Steven Spielberg

Why I Dislike "Schindler's List"

I have long been a sometimes unreasonable antagonist against Steven Spielberg's Schindler's List. It's a film about the Holocaust with an ideologically ironic Master Narrative feel, and Oskar is presented as an I know/You don't, I am/You aren't, I have/you want relationship to Jews individually and collectively. The power dynamic gets sexualized (Oskar is physically attracted to a Jew's weakness in connection with his strength - although he knows the difference is merely a result of the era and will change later). The film uses Oskar relentlessly as a focalizer of our view, and so (despite what I take to be Spielberg's good intentions) this movie gives us the Holocaust of a German (indeed a member of the Nazi Party) when so many other perspectives are narratively possible. When we see the little girl in the red coat, we see her only and precisely from Oskar's point of view (which is to say Spielberg's) and there is no visual choice. We see what he wants us to see. In an otherwise black and white film (pseudo-documentary) her coat is painted red. Get it? Sure, we get it and how can we see anything else. It's a fascistic camera. No formal replication of the chaos, the utter chaos, the multiple views, the self-reflexivity, the varying degrees of complicity, the painful-to-watchness, the who-knows-what's-happening historiography of works like Maus or Shoah.

In '94 the Village Voice hosted a terrific symposium on the film. To me this is the finest way of understanding the issues the film raises about representations of the Holocaust.

Gertrude Koch, a panelist, says, "Who has the power? Who has the power to give life or death? That's what the film's about. I think the film is very friendly toward the concept of sovereignty, in the sense that Spielberg is always reproducing it."

Click here and read the whole symposium.

"Schindler's List" redux

Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, black & white

Three students' response to Schindler's List:

Lily: Rather than acknowledge this and do something like direct his artistic vision to conveying th[e problem of] inefficacy [of representations of the Holocaust generally] by, for example, dizzying us with an overwhelming amount of images and scenes or using unconventional camera angles or resisting one story line, Spielberg ploughs through, wants to pass off his movie as an 'accurate' portrayal, and that's that.

Rachel: Schindler’s List is not only easy because it tells us what to feel. It is easy because it tells us to feel obvious and uncomplicated emotions. The terrible contradictions and the ambiguity of moral questions are largely forgotten in his film. Schindler’s List is a blockbuster, with some interesting characters; but I don't think it represents the experience of the Holocaust victim.

Sami: As I watch Schindler's List I can't help thinking that a movie representation of the Holocaust is the least effective way of getting us to understand the X. Whereas Levi and Wiesel struggle with bearing witness, Spielberg is thinking about how to make an intriguing, compelling story. How can you take the occurrences of the Holocaust and try to produce the story for an audience? How can you hire actors who cannot possibly understand the X to pretend they were part of the Holocaust? The more I think about these questions, the more I find the film offensive and presumptuous. That's just my initial reaction....

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