Schindler’s List: Steven Spielberg’s Epic Masterpiece

German industrialist Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) and Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley) assemble the list of more than 1,100 Jewish workers to be placed under Schindler's protection. Courtesy of Amblin Partners.

Schindler’s List isn’t only Steven Spielberg’s epic masterpiece but the film is what cemented his legacy as both a filmmaker and human.

Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) rescued the lives of approximately 1,200 Jews despite being a member of the Nazi party. He took over an enamelware plant and this plant is soon populated by the Jews living in the Kraków Ghetto.  Under accountant Itzhak Stern’s (Ben Kingsley) management, a countless number of Jews would find themselves employed. Late in the film, Stern types up the list of Schindlerjuden. In real life, this job went to Schindler’s personal secretary, Mietek Pemper.

With the Ghetto liquidated in 1943, those still residing there were moved to the Płaszów concentration camp. Again, Schindler does what he can by bribing SS-Hauptsturmführer Amon Göth (Ralph Fiennes). When this camp closes, Schindler works the magic again and is allowed to open up a factor in Brünnlitz. Unfortunately, trains get routed to concentration camps, including the Auschwitz. It takes some more work to ultimately save them.

There are a countless number of stories to be told but the film spotlights only a few in its three-plus hour running time, including the Pfefferbergs, Dresners, Rosners and Helen Hirsch (Embeth Davidtz). Oskar Schindler died in 1974 so it’s hard to speculate what motivated him to save all these Jews. Was it out of the kindness of his heart or did he see what was happening all around him and decide to take matters into his own hands? Whatever the reason may be, Schindler and his wife, Emilie, would be honored by Yad Vashem in 1993.

We can say everything we want to about all the great Steven Spielberg blockbusters but Schindler’s List is his masterpiece. This is the film that cemented Spielberg’s legacy not so much as a filmmaker but as a person. Without this film, it’s very well possible that Spielberg wouldn’t start up the USC Shoah Foundation. The foundation made it possible for more Holocaust survivors to tell their story. Spielberg first caught the attention of Thomas Keneally’s novel ten years earlier but he wasn’t at the stage in his career to make this film.

While Spielberg may get the major credit, this film is a group collaboration. Directors are just but one part of the film. It wouldn’t be possible to make the film without Steven Zaillian’s screenplay. I can’t say enough positive things about John Williams’ score. For all the magnificent work that he’s done over the years, his score for Schindler’s is haunting yet appropriate for every scene. Of course, there’s cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and production designer Allan Starski. These two work hand in hand because of shooting the film in black-and-white. It isn’t easy putting together one film in a year but to have two films come out six months apart is equally impressive. The other one being summer blockbuster Jurassic Park.

There’s not a lot of color in the film and with good reason. It wouldn’t be the same. I give a lot of credit to shooting this film as if it were a documentary. One of the few shots of color is the three-year old girl (Oliwia Dąbrowska) wearing the red coat. When Oskar Schindler is looking from the hillside as those living in the Kraków Ghetto are massacred, he notices her. There’s something about the presence of this young girl but she has a lasting impact on Schindler. While it changes him as far as what he does from then on out to protect the Jews, there’s something else to be said about how the American government didn’t do enough while European Jewry was being decimated out of existence.

This was one of the first major films to tell a story about the Holocaust. This was a tough time period for many people and at the time, survivors were not too public in telling their stories. It was a subject that could be heard mostly with silence among their own family members. This speaks in large to the legacy of the film. Without it, many of the survivors would have gone to their graves without ever opening up.

It’s very easy to get emotional and angry after viewing this film. I can’t speak for others but only myself. Maybe this explains why I’ve only watched the film twice now. It’s not an easy watch. Don’t get me wrong because Schindler’s List is essential cinema and absolutely deserved every accolade it won. I’m left emotional in viewing but also angry. Oskar Schindler is a hero but he breaks down of feeling that he could have done more when it came to saving Jews. I’m angry at the amount of Jews and others who lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. I’m angry at those countries who did absolutely nothing while European Jewry was dying at the hands of the Nazis. And for what?  Simply because they weren’t seen as the perfect race in the eyes of the Third Reich! When we say NEVER AGAIN, we mean it!

DIRECTOR:  Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITER:  Steven Zaillian
CAST:  Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagalle, Embeth Davidtz

Universal Pictures opened Schindler’s List in theaters on December 15, 1993.  A 25th anniversary edition is available on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.