Schindler’s List- Humanity
Schindler’s List directed by Stephen Speilberg uses many film techniques to emotionally manipulate the attitude of the viewer. His choice of a universal back-drop for mise en scene of monochrome, with color only appearing in the bookends, the ghetto massacre, and the exhumation and incineration of the murdered Jew’s is brilliant and carries significant impact in the film.
Our film opens on a Friday night, a Jewish family lights the candle and begins the sacred prayer to welcome the Sabbath, the candles glowed the beautiful orange and blue tones when the family disappears, the room drops to monochrome, and the candles lose color and emit a white puff of smoke that wafts up to become the steam of a Nazi train that carries 10,000 Jews daily to the ghetto of Krakow. The use of color, the absence of color, and the wafting smoke are all achieved through camera shots and editing styles.
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The sound of the Mother and Father reciting the Shabbat prayer, “May the Lord protect and defend you. May He always shield you from shame, may you come to be in Israel a shining name……. Strengthen them O’Lord and keep them from stranger ways, May God grant and bless you long lives, May the Lord protect and defend you and keep you from pain…. ” A musical score could have been used however the choice of the prayer is far more powerful, pulling ones emotions, especially if they are religious. Speilberg achieves this powerful scene with montage editing.
He shoots the opening scene in the style of cinema verite, French for documentary style, or truth. The setting is natural and custom of traditional Jewish family of the 1940’s. Then it is edited to remove the family, shift the color of the room to monochrome black and white, allowing only the candle flame to remain colored, eventually the flame dying and a waft of sacred white smoke, signifying the end of what was normal, blended artfully through editing to be the steam from a Nazi train carrying the Jews to the mandatory ghetto of Krakow, Poland.
This scene is a powerful reinforcement of Jewish faith in the face of those who intend to harm them, further reinforced by the opening prayer for protection and strength. It is shown that while it was the Sabbath that they would conform and obey the law of Nazi’s and carried their faith that God would protect and defend them. The scene itself conveys spiritual strength beyond the basic human instinct to survive. It plants the seed that a savior is needed. This opening scene is related to the ghetto massacre and incineration where color is introduced again.
Oskar Schindler is riding a mighty stead across the country that overlooks the ghetto; the choice of placing Oskar on a white horse, being accompanied by a woman- who is notably not his wife is significant. The shot of Oskar is angling up, to catch the facial and spiritual transformation of Oskar. My first interpretation of this shot was immediate that Oskar was to be the Messiah of the Jews. Upon closer viewing I believe that this shot, and the proceeding pan shots were significant of the transformation from womanizing playboy, Nazi supporter to protector of the Jews in his charge.
The gunfire is replaced by a haunting violin solo. Wandering below is a small girl, in a red coat, her steps are frantic and hesitant as Nazi fire is around her, dropping their victims on all sides of her. Oskar sees this and his body motion on the horse indicates he wants to save her. The camera pans to his companion as does his glance; it is here that he realizes what he must do. Oskar’s transformation is complete. The red coat appears again, as this girl is dumped into a burning pile of bodies.
Prior to these scenes Oskar had noted the fallen ash on his car as annoyance, the girl in the red coat brought him to redemption. This film is emotionally charged from its opening to the end where Schindler’s Jews lay stones on his grave, a sign of respect. While the film itself is in shades of grey, the underlying theme that we must protect humanity is in crisp black and white. There is no grey area, grey is survival, black is death and white is redemption and abundance. We cannot hange what has happened, we can change what is to come, and know that if we do not speak and act what happened in Krakow, Auschwitz, and Birkenau could happen again (Speilberg). I believe that it has offered an olive branch to those who desire to understand religious culture and persecution. Being a Catholic, I had to ask why Pope Pius XXI did not speak out against those murdering. His Christmas speech, twenty-six pages long, and forty-five minutes spoken speaks in generalities of righteous ethics, and civil human rights.
Pope Pius XXI, his Bishops and administration remained mute, and as excommunications are lifted against those under Pius’s term by Benedict, who upon public outrage, has taken a more politically correct position on his pardon. The Catholic Church could have been instrumental in saving the Jews. Even if it were only one, it could have changed the whole world. It has left me considering if a religion that delays the voice of humanity is right for me. After all the Church tried and persecuted Galileo; yet now want to Saint him and celebrate his discoveries. We cannot move this slowly for humanities sake.