Can a Holocaust film offer hope? Schindler’s List (1993)
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Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List—which was included on the Vatican’s 1995 list of important films—is generally acclaimed as a masterpiece, yet some critics have called it a Hollywood falsification of its subject matter, either because it does not sufficiently show the brutality of the Holocaust, because the story is told from the point of view of a German, because it has (in some respects) a happy ending, or because (according to the critique of Shoah director Claude Lanzmann) any fictional portrayal whatsoever of the Holocaust is necessarily a transgression.
It is true that while Schindler’s List conveys not a little of the horror of the Holocaust, it is also the work of a master entertainer, Steven Spielberg. For a 3 hour, 15 minute drama about genocide, it is remarkably watchable; and indeed, compared with many other movies of the same length, it positively flies by. Shouldn’t a film about the Holocaust be a bit more...unbearable?
In this discussion of the film, James and Thomas take these questions seriously, while ultimately vindicating Spielberg’s work. While there are things a popular Hollywood drama is not going to accomplish, it is legitimate to portray terrible events in a way that is honest and yet does not actually traumatize the viewer. A film that exercises more restraint will perhaps be more successful in carrying on the memory of the dead to future generations than one which is such an unrelenting immersion in evil that few can bear to watch it.
Meanwhile, the film, while not being unwatchably brutal, offers a real spiritual challenge to the viewer, one which will especially resonate with those who study to imitate the lives of the saints. Those who object to telling the story from the perspective of a real-life German savior of eleven hundred Jews are missing the point.
Music is The Duskwhales, “Take It Back”, used with permission. https://theduskwhales.bandcamp.com
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