A remarkable work by anystandard Schindler’s List by Steven Spielberg is a searing historical andbiographical drama about a German Nazi industrialist who saved 1,100 PolishJews from Nazi extermination camps during World War II.Spielberg cast the NorthernIrish actor Liam Neeson in the role of Oskar Schindler. The Anglo-Indian actorBen Kingsley, was cast in the role of Schindler’s Jewish accountant and businessmanager, Izhak Stern and proved to be an admirable choice in spite of his notbeing Jewish. The British actor, Ralph Fiennes, fitted the part of Amon Goethe,the Plaszow commandant.
Spielberg noted after his screen test that he couldturn on a positively sexual evil at will.Spielberg won his firstAcademy Award for best director for this film. In addition, the film achievedsix other Oscars. The film Schindler’s List is based on the novel, ‘Schindler’sArk’ written by Thomas Kenneally which first appeared in 1982.
The book isessentially a true story, the account of a wealthy member of the Nazi party whosystematically saved hundreds of Jews from the Holocaust. The author, Kenneallychose to put it in the form of a novel in order to postulate on the obscurityresiding in the story. For writing the novel, Thomas Kenneally travelledextensively visiting the sites and interviewed nearly fifty of the survivorswho owed their lives to Oskar Schindler.How it is written and what is portrayed?Analysing the first draft of the script which loosely tells usabout the movie with just the basic detailsomittingcamera angles andother technical aspects, we can see that the film opens with a close-up shot ofa pair of hand lighting a candle for the Sabbath.In the background the soundof a Hebrew prayer can be heard. It is a short scene shot in colour.But in theshooting script which stands closer to the movie; we can view another openingscene which establishes certain curiosities among the viewers.The first draft of thescript directly throws us into the ambience of a Sabbath.
The opening scene ofthe film is one among the few colour shots in Schindler’s list. Thecolour in this scene draws a stark contrast with the bleak black and whitepicturisation of the film. Theprayer and candlelight are direful; setting a gloomy tone from the outset ofthe film. The usage of black and white in the following scene increases thedocumentary feel of the film. It separates the film from the colour scene at the opening and pushes it back in time.In the scene after themeeting between the one-armed man and Oskar Schindler, the scene cuts to linesof Jews leaving Schindler’s factory.
The camera focuses on theone-armed man who is singing happily with a young girl. As the group trudgesthrough high snow banks, the officer decides to make them stop and shovel snow.The camera cuts to the one-armed man who is struggling to shovel.
The SS pullhim aside, despite his protests at being an essential worker for OskarSchindler.The SS carry the man to the side and shoots him in the head. Thecamera cuts to Schindler in an office, fuming about losing a day’s work andlosing an “essential worker”. Whereas in the script this scene is only vaguelydescribed with the sound of a shot being heard and the face of the one-armed machinistfalls into frame.The Ghetto Liquidation scenecontains a notable scene. The scene cuts to a pharmacist putting together vialsof poison. He brings it to the hospital and the nurses feed each of theinvalids a vial. When the soldiers arrive even though the patients are foundstill they shoot on the dead patients.
This scene which is entirely omitted inthe script is clear depiction of the intimidating vicious nature of Nazis.Although the infamous symbolof Schindler’s List; the red coat girl is only briefly mentioned in the scriptit is more vividly depicted on screen. During the Ghetto liquidation scenes alittle girl is discernable, because her coat is the onlycolour in theshot.Schindler observes her as she makes her way through the crowd. He seemedespecially struck by her; to him she represents the innocence of the peoplebeing brutally killed. The colour of her coat symbolizes liveliness and diligence. Eventhough she is young, she endeavours to get away and hide.
Additionally her red coat issymbolic of the red flag that the Jews waved at the Allied powers forassistance.Yet another scene where the scriptdiffers from what is shown on screen is, when Amon Goeth, the Plaszowcommandant amuses himself in the morning by picking off inmates from his balcony.The camera moves down to the ground where the Jewish policemen are calling roll.Just as one woman tells another that the worst is over, Goeth grabs his rifleon his balcony. He scans the ground for someone to kill, pauses on a girl tyingher shoe and shoots her in the head .
Here in the script there is only a vaguemention of a distant figure being shot. Additionally, in the film it is portrayedthat Goeth grabs his gun to shoot again and this time finds a woman sittingidle on a staircase.Jews shriek and run in terror as they do their work, Goethplaces the gun behind his neck and stretches. This added violence in the screendepicts the extent of suffering and the uncertain life that the Jews led inNazi extermination camps.Often in the script thereare scenes of Schindler engaging in discussions with Izhak Stern. They bothshare a tacit understanding on what they are doing. In one such scene, IzhakStern emphasizes on Goeth’s barbaric nature of killing people and describes anincident substantiating his remark.SCHINDLER:You have to understand, Goeth’sunder enormous pressure.
You haveto think of it in his situation.He’s got this whole place to run,he’s responsible for everythingthat goes on here, all these people- he’s got a lot of things to worryabout. And he’s got the war. Whichbrings out the worst in people.Never the good, always the bad.
Always the bad. But in normalcircumstances, he wouldn’t be likethis. He’d be all right. There’d bejust the good aspects of him.
Whichis a wonderful crook. A man wholoves good food, good wine, the ladies, makingmoney – STERN:- killing – SCHINDLER:I’ll admit it’s a weakness. I don’tthink he enjoys it. STERN:Bejski told me the other day, somebodyescaped from a work detail outside the wire.Goeth lined up everybody from the missingman’s barracks. He shot the man to the left of Bejski the man right of him. Hewalked down the line shooting every other man with the pistol. He killedTwenty-five.
This incidentnarrated by Izhak Stern which is entirely absent from the script describes theextreme violent nature of Amon Goeth.Heseems to enjoy killing for the sake of killing. His way of killing resembleshunting and this dehumanises the Jews by likening them to animals that arebeing hunted. This scene throws light on Goeth’s inhumane approach to Jews.Schindler isaware that Goeth has an affection for his Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch. To clarifyits extent Schindler meets Helen in the wine cellar inquiring Helen about herexperience working as Goeth’s maid.HELEN:Myfirst day here, he beat me..
.because I threw out the bones from dinner. He camedown to the basement at midnight and he asked me where they were for his dogs,you understand.
I said to him, I don’t know how I say this. I never could sayit now—I said to him, “why are you beating me?” He said “The reason I beat younow is because you ask why I beat you” An entirelyskipped portion from the script, this may be considered as one of the mostimportant part describing Goeth’s barbaric nature which has a deep impactespecially because it is narrated by a woman, who had been a witness and also avictim of Goeth’s cold-blooded attitude. It is also evident Goeth torturespeople who are inferior to him like Helen, just to relieve his frustration.Narrating her sufferings to Schindler, Helen is certain that one day Goeth willshoot her ,but Schindler reassures her that is is unlikely to happen as Goethvalues her and likes her too much to kill her. This scene helps to mark thechanges that occurred in Schindler and reveals his increased empathy for theJews.
In the moviethere is a scene where a group of Jewish women discussing about the storiesthey had heard about other camps. One of them shares a story about gaschambers. The other women dismiss it as impossibility, but look uneasy as theyattempt to sleep. The extent of terror Holocaust caused in the minds of Jews isbrought forth in this scene. The Jewish women display denial of their fate. Theydo not want to accept the worst of their circumstance and denies believing thatmass extermination is possible despite their fear that it might be.Moving on, weare introduced with the ultimate horrifying scene in the film. In this scenethe dead bodies of the Jews killed in the Plaszow and Krakow ghetto liquidationare being incinerated.
It is depicted that a Nazi officer looks at the burningpile of dead bodies and screams. He fires several shots at the pile while otherofficers laugh. This scene which is absent in the script; is depicted in thefilm to convey the brutality of Nazis and the hatred Nazis had towards the Jews and even their deadbodies.
The Auschwitztrain scene is a must mentionable scene in the film. In this scene the trainwith the women workers under Schindler arrives at the wrong location of Auschwitz.Their hair is chopped off and they are then ushered into an enclosed room. Thewomen who had heard stories about the gas chambers panic as soon as the door isshut. They scream in terror until the pipes overhead begin to release water.
Inrelief they realise that they are not in a gas chamber but in a shower. Thisscene is so well emotionally manipulated by Spielberg. The tension that theaudience undergoes is due to their preconceived notion that it might be a gaschamber. There is an element of surprise and relief in the audience at themoment of realisation that it is actually only water.
Spielberg skilfullyhandles the scene by compiling tragedy and horror thus succeeding in bothentertainment purpose and also in communicating to the audience as to what extentof nightmarish torture the Jews had been subjected to.The precedingscene of the climax depicts a ring being presented to Schindler as a token ofgratitude from the ‘Schindler Jews’. The inscription in the ring whichtranslates as “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire” conveys theentire essence of the film. It is a representation of the massive respect and indebtnessSchindler’s workers had for him.
Finally theclimax scene is a part entirely omitted in the script. The climax is hotentirely in colour. The survivors, accompanied by the actorswho played them in the film, walk by Schindler’s grave and place stones on it.At the end of the procession, the camera shows the stone-covered grave ofSchindler. Spielberg fadesthe actors into the real- life survivors at the end in order to elevatecinematic realism and stick to the genre of docu-drama. By doing so he directlyyokes the actors to their counterparts and inculcates a sense of truth in themind of the viewers. The transition to colour also brings the viewer into thepresent time and emphasises the historical documentary like quality of thewhole film.TraumaThe Holocaustremains an extremely tragic event in the Jewish history.
The trauma of theHolocaust was experienced by a whole race of people. Accounts of Holocaustexperience often portray survivors as suffering from painful recollections,anxiety, numbing and emotional disconnections disturbed memory together withduality of consciousness and doubling of identity. War trauma is concerned withthe responses of people to their war experiences. War experiences canfundamentally change one’s identity. Being involved in killing, being captured,witnessing and being part of battle and subjected to torture can lead tobreakdown in one’s belief system and can have a major influence on one’scharacter.The extent oftrauma and the impact caused due to it is evident throughout the film. Thetrauma due to war brings forth changesin the characters of the film.
Amon Goeth who is rendered as sadistic andruthless at the beginning undergoes gradual transformation and begins toalleviate his fiendish attitude towards Jews.Oskar Schindler,the heroic protagonist of the film also undergoes miraculous changes under war trauma.At the beginning Schindler is only money-minded and is indifferent to theJewish situation which he perceives as a mere fateful outcome of war. Thehorrors of war and the sufferings of Jews inflicts trauma upon Schindler andthus he transforms from a man of apathy to one with empathyApart from thecharacters in the film those who worked on the film had also been subjected totrauma. Spielberg accounts his own traumatic experience while filming the film.
“”Everyday”said Spielberg “was like waking up and going to hell. “Keeping him mentallyintact was the presence of his wife and children in Poland .On a couple ofdesperate occasions he even telephoned his friend Robin Williams and persuadedhim to do twenty minutes of his most zany schtick so that he could have a laughfor the first time in many weeks.” The line producer, Branko Lustig, was an actual child survivor of Auschwitzand has suffered severe trauma due to post war trauma.
Another importantperson who underwent trauma is the girl who played the infamous ‘Girl in theRed Coat’. The little girl’s role was enacted by Oliwia Dabrowska. The girl in the red coat was basedon a real person. The actual girl in the red coat was named Roma Ligocka ; asurvivor of the Krakow ghetto; she was recognised amongstthe Jews living there by her red winter coat. Ligocka, now a painter who lives in Germany, laterwrote a biography which is about surviving the holocaust called The Girl inthe Red Coat.
When Oliwia was threeshe had promised Spielberg that she wouldn’t watch the film until she waseighteen years old. Breaking her word given to Spielberg she watched the moviewhen she was eleven years old. Later she confessed that she regretted doing so,she told the Daily mail that,”I realized I had been part ofsomething I could be proud of. Spielberg was right: I had to grow up to watchthe film.
” Thus Schindler’s listis a representation of only one story out of the millions that sprung up fromthat dark time. Like all great movies, Schinlder’s List works not only on anintellectual level but also evokes an emotional response in the minds ofviewers.