Schindler's List [Blu-Ray]
Director : Steven Spielberg
Screenplay : Steve Zaillian (based on the novel by Thomas Keneally)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1993
Stars : Liam Neeson (Oskar Schindler), Ben Kingsley (Itzhak Stern), Ralph Fiennes (Amon Goeth), Caroline Goodall (Emilie Schindler), Jonathan Sagall (Poldek Pfefferberg), Embeth Davidtz (Helen Hirsch), Malgorzata Gebel (Wiktoria Klonowska), Shmuel Levy (Wilek Chilowicz), Mark Ivanir (Marcel Goldberg), Béatrice Macola (Ingrid), Andrzej Seweryn (Julian Scherner), Friedrich von Thun (Rolf Czurda), Krzysztof Luft (Herman Toffel), Harry Nehring (Leo John), Norbert Weisser (Albert Hujar)
The unlikeliest heroes are often the greatest, and Oskar Schindler, the central figure of Steven Spielberg’s masterful and devastating Schindler’s List, was one of the unlikeliest of all. A greedy German industrialist, womanizer, heavy drinker, shamelessly adulterous husband, war profiteer, and member of the Nazi party, he was also the savior of more than 1,100 Jews during the Holocaust, and today more than 6,000 people enjoy life because of his efforts.
Spielberg had been circling the project for a decade (Thomas Keneally’s historical novel, which told the otherwise forgotten story of the Schindler Jews, had been published in 1982), but recognizing the difficulty—if not impossibility—of the material, he resisted for years, unsure of his own ability to do the material justice. When he finally tackled the project, he brought to it a sense of maturity and gravitas that many thought the director best known as the architect of blockbuster movies like Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Jurassic Park (1993) incapable. Of course, that is just the surface, and a sustained look at Spielberg’s films—even those prior to his “maturation” with Schindler’s List—reveals an artist of significant depth, insight, and daring. Schindler’s List, which won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (awards that had long eluded Spielberg), simply confirmed what was already there.
Filmed in gritty black and white on location in Krakow, Poland, where many of the real events took place, Schindler’s List is a monumental film that dares to portray one of the darkest eras of modern history. Spielberg spares little in depicting the grim events of the Holocaust, and as a result, parts of the film border on the unwatchable. The violence is graphic and unrelenting (the camera doesn’t pull away, but rather stares in a shocked stupor), realistic and absolutely necessary. Using mostly hand-held cameras, Spielberg puts us in the middle of the action as Jews are rounded up from the ghettos and herded into railroad cars like cattle, lined up and shot, worked into exhaustion, and dehumanized in a way that most of us could never imagine. By forcing us into the violence face-to-face, Spielberg makes us endure the pain, never letting us stand back from it. Director Sam Peckinpah once said he used slow motion and sensationalized violence in The Wild Bunch (1969) to make up for the inherent distancing factor an audience feels while watching a film. Unlike Peckinpah, Spielberg breaches that distance with the brute force of realistically depicting true events. There is no need to heighten the violence in Schindler’s List. It stands on its own.
Beginning in September 1939 after the Germans defeated the Polish army and occupied the country, the film simultaneously charts the moral awakening of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and the implementation of Hitler’s “Final Solution” through a cross-section of Jewish characters who endure the systematic horrors of the Holocaust. The film is thus both a rich character study and a striking example of the powers of cinema to envision the details of history—from the stamps and paperwork of registering all Polish Jews, to the daily carnage of genocide in the camps. And, at all times, Spielberg maintains a fundamental sense of humanity; even though the Holocaust as an event is unfathomable and unfilmable, he recognized that we could grasp it on some level through individual characters and their plights, which stand in for the larger whole. There is a reason that the first line of dialogue in the film is a registrar calling out “Name!” followed by a montage of Polish Jews stating their names and close-ups of typewriters clacking out the letters: Names are both a bureaucratic reality and an inextricable link to humanity.
Early in the film, Schindler says to his wife (Caroline Goodall), “People will remember me. They’ll remember Oskar Schindler and they’ll say that he did something extraordinary.” At the time, he thought he would be remembered for making lots of money off the war, and the great irony is that he is now remembered for something so much greater. Schindler starts out using Jews in his factories because he doesn’t have to pay them labor wages. During this period he meets Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), a quietly resourceful Jewish accountant who ends up running his business and eventually becomes his friend and conscience.
A charismatic and charming man, Schindler quickly ingratiates himself with Nazi party, not because he shares their beliefs, but because he recognizes that they are in power and that he can use them to get rich. Through the Nazis he comes into contact with Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes), the commandant of the concentration camp in Płaszów. Evil and callous enough to randomly shoot workers from his balcony for target practice, Goeth also feels the stirrings of human emotion, evidenced in his confused attraction to Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz), his Jewish housemaid. Somewhere inside he is in love with her, but his inability to see Jews as human beings makes it impossible for him to realize these emotions. During one particularly affecting scene, Goeth comes within inches of kissing Helen, but instead, he ends up beating her. In this respect, Goeth is an excellent example of the depths to which Schindler’s List delves into all its characters, refusing to see good and evil in overtly simplistic terms. Goeth is as depraved as a human can possibly be, yet he is still a human, and Spielberg sees him as such.
At one point in the film, Schindler claims he has earned “more money than any man could spend in a lifetime.” Yet, he did spend it in a lifetime—every cent of it—to buy 1,100 Jews to work in his factory to save them from the flames of Auschwitz. And even after the war has ended and he is surrounded by those he has saved, he breaks down into tears, lamenting that he might have been able to save more. “This car,” he says. “Why did I keep this car? I could have bought ten more lives.” For some, this is Spielberg pushing the material too far and wringing it for unnecessary emotion, but to me it feels right—a final depiction of desperation in the most desperate of times as Schindler realizes that, despite all he has done, the enormity of the evil that has consumed the world around him was more than he could ever confront. In what should be a moment of triumph, he recognizes his own smallness.
And therein lies the film’s true power. Its portrayal of both the highest and lowest forms of human power is breathtaking, but it is the gray area in which the two intersect that leaves a lasting impression. Schindler is a savior, but he is also a scoundrel, and Neeson plays him with the kind of charm and authority that makes his audaciousness palpable and believable. The stark black-and-white photography by Janusz Kaminski (in the first of his many collaborations with Spielberg) lends the film a distinct sense of authenticity derived from its visual similarities to World War II-era newsreels, although it also leaves room for a few poetic moments of license, particularly the crucial use of the color red to identify an otherwise nameless little girl who becomes a symbolic stand-in for the horrors of the Holocaust. There is artifice throughout the film, but we don’t notice it because the film’s overall aesthetic and emotional impact is so consuming. The power to kill and the power to save are the two ends of the spectrum, and Schindler’s List depicts both with stunning clarity, making it one of the most emotionally wrenching and ultimately life-affirming films ever made.
|Schindler’s List 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-Ray + DVD + Digital Copy|
|Subtitles||English, Spanish, French|
|Distributor||Universal Studios Home Entertainment|
|Release Date||March 5, 2012|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|The cover of the 20th Anniversary Limited Edition Blu-Ray of Schindler’s List proclaims that it has been “Meticulously Restored in Pristine High Definition Supervised by Steven Spielberg,” and I don’t think I could put it any better. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is stunning (the entire 196-minute film fits comfortably on a BD50 disc without displaying any evidence of compression artifacts or limited bitrate). The black-and-white cinematography is crisp and sharp, with excellent contrast between light and dark and outstanding detail that persists alongside a healthy presence of film grain. Although the film is now 20 years old (which I have a hard time believing), the image is completely free of any artifacts or signs of age. While generally front-heavy, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1-channel surround soundtrack is plenty effective, giving John Williams’s beautiful orchestral score room to work while also engulfing us in the sometimes horrifying atmosphere (the surround channels are particularly effects during the liquidation of the ghetto sequence).|
|It seems that, perhaps in order to maintain the power of the film’s recreation of history, Spielberg has resisted supplementary material around the making of Schindler’s List, so there are no new extras on this Blu-Ray. We get the same 77-minute documentary Voices From the List, which features on-camera testimony from a number of Holocaust survivors and archival footage, and the 5-minute featurette “USC Shoah Foundation Story With Steven Spielberg,” which quickly chronicles the creation of the Shoah Foundation. Both of these supplements are included on the DVD in this package, but not on the Blu-Ray.|
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