Monday, November 25, 2013

Day 197 - Schindler's List

I have never watched Schindler’s list. When I determined watching one classic movie a month would be a part of my journey early in my “I have never...” year, I knew immediately watching Schindler’s List would make my “I have never...” list. Since it was first released in 1993, I have heard of the film’s amazing, albeit heart wrenching, depiction of Oskar Schindler’s story during the atrocities of World War II. Although the film consistently made the lists of the greatest films ever created over the years, I simply never got around to watching it. Part of that reality was a result of a lack of exposure to a source for the film, but admittedly part of my procrastination in watching Schindler’s List was a part of my aversion to the recreation of some of the worst parts of human history. I knew the experience would leave my heart heavy and affect me greatly. As a result, I held off on watching Schindler’s List for years, waiting for a time I could sit down and truly absorb the film and the story it told. In a year of exposing myself to experience that would help me learn and grow, that time happened to be now.

Seeing opportunity

Setting the baseline for cheap labor

With the Thanksgiving week upon us, I realized watching a movie about people that lived through unspeakable terror and what can easily be described as a veritable apocalypse would likely give me a lot of perspective on the things I should be thankful for in my life. Subsequently, Rachael helped me track down a copy of the film at a local library and I settled in to watch the movie this evening. While I expected the experience to be moving, the three and one quarter hours that followed would prove one of the most deeply impacting cinematic experiences of my life.

Violence in the Ghetto

Face to face with evil

In fact, that perspective is so powerful the scenes of the film that flow through my head as I write this blog entry are leaving me dumbfounded and misty eyed as if I was watching them again. The film simply put me the closest I have ever been to seeing life in the history of the holocaust reenacted, and my efforts to try to understand a shred of what the victims of the holocaust had to endure left me shaken to my core. Sure, I learned about concentration camps and the genocide Nazi’s inflicted during history lessons throughout my academic career, but Schindler’s List presented it in a way that breathed life into that history and put faces to the victims of such a horrible period. I know I will never know exactly what it was like to live through such horror, but the fact so many people did, and the depiction of their reality in Schindler’s List, was so disheartening and so disgusting I find myself left with an unwavering sadness looming over every thought as I try to put my experience with the film into words.

Realizing the consequences of intolerance and power


At the same time that feeling leaves me wracked with guilt over the fact that I know my emotional state is a direct result of an effort to try to empathize and understand what the Jewish people endured during the holocaust. As I sit in my heated living room on a comfortable sofa with oppression, life-threatening danger, and persecution the farthest thing from my reality, Schindler’s List left me struggling to make sense of my right to feel the way I did. After experiencing the film it seems audacious for me to even make an attempt to understand what that life, if that’s what it can be called, was like; what it was to live through such torment. It’s not that I think my overwhelming, almost stifling, feeling of sadness isn’t justified, it’s that I feel like I can’t create enough sadness in response to such a horrific tale... and to think it was just a movie.

Schindler's "grace"

The war is over

With that, I can simply say Schindler’s List was one of the most remarkable films I have ever seen. Although I would like to give a play by play of the rising tide of emotion that consumed me as the movie progressed, the reality is I don’t think I could find the words to do so. Recognizing that was likely one of Stephen Spielberg’s intentions with the film, it is easy to conclude he was successful in helping the world provide a glimpse of one of the diminished sources of hope in a period dominated by outright hopelessness. For all the wrong reasons, Oskar Schindler provided an escape for a people being torn apart by the terrible efforts of a violent and disgraceful movement in Nazi Germany. He was the lesser of two evils, but that meant he saved people from sources of torture, starvation, and death among the worst man has ever created. In shock and dismay by the end of the film, I didn’t know whether to applaud Schindler or hate him; however I knew he ultimately pulled people from the brink and breathed into them new life, which was more than most people could say in the era of the holocaust.

A broken man coming to terms with his decisions

The freed "Schindler Jews" marching to freedom

As Schindler’s List drew to a close, Rachael and I sat in silence with tears gently rolling over our cheekbones and onto the furniture cushions beneath us. As the credits of the film rolled, we sat still in a mutual state of disbelief until Rachael broke the silence. “It’s so sad...” she said in a series of low, broken breaths that almost made her remark sound like a whimper. Removing the hand covering my mouth, I gave her a simple reply, “No, it’s desolate... Everything... It’s just desolate.” The very act of forcing the words from my mouth made my emotions swell again, causing me to fight off another round of slow, silent tears. Perhaps it was because vocalizing the thought made the emotions more real, or perhaps I found the right word to express my thoughts; whatever the reason, that moment defined today’s new experience.

Schindler's grave

As I look back now on my first experience with Schindler’s List, I realize my assumptions about the film and the response it would evoke were expectations far below the mark. However, I honestly don’t think I could have predicted the feelings that would strike me as I worked through Schindler’s List. In fact, even now as I struggle to find the right words to describe them, I don’t think I even knew some of the emotions I felt in response to this film. They were deep to the point some of them may have been previously unknown, and that says a lot about the power and impact of this movie. I’ll openly admit I have cried during films before, but none have ever made me well up at the thought of them after they have concluded. I never expected that would happen. As a result, I can only conclude Schindler’s List is a film everyone should see at some point during their life. It’s heartbreaking and I know it will take me some time to shake this feeling, but there absolutely no question it was worth it.

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