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Images of Holcaust despair haunt Schindler's List

Schindler's List
Starring Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes,
and Ben Kingsley.
Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Written by Steven Zaillian.
Loews Nickelodeon.

By Patrick Mahoney
Staff Reporter

*aving grown up as an Irish Catholic in a middle class family, I may not be the most qualified person to comment on a movie about the Holocaust. Then again, although I knew almost nothing about the Holocaust going into the movie, I must say that even I was moved. I was not ready for a movie which told such a horrific story so masterfully. The images, the people, and even the detestable actions of ``the final solution'' were all incredibly laid forth by director Steven Spielberg.

The film is done entirely in period black and white. Spielberg begins the film by using newsreel-like footage, and uses that to lead into the story. The technique fits perfectly, and by the middle of the film we don't notice it anymore. Only the end of the film is in color, where Spielberg moves from the freeing of the Jews at the end of the war to a present day shot of many of the descendants of the Schindler Jews.

The images that Spielberg presents look real. The Jewish ghettos presented may or may not be accurate representations, but they were certainly believable. The images of the people, the streets, the clothing with Jewish stars on the sleeves; all of these are images that Spielberg crafts into a very moving ensemble. Everything is painstakingly crafted to give an overall impression of gloom and despair, yet Spielberg makes sure that the occasional glimpse of hope and faith survives.

The one word that comes to mind describing this movie is powerful. Spielberg makes you see and feel the Holocaust through the actions of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a Polish businessman who uses Jewish laborers to make pots and pans for the war effort. At the start of the film, Schindler is no more than a capitalist who sees the advantage of employing Jews because they work for lower wages. Later, we vaguely get the impression that he cares about the Jews he employs, but it isn't until the very end that we actually have any idea of the length to which he will go on behalf of his underprivileged employees.

Neeson delivers a convincing act by making his changes very subtle. Many of the things that he does, such as accepting workers who are old or unskilled, he does through his plant manager, Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley). Schindler gives an air of disappointment when he learns about many of the practices that Stern is engaged in. But at no point does he ask Stern to stop, and later in the film we see that he actively instructs Stern to do things that he would have frowned upon earlier. All this time, he maintains the illusion of being a practicing member of the Nazi party. In the end, he has changed to the point where he begs other businessmen to help to "purchase" more Jewish workers for his new armaments factory.

The film is extremely graphic. Spielberg captures much of the ``randomness'' of the killings that occur within the concentration camps. The audience sees the progression from forced registration, to life in the ghettos, to life in the camps. Spielberg takes us vividly through each repulsive stage.

Neeson is superb. He shows no emotion, exactly as we would expect. His transformation from esteemed member of the Nazi party to a "righteous" man who saves a thousand Jewish people is adequately slow and well developed. Perhaps the most important reason that he is so believable is that until the very end, we never see the emotional side of him. He appears to be a simple businessman, but at the end, when he relocates his business to Yugoslavia, we understand that he really isn't. He doesn't care about business. He has other, more important concerns.

Kingsley, too, does a fine job. He plays the clever, almost devious, accountant excellently. We see that he is more concerned with saving others than with saving himself. He seems to know all the rules of the game and how to use all of them to his advantage.

Ralph Fiennes also excellently portrays Amon Goeth, the Commandant of the labor camp, who is unswerving in his hatred of the Jewish race and in his dedication to the Nazi party. Fiennes' spiteful attitude and uncontrollable temper serve to emphasize the brutality with which the Germans treated their prisoners.

Above all, this movie functions well as a history lesson. Coming in knowing only a small portion of what happened in that grim section of human history, I found that I left with a much greater understanding of what it was like. You don't need to know anything about the Holocaust to be able to benefit from watching this movie. On the contrary, this may be one of the better ways to learn about it. It certainly is much more convincing and powerful than any history book I have read.