Of IMDB.com’s Top 250 films of all time, Schindler’s List is the highest ranking war film. In fact, of the 250, it holds the no.7 spot. But what is it about it that makes, to many people, it the 7th greatest film of all time? Revisiting it on it’s 25th anniversary the answer comes quickly, then stays firmly. What Steve Spielberg achieved in 1994 was a film that simultaneously showed the horror of the conflict whilst also highlighting the humanity within it. One of the things that makes Spielberg one of the greatest directors of the 20th/21st century is his ability to turn something big, something abstract and something almost beyond comprehension, and make it accessible by grounding it in humanity.
The film follows Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson giving one of the finest performances of his career to date), the Sudeten German businessman who saved the lives of more than a thousand mostly Polish-Jewish refugees. In a film told in black & white, he epitomises a multitude of shades of grey. The film doesn’t portray him as someone who was wholly perfect, his flaws are regularly displayed. This is turn makes him feel more human and believable as a character, just because he was not completely ‘good’ did not stop his capability to do good. With no clear path in a world that has become overtaken by the human embodiment of monsters, he must rely on all manner of deal-making to save lives. Spielberg treats our enigmatic protagonist with the upmost empathy, never judging and always attempting to understand a time of history that is anything but understandable.
To be human is to feel compassion, a sentiment evoked in every single frame of the film. Authentic and essential, just as much now as it was upon it’s first release, Spielberg’s masterpiece is a haunting reminder of Albert Einstein’s famous words, ‘The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.’ Oskar Schindler refused to stand by and do nothing, using all manner of means of grey to save thousands of lives.
One of the aspects of the film that maximises the potency of this fact is the small details, in a look being shared or a pile of shoes, jewellery or photos – each frame tells a thousand words and an entire spectrum of emotion. An ache occurs when watching these moments, such is the extent of the realism ans authenticity being created.
That’s true 25 years on after it’s first release and that will remain true in another 25 years. That’s what makes this film a true masterpiece.
Dir: Steven Spielberg
Scr: Thomas Keneally (book), Steven Zailian (Screenplay)
Cast: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralph Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathon Sagall
Prd: Branko Lustig, Gerald R. Molen, Steven Spielberg
DOP: Janusz Kaminski
Music: John Williams
Run time: 195 minutes
The 25th Anniversary release of Schindler’s List is AVAILABLE ON 4K ULTRA HD, BLU-RAY™ AND DVD