The key emotional value of the 1993 film Schindler’s List (directed by Steven Spielberg) appears to be concerned with the movie’s psychologically plausible depiction of the social preconditions that made possible the tragedy of the Holocaust. In this respect, Schindler’s List is best referred to as utterly educational. The reason for this is apparent – in the aftermath of having been exposed to Spielberg’s film, viewers will be able to recognize the actual indications of the whole group of people (such as the Jews) being dehumanized, as the main discursive prerequisite for them to end up being physically exterminated. There is even more to the film in this regard – along with exposing the unsightly aspects of how the Nazis proceeded to implement the ‘final solution’ of the ‘Jewish problem’ during the WW2, Schindler’s List promotes the idea that, contrary to what it is commonly assumed, many Germans remained strongly opposed to the inhuman treatment of the Jews.
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The character of Oscar Schindler exemplifies the validity of this suggestion. Even though he is initially shown completely preoccupied with trying to take advantage of the money-making opportunities, made available to him by the outbreak of WW2, as the plot unravels Schindler’s agenda in life undergoes a drastic transformation. From being obsessed with the thoughts of enrichment, Schindler changes into someone wholeheartedly dedicated to saving people’s lives, as something that has the value of a ‘thing in itself’. The character’s metamorphosis, in this respect, can be deemed reflective of the overall message, conveyed by the film – it is namely by helping others that one can realize its true calling as a human being.
The above-stated leaves only a few doubts as to the fact that the film’s narrative is explicitly realistic. The reason for this is that Schindler’s List does adhere to one of the foremost provisions of cinematographic realism, “A rejection of clichés, stale conventions stock situations and characters in favor of the unique, the concrete, the specific” (Giannetti, 2013, p. 351). After all, at an initial glance, the story of Schindler’s transformation from the staunch member of the Nazi Party into someone who was willing to risk his life to save as many Jews as possible will indeed appear rather unlikely. At the same time, however, those who have watched Spielberg’s film will regard this development thoroughly plausible. This simply could not be otherwise, as the director did succeed in revealing the deep-seated motivations that prompted the film’s main character to act in such a manner. It is understood, of course, that this contributes rather substantially towards endowing Schindler’s List with the strongly defined humanist sounding – hence, causing many people to refer to the discussed film in terms of a cinematographic masterpiece.
The character of Oscar Schindler is initially represented as a well-off Nazi who strives to become even wealthier. However, as the plot unravels, he grows increasingly committed to the cause of saving the lives of as many Jews as possible – despite all of the associated risks and the fact that this pursuit was costing him a great deal of money.
The character’s emotional change can be exemplified regarding a number of scenes in the movie, which point out to the fact that as time went on; Oscar was becoming progressively distanced from his old self as a Nazi. For example, in one of the film’s initial episodes where the character is having a conversation with his wife, he expresses much delight with the outbreak of WW2 – the development that resulted in making Oscar’s business profitable again.
This exposes Oscar as a selfish and greedy individual, capable of turning other people’s suffering into profit. In the film’s another early scene, Oscar arranges the release of Itzhak Stern (one of the Jewish ghetto’s officials), who was scheduled to be transported to Auschwitz. However, as it was revealed in the subsequential scene, Oscar’s decision to intervene was anything but altruistic. By securing Stern’s release, Oscar merely strived to protect his own business interests because the concerned Jewish official was in charge of supplying Oscar’s factory with workers.
Nevertheless, as the film progresses, Oscar’s profiteering exploits become increasingly reflective of his genuine desire to provide a safe sanctuary for the Jews – even at the expense of allowing DEF (Oscar’s factory) to go bankrupt. The validity of this suggestion can be illustrated regarding one of the film’s advanced scenes where Oscar convinces Amon Goth (SS officer) to allow pouring water on rooftops of the cattle cars with thirsty Jewish slave workers inside. Even though Oscar claimed that there was no other reason for him to be willing to do this but for the sake of having some fun alone, one could tell that the film’s main character was deeply disturbed by the sight of Jewish people being treated like livestock. In one of the following episodes, Oscar bribes Rudolf Hoss (the commandant of Auschwitz) with diamonds so that this high-ranking SS officer would order the release of ‘Schindler’s Jews’ from the extermination camp in question. While acting in such a manner, Oscar appears to have been driven by his love of humanity alone.
Giannetti, L. (2013). Understanding movies. London, UK: Pearson.