Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Schindler's List' Marks Departure for Spielberg

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

`Schindler's List' Marks Departure for Spielberg

Article excerpt

FEW moviegoers would seriously question Steven Spielberg's skills as a film entertainer. He has crafted several of the top-earning movies of all time, and his name has become a household word for children of all ages.

What many moviegoers do question is Spielberg's depth and seriousness as an artist. Most of his biggest hits, from "Jaws" to "Jurassic Park," resemble wide-screen video games - full of snap and crackle, but intellectually empty and emotionally thin. When he has tried his hand with an adult theme, as in "The Color Purple" and "Empire of the Sun," he has approached his ambitious material with the same 12-year-old mind that presides over his emptyheaded blockbusters.

Which is why Spielberg's new movie, "Schindler's List," is such an astounding and glorious surprise. Out of the blue, the childlike auteur of "E.T." and the "Indiana Jones" epics has tackled the most challenging and troubling subject of our century - the Holocaust in all its shock, terror, and misery - and endowed the story with a subtlety and resonance that have rarely been so much as hinted at in his previous pictures.

True, traces of his bad habits show through at certain moments, especially near the end, when a long and lachrymose scene plunges into Spielbergian sentimentality of the gooiest kind. But before that unfortunate point, "Schindler's List" serves up three full hours of brilliant storytelling that's as humane and compassionate as it is gripping and provocative.

Based on actual events as chronicled in a book by Thomas Keneally, the movie focuses on Oskar Schindler, a loyal member of the Nazi party and a cunning industrialist with a clever idea for making lots of money. Since his government has declared war on the Jews of Europe, seizing their property and subjecting them to escalating torments, he will start an enamel-works factory staffed with low-wage laborers from the Krakow ghetto.

This scheme works fine until Schindler's work force is moved from the ghetto to a labor camp - whereupon the wily entrepreneur draws on his Nazi connections and relocates his factory to the middle of the camp, where it now cranks out artillery shells to aid the war effort.

Snags arise in his operation now and then - when the commander of the camp indulges his fondness for murder by shooting at Schindler's employees, for instance, and when a trainload of "Schindler Jews" is inadvertently routed to the Auschwitz death camp. But generally the plan works out as Schindler intended, making him a wealthy and powerful member of the Nazi elite.

What nobody bargained on - including Schindler himself - is that the horror of the Holocaust would prove too appalling for even his well-developed psychological armor to shield him from its impact. Spurred by the events he witnesses every day, including the psychotic violence of the camp commander who has become his friend and confidant, Schindler slowly realizes that his role in the Third Reich could be very different from what it is. …

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