All Rules Barred: A Defense of Spielberg's Schindler's List
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 32, Number 2, 2002
- pp. 62-71
- Additional Information
Sterling | All Rules Barred: A Defense of Spielberg's Schindlers List All Rules Barred: A Defense of Spielberg's Schindlers List by Eric Sterling Auburn University Montgomery Since the opening of Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List (1993), several movie critics have panned the film, offering desultorily yet unconvincing arguments for disliking the movie. Although some critics recommend the film, others disapprove, citing Spielberg's reputation for making hugely popular yet unsubstantial films, the Holocaust as an inappropriate choice of subject matter for a movie, Spielberg's very attempt to create a historical representation ofthe Shoah, the director's alleged attempt to capture the entirety of the Holocaust in a mere three-hour and seventeen minute movie, the choice of a Gentile (a Nazi, no less) as the central character and hero, the employment of a Nazi perspective, the lack of developed Jewish characters, the glorification of an ordinary man who exploited Jews and the omission of his character flaws, deviations from Thomas Keneally's novel, the triumphant ending in a film about the most horrendous episode in the history of genocide, and audience manipulation in the shower scene involving the female Schindlerjuden in Auschwitz. The aforementioned detractions demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of the Holocaust and filmmaking in general and of Schindlern List in particular; a rebuttal of these criticisms will manifest why Spielberg's film is an important and exceptional work of art. Many critics prejudged the movie, expecting to dislike it before they viewed it. They pondered how a director who previously made popular commercial successes such as Jaws, ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Jurassic Park could create an insightful, sensitive, and intellectually stimulating movie about the Holocaust. Such a response demonstrates the critics' inability tojudge the film impartially and on its own merits. The film clearly deviates from the cheap thrills of Jaws, the sentimentality oíET, the Indiana Jones movies in which incessant adventures allow no time for reflection, and the outstanding special effects that overshadow the meaning ofJurassic Park. Schindler's List is clearly different from those films and, like any movie or work of art, must be evaluated on its own merits . Several directors, such as Roman Polanski and Martin Scorcese, rejected the opportunity to make Schindlers List in part because they feared that the terrifying subject matter would render the film a commercial disaster. It is Spielberg's success with his previous movies that permitted him to receive the financial backing, confidence, and skill to create the film. Spielberg, furthermore , feels that the film is significant to him partly because he wishes to leave a legacy to his son so that the boy will know more about his heritage and his religion; this legacy is actually left not only to his son, but to all Jews, survivors, and civilized people, thus making the meaning of the film more essential than box-office receipts, special effects, and awards. Several movie critics, as well as people interviewed by the media, have complained about the Holocaust as the subject for a movie—especially half a century after the tragedy. They argue that the continuous presentation of Holocaust books and films incessantly and unnecessarily reminds survivors of the horrors they endured and interrupts the healing process. The most important aspect of Holocaust studies, however, is memory. The suppression , or the forgetting, of the Holocaust insults the memories of those who died and who lost loved ones during the tragedy. To neglect the Holocaust would be similar to forgetting to say Kaddish. In an interview, Spielberg remarked, "I consider the biggest sin is to forget or to ignore the most barbaric act perpetrated by man in modern history."1 Spielberg demonstrates the importance of memory in the Jewish tradition in the last scene of the film when the actual Schindlerjuden, accompanied by the actors who play their parts, leave stones of remembrance on the grave of Oskar Schindler. Flowers wither and decompose, but the stones remain. Decades after the Holocaust, there still exists a need to memorialize the victims and to teach new generations about the Shoah. A disturbing incident demonstrates why. In Oakland, California, seventy-three Castlemont High School...