Schindler's List

Reception

Critical response

Schindler's List is widely acclaimed as a remarkable achievement by film critics and audiences.[74] Notable Americans such as talk show host Oprah Winfrey and President Bill Clinton urged their countrymen to see it.[3][75] World leaders in many countries saw the film, and some met personally with Spielberg.[3] Stephen Schiff of The New Yorker called it the best historical drama about the Holocaust, a movie that "will take its place in cultural history and remain there."[76] Roger Ebert described it as Spielberg's best, "brilliantly acted, written, directed, and seen."[77] Terrence Rafferty, also with The New Yorker, admired the film's "narrative boldness, visual audacity, and emotional directness." He noted the performances of Neeson, Fiennes, Kingsley, and Davidtz as warranting special praise,[78] and calls the scene in the shower at Auschwitz "the most terrifying sequence ever filmed."[79] In his 2013 movie guide, Leonard Maltin awards the film a rare four-star rating and gives a lengthy review. He calls the film a "staggering adaptation of Thomas Keneally's best-seller," saying "this looks and feels like nothing Hollywood has ever made before." [It is] "Spielberg's most intense and personal film to date," he concludes.[80] James Verniere of the Boston Herald noted the film's restraint and lack of sensationalism, and called it a "major addition to the body of work about the Holocaust."[81] In his review for the New York Review of Books, British critic John Gross said his misgivings that the story would be overly sentimentalized "were altogether misplaced. Spielberg shows a firm moral and emotional grasp of his material. The film is an outstanding achievement."[82] Mintz notes that even the film's harshest critics admire the "visual brilliance" of the fifteen-minute segment depicting the liquidation of the Kraków ghetto. He describes the sequence as "realistic" and "stunning".[83] He points out that the film has done much to increase Holocaust remembrance and awareness as the remaining survivors pass away, severing the last living links with the catastrophe.[84] The film's release in Germany led to widespread discussion about why most Germans did not do more to help.[85]

Criticism of the film also appeared, mostly from academia rather than the popular press.[86] Horowitz points out that much of the Jewish activity seen in the ghetto consists of financial transactions such as lending money, trading on the black market, or hiding wealth, thus perpetuating a stereotypical view of Jewish life.[87] Horowitz notes that while the depiction of women in the film accurately reflects Nazi ideology, the low status of women and the link between violence and sexuality is not explored further.[88] History professor Omer Bartov of Brown University notes that the physically large and strongly drawn characters of Schindler and Goeth overshadow the Jewish victims, who are depicted as small, scurrying, and frightened – a mere backdrop to the struggle of good versus evil.[89] Doctors Samuel J. Leistedt and Paul Linkowski of the Université libre de Bruxelles describe Goeth's character in the film as a classic psychopath.[90]

Horowitz points out that the film's dichotomy of absolute good versus absolute evil glosses over the fact that the vast majority of Holocaust perpetrators were ordinary people; the movie does not explore how the average German rationalized their knowledge of or participation in the Holocaust.[91] Author Jason Epstein commented that the movie gives the impression that if people were smart enough or lucky enough, they could survive the Holocaust; this was not actually the case.[92] Spielberg responded to criticism that Schindler's breakdown as he says farewell is too maudlin and even out of character by pointing out that the scene is needed to drive home the sense of loss and to allow the viewer an opportunity to mourn alongside the characters on the screen.[93]

Assessment by other filmmakers

Schindler's List was very well received by many of Spielberg's peers. Filmmaker Billy Wilder wrote a long letter of appreciation to Spielberg in which he proclaimed, "They couldn't have gotten a better man. This movie is absolutely perfection."[14] Polanski, who turned down the chance to direct the film, later commented, "I certainly wouldn't have done as good a job as Spielberg because I couldn't have been as objective as he was."[94] He cited Schindler's List as an influence on his 1995 film Death and the Maiden.[95] The success of Schindler's List led filmmaker Stanley Kubrick to abandon his own Holocaust project, Aryan Papers, which would have been about a Jewish boy and his aunt who survive the war by sneaking through Poland while pretending to be Catholic.[96] When scriptwriter Frederic Raphael suggested that Schindler's List was a good representation of the Holocaust, Kubrick commented, "Think that's about the Holocaust? That was about success, wasn't it? The Holocaust is about 6 million people who get killed. Schindler's List is about 600 who don't."[96]

Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard accused Spielberg of using the film to make a profit out of a tragedy while Schindler's wife, Emilie Schindler, lived in poverty in Argentina.[97] Keneally disputed claims that she was never paid for her contributions, "not least because I had recently sent Emilie a check myself."[98] He also confirmed with Spielberg's office that payment had been sent from there.[98] Filmmaker Michael Haneke criticized the sequence in which Schindler's women are accidentally sent off to Auschwitz and herded into showers: "There's a scene in that film when we don't know if there's gas or water coming out in the showers in the camp. You can only do something like that with a naive audience like in the United States. It's not an appropriate use of the form. Spielberg meant well – but it was dumb."[99]

The film was attacked by filmmaker and professor Claude Lanzmann, director of the nine-hour Holocaust documentary Shoah, who called Schindler's List a "kitschy melodrama" and a "deformation" of historical truth. Lanzmann was especially critical of Spielberg for viewing the Holocaust through the eyes of a German. Believing his own film to be the definitive account of the Holocaust, Lanzmann complained, "I sincerely thought that there was a time before Shoah, and a time after Shoah, and that after Shoah certain things could no longer be done. Spielberg did them anyway."[100] Spielberg accused him of wanting to be "the only voice in the definitive account of the Holocaust. It amazed me that there could be any hurt feelings in an effort to reflect the truth."[101]

Reaction of the Jewish community

At a 1994 Village Voice symposium about the film, historian Annette Insdorf described how her mother, a survivor of three concentration camps, felt gratitude that the Holocaust story was finally being told in a major film that would be widely viewed.[102] Hungarian Jewish author Imre Kertész, a Holocaust survivor, feels it is impossible for life in a Nazi concentration camp to be accurately portrayed by anyone who did not experience it first-hand. While commending Spielberg for bringing the story to a wide audience, he found the film's final scene at the graveyard neglected the terrible after-effects of the experience on the survivors and implied that they came through emotionally unscathed.[103] Rabbi Uri D. Herscher found the film an "appealing" and "uplifting" demonstration of humanitarianism.[104] Norbert Friedman noted that, like many Holocaust survivors, he reacted with a feeling of solidarity towards Spielberg of a sort normally reserved for other survivors.[105] Albert L. Lewis, Spielberg's childhood rabbi and teacher, described the movie as "Steven's gift to his mother, to his people, and in a sense to himself. Now he is a full human being."[104]

Accolades

Schindler's List featured on a number of "best of" lists, including the Time magazine's Top Hundred as selected by critics Richard Corliss and Richard Schickel,[4] Time Out magazine's 100 Greatest Films Centenary Poll conducted in 1995,[106] and Leonard Maltin's "100 Must See Movies of the Century".[5] The Vatican named Schindler's List among the most important 45 films ever made.[107] A Channel 4 poll named Schindler's List the ninth greatest film of all time,[6] and it ranked fourth in their 2005 war films poll.[108] The film was named the best of 1993 by critics such as James Berardinelli,[109] Roger Ebert,[77] and Gene Siskel.[110] Deeming the film "culturally significant", the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry in 2004.[111]

Spielberg won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Feature Film for his work,[112] and shared the Producers Guild of America Award for Best Theatrical Motion Picture with co-producers Branko Lustig and Gerald R. Molen.[113] Steven Zaillian won a Writers Guild of America Award for the screenplay.[114] The film won National Society of Film Critics awards for Best Film, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Cinematography.[115] New York Film Critics Circle awards were won for Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Cinematography.[116] Los Angeles Film Critics Association awards were won for Best Film, Best Cinematography (tied with The Piano), and Best Production Design.[117] The film also won many other awards and nominations worldwide.[118]

Major awards
Category Subject Result
Academy Awards[44]
Best Picture Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Steven Zaillian Won
Best Original Score John Williams Won[a]
Best Film Editing Michael Kahn Won
Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Won
Best Art Direction
  • Ewa Braun
  • Allan Starski
Won
Best Actor Liam Neeson Nominated
Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Sound
  • Andy Nelson
  • Steve Pederson
  • Scott Millan
  • Ron Judkins
Nominated
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
  • Christina Smith
  • Matthew Mungle
  • Judy Alexander Cory
Nominated
Best Costume Design Anna B. Sheppard Nominated
ACE Eddie Award[119]
Best Editing Michael Kahn Won
BAFTA Awards[120]
Best Film
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Branko Lustig
  • Gerald R. Molen
Won
Best Direction Steven Spielberg Won
Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Won
Best Adapted Screenplay Steven Zaillian Won
Best Music John Williams Won
Best Editing Michael Kahn Won
Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Won
Best Supporting Actor Ben Kingsley Nominated
Best Actor Liam Neeson Nominated
Best Makeup and Hair
  • Christina Smith
  • Matthew W. Mungle
  • Waldemar Pokromski
  • Pauline Heys
Nominated
Best Production Design Allan Starski Nominated
Best Costume Design Anna B. Sheppard Nominated
Best Sound
  • Charles L. Campbell
  • Louis L Edemann
  • Robert Jackson
  • Ronald Judkins
  • Andy Nelson
  • Steve Pederson
  • Scott Millan
Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards[121]
Best Film
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Gerald R. Molen
  • Branko Lustig
Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Screenplay Steven Zaillian Won
Best Cinematography Janusz Kamiński Won
Best Actor Liam Neeson Won
Best Supporting Actor Ralph Fiennes Won
Golden Globe Awards[122]
Best Motion Picture – Drama
  • Steven Spielberg
  • Gerald R. Molen
  • Branko Lustig
Won
Best Director Steven Spielberg Won
Best Screenplay Steven Zaillian Won
Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama Liam Neeson Nominated
Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture Ralph Fiennes Nominated
Best Original Score John Williams Nominated
American Film Institute recognition
Year List Result
1998 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies #9[123]
2003 AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains Oskar Schindler – #13 hero; Amon Goeth – #15 villain[124]
2005 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes "The list is an absolute good. The list is life." – nominated[125]
2006 AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers #3[126]
2007 AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) #8[127]
2008 AFI's 10 Top 10 #3 epic film[128]

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