passes, but it hints at some untapped kernel of goodness.

Spielberg also uses shadows and light for other contrasting ironies. Early in the film, we watch Schindler at a nightclub watching the Nazi



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