Critique: Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg’s film Schindler’s List (1993) is a docudrama about the Holocaust which took place during the Second World war. because the genre of the movie is docudrama, the film combines elements of history with elements of narrative fiction. This means that while certain events and people depicted in the film are based on historical fact, the film as a whole is also created out of an artistic sense of narrative. This is one of the main ways that the docudrama genre is different than a straight documentary. Also, due to the fact that the film is based in fact, but intended to be a work of narrative art, the techniques of the films such as mise-en-scéne, cinematography, editing, sound and performances are used primarily as expresive devices, rather than primarily as techniques for conveying historical relaism. That said, the use of realism is part of the film, but as the following examination will show, the realism of teh film is another means by which expressive emotion is conveyed.

The movie is based very deeply on its use of mise-en-scéne. It is probably the case for most viewers that if they like the mise-en-scéne of the film, then they will probably feel the film is a very strong work of artistic expression and emotional storytelling. If, on the other hand, the visual narration of the film is off-putting to an individual viewer, then that viewer will likely feel that the film has failed both in terms of artistry and message. that is how significant the use of mise-en-scéne is in the movie. The most immediate consideration in this regard is the fact that Spiel berg chose to shoot most of the film in black and white to give the overall feeling of a documentary. Furthermore, the sue of the visual textures of the film was used in a very linear way to elicit emotion from the audience and to give film a dimension of stark realism.


For example, during some of the death-camp scenes, smoke can be viewed rising in the bcakground in an eerie black and white shodwoing that elicits chills. This is the way that Speilberg uses a visual language throughout the film that is partly based on the use of symbols such aasthe sue of smoke to suggest the rising souls of the massacred Jews. Another aspect of his visual language is simply tone and texture. This is evident in the famous scene where Spielberg adds color only to the coat of a single figure in the pictire: that of a small child being led to the death camps. Spielberg uses this vibrant visual image to show the simultaneous feeling of danger and death. It is also used to show the vibrant life that si being taken coldly by the Nazi persecutaors. The dramatic use of color is a flagrant break with the overall documentary tone of the filma and this break is mean to convey the intrusion of emotion and humanity on the naked facts of the tragedy.

That said, it si entirely possible that some viewers might find the use of black and white imagery too obvious adn tehrefore dull. In the same manner, some vieweres might find Spielberg’s dramataic use of color is select scenes equally obvious and, in fact, if they do not like the approach, they might find it silly. The worst case scenario is that a viewer might find Spielberg’s stylized approach to mise-en-scéne to be pandering or even close to cute.   Speilberg also uses other obvious visual cues and symbols, such as out-of-focus backgrounds, hand-held camera footage, and fast-cuts to show the combination of disorientation and frantic chaos that was part of the Holocaust. Again, while this kind of mise-en-scéne is meant to transform the images on the film to direct emotional meaning, many viewers may find it off-putting.

Obviously, the use of visual cues and symbolic imagery is closely tied to the film’s cinematography. As previously mentioned, the cinematography begins with kind of shots and style that would typically be associated with a documentary. The film then incorporates variations of this kind of cinematography for dramatic impact. The overall impact is one that is part “newsreel” and part intimate portrait. The one problem that seems to persist for the cinematography of the film is its potentially accidental beauty. that is to say some shots are so visually appealing and harmonious that they are in danger of appearing ironic given the film’s subject matter. The cinematography of the film is very closely aligned to the visual symbology previously mentioned. Both of these aspects of the film are deeply connected to a third aspect of the film: editing.

The editing of the film is very interesting and is important in the way that the story is told. Spielberg uses a technique that is called parallel editing in the film. This means that dual or multiple scenes are threaded together in a kind of montage. the way in which the scenes contrast or resonate with one another adds an extra dimension and layer of meaning to the story. In a basic way, Spielberg uses parallel editing to show dramatic contrast between the happy lives of the Germans and the destroyed lives of the Jews. One solid example of this is the way the Spielberg connects the scenes of Schindler’s birthday with the scenes of a Jewish wedding in a labor camp. The use of this kind of editing throughout the film is not only an appropriate approach to the story, but one which enables the two sides of the Holocaust to be compared side-by-side. Just as Spielberg’s use of black and white and color may have seemed too obvious for some viewers, the use of parallel editing may seem obvious.

The use of sound and music was also very important in the film. However, in this regard it might correctly be suggested that the sound and the music of the film simply made it more possible for dramatic silences to work in the film. In my personal opinion the sound and music of the film was one of its weakest aspects. I felt that John Williams’ score was uninspired and while the feelings that the music was meant to bring out in the audience was tightly coordinated to the scenes of the film, the music just simply failed to stand out for me. All in all I found the imagery of the film to be executed at a more meaningful level than the films sound.

In final analysis I would give the film a rating of two and one-half stars. I think that the subject matter of the film is very difficult and I question whether or not Spielberg’s decision to use a ‘faux-documentary” approach was the best way to tackle the theme. That said, I did find the film to be an enjoyable experience to a limited extent. the weighty subject-matter just seemed to be so over-matched to the techniques used in the film. Obviously my reaction to the film in some ways is an outcome of my own personal biases and preferences. For one thing, I’m not generally a Spielberg fan.

This means that any film he directs has an extra hurdle to cross for me. Another bias I might have is that, while I’m familiar with World War Two history, the history of the Holocaust has always been something I’v avoided studying. I’m not disposed to watching such sad and tragic topics. Taking the class has convinced me that films are much more than entertainment: they are art and expression. However, I also like th experience of being taken away from the world of tragedy a problems that we face each day in our lives and movies are often a good method for achieving this. In the case of Schindler’s List the approach used by Spielberg is one that is supposed to be disturbing and haunting as is evident in is use of editing, cinematography, visual symbols, and narrative in the film.