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Schindler’s List

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Steven Spielberg directs Schindler’s List, a film about the plight of the Jews in World War Two. There are many techniques used by Steven Spielberg to great effect but the main ones are the use of shadow and contrapuntal sound to portray the experiences and the extreme terror that the Jews must have felt when this happened. It also shows the audience how brutal the Nazis were when liquidating the ghetto. The first extract is a comparison of Goeth and Schindler shaving; this routine exemplifies the similarities that they share, each holding vast amounts of power, yet also possessing comparable weaknesses.

For example, appearance is very important to both of them. In addition they both possess comparable weaknesses. Their similarities, however, are in a minority compared to their differences. For instance Goeth shaves in the dark with short, erratic actions. The dark is associated with the capability to be evil and the shaving movements have a strangely stiff, regimented manner which suggests that Goeth is not an individual but a small part in the large Nazi military machine. On the other side Schindler’s shaving actions are relaxed and in the light.

He is also filmed shaving on the right hand side of his face only whereas Goeth is seen shaving on the left this could be considered to symbolise that Schindler is on the ‘right hand side of God’ and therefore doing God’s will. Moreover the Jews are supposedly ‘God’s people’, so, in saving the Jews Schindler gives the impression of having an almost biblical status on a par with men like Moses, who helped the oppressed Jews of that time cross the Red Sea. The relaxed movements that Schindler uses when shaving suggests an inner confidence that he is ready for whatever is going to happen that day.

What’s more, he does not seem completely attentive and his eyes portray a look of apprehension when he shaves. This lack of concentration implies that he has some sort of foresight about what is going to happen later that day. Finally, the use of the close up camera action cutting from one to the other increases the feeling that there are hidden similarities, even though, once shown the bigger picture it is easy to see that they are at the opposite ends of the spectrum where moral integrity is concerned.

Goeth’s speech to the masses of Nazi soldiers is one about how the last six centuries of Jews in the ghetto was going to be ‘all but a rumour’. It shows his unfounded hatred for them which Goeth’s whole personality is centred around. The uniformity of the soldiers makes them seem like some solid unit rather than individual people. The reason is that it makes the soldiers seem less like real people with opinions about whether what they are doing is right or wrong. It is these opinions that Goeth wants to stifle.

The darkness of the Nazi uniforms contrasted with the white of the frost layering the ground around their feet suggests an ominous threat involving trampling the innocence of the Jewish people. While Goeth is making his speech he slowly paces around a black and white SS sign. The jagged black logo is in the centre of a white circle, thus symbolizing its domination of central Europe. The contrast between black and white on the logo displays a correlation between white and black, and suggesting that where there is decency there will always be evil.

During his speech Goeth holds a scroll of paper which could be considered to be a list of all the Jews in the ghetto. He clenches the list with both hands that are wearing black leather gloves. This tight grasp he has on the list, and also on the lives on the Jews and signifies that he is unyielding in his attempt to detain or exterminate every single Jew in the ghetto and not let a sole one escape his firm grip. When the soldiers arrive in the ghetto they pour from the trucks that have transported them there with dogs, shouting in German.

It is extremely noticeable that when the soldiers shout they use German but while they talk to each other normally they use English. The director insists they do this because German is an unfamiliar language so it sounds strange and intimidating to the viewer, especially when shouted, because it encourages the watcher to imagine what is being said, whereas English is familiar and easy to relate to. There is a vivid contrast between the strict soldiers holding back the violent dogs at their feet.

It is an insight into the later contrast into the helplessness of Jews as they watch as their lives are destroyed by the Nazis, where the strict soldiers are unmoving like the Jews, the dogs are like the soldiers; wild and out of control. Which some would say is strangely appropriate. There is a certain sense of irony as the Jews, who are usually thought to be rich and in powerful positions in society, though now, when it truly matters, have no say in which way their lives go and what happens to them.

When the soldiers line up with German Shepherds restrained on leashes at their feet, it is a metaphor of the Nazi soldiers who would become like wild and uncontrollable dogs if released by their commanders. The muzzles also convey a sense of insincerity because, they the soldiers are trying to trick the Jews into thinking that they do not really want to hurt them by putting muzzles on the dogs but it is a false truth for the most likely thing that is going to hurt them is the Nazis themselves. The Jews are being evicted from one of the apartment blocks by the Nazis.

The building itself is made to look foreboding like a prison by the use of a low angle shot which enhances the size of the building. While the black and white of the film makes it seem ominous, the small deep set windows are depressing views into the captivity that the Jews have to suffer. Spielberg uses monochrome in the whole film to underline the many differences between the Nazi soldiers and the Jewish people, and between Goeth and Oscar Schindler,[JM1] there is a lot of shouting in German, piercing whistles and trampling boots.

These are diegetic sounds which can be heard when they storm the building and terrify anyone in the vicinity. The trampling of the boots shows how many soldiers there are in the building. It seems as if the soldiers are out of control but the whistles of the officers in command bely that fact and prove that behind the mayhem there is an efficient unit. Later on in the scene the papers are being inspected by guards. On one man’s documents there is some insignificant defect and for this they take him to the side and kill him for such a small thing.

This shows the cold-heartedness and contempt for human life that the guards must have to be able to kill without a moment’s thought; it also suggests that they do not even consider the Jews to be human. As the unfortunate man is killed blood pours out of the bullet wound in his head and his face is white as a ghost. The blood represents the evilness and darkness of the whole Nazi system not just the man who killed him and the white of his face symbolises the innocence of the Jews who are being persecuted.

As this happens a mother walks swiftly pass with her young child, but is stopped by a Nazi who then asks the child if he is OK: ‘Wie hiest? , or ‘How are you? ‘ This is a surprisingly emotional scene because for the first time in the film it portrays the Nazi soldier to be caring and more of an individual. The guard shows some very strong emotions which it looks as if he has had to keep pent up inside him: perhaps he has memories of home and his friends and family which the little boy reminds him of. This is also a moment of intense sadness because the viewer can tell that the man is fighting a battle within himself and does not really want to help separate the child from his parents.

However, he knows that if he disobeys his commanders he might very well be punished and split from his child. He eventually makes himself send them to the line knowing that he has helped destroy their lives and possibly made sure that they will never see each other again. This episode also shows that not all the soldiers believe in what they are doing even though it may seem so to the viewer. The next scene is in the hospital, where the doctors know that the Nazis are coming to kill their patients, but instead of letting them die at the hands of the Nazis they euthanase them.

This is a very touching scene because it is easy to see that the patients are very weak and even need help drinking the poison, but is even easier to see that they are incredibly grateful towards the doctors for assisting them get out of life before they have to experience the horror of being murdered. The soldiers arrive at the hospital and rush up the stairs hoping to catch them off guard. Shadows bounce off the walls as they progress higher. They look like grotesque monsters, which seems to reflect what the soldiers have become.

But the doctors are ready and stand at the back with their heads held high, knowing that they may not have defeated them but with the knowledge that they have foiled the soldiers’ plans to murder blameless people. The white of the hospital suggests the innocence of the people there, but when the Nazis come they shoot the beds to check if they are dead and the dark blood that spreads across the sheets from the bullet wounds is a metaphor for the darkness that is quickly spreading across the ghetto and overpowering the Jews.

Then we see an innocent little girl who is completely alone. This is possibly the most important part of this episode. The audience find themselves wondering where her parents are, and the terrible nature of the film encourages the viewer to imagine the gruesome end that her parents might have suffered and that she might eventually suffer herself. It is also the only section of the film that has any colour, which is in the little girl’s red coat. That is the first thing that the audience notices.

Then we see her walking in completely the opposite way from the streams of other people, and the camera is focused solely on her, leading us to believe that she is somehow a vital part of this story. No guards make any move to stop her; it is as if she is invisible. The contrapuntal and non-diegetic sound in this scene is of a choir of children, contrasting with the clashes and shouts and gunshots in the background. It is a heart-in-the-mouth moment because it feels as if at any time someone is going to turn around and shoot her, but it passes and she quietly slips into a building and runs into a room and hides under the bed.

It is at this point that the viewer knows that she is not going to live because the colour slowly fades from her coat into a grey; it is as if the hope has faded from her. In conclusion it can be said that the “liquidation of the ghetto” scene is extremely effective in portraying the plight of the Jews because it examines what it would have been like to experience it. Steven Spielberg does this by using lots of different methods like different camera shots and digetic and non-digetic sound which gives it a unique and personal feel.

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