“Influence is a matter of circumstance and luck: what we are shown and what we stumble upon in those brief years when our hearts and minds are fully open.”1-Ann Patchett
Those brief childhood years Patchett describes are over for me, and that’s how I know no film will ever impact me like Schindler’s List.
It shot through me when I was twelve years old and wide open.
After the film, my mother and I had planned to go shopping.
Maybe we talked, but in my memory we made the drive to Kaufmann’s in total silence, having not spoken a word since we walked out of the theater.
She pulled into the parking lot. We didn’t get out of the car.
“Let’s just go home,” my mother said. I nodded.
When we arrived home I got in bed and slept for the rest of the day.
I haven’t seen Schindler’s List in 28 years—despite often saying I’d like to revisit it as an adult, I don’t have the heart. To rewatch the moment when Schindler—who has done so much for the Jews, at great personal cost—breaks down because he did not do more, lamenting that he could’ve sold his car or his pin to save more lives.
Or to watch the epilogue when real-life survivors from Schindler’s factory—now old and gray—place stones on the real Schindler’s grave. A reminder that the Holocaust was not yet history—those who had lived through it still walked the earth.
Even now, it’s not as far behind us as we like to pretend.
At twelve, I didn’t have the words to explain how confusing it is that mankind is capable of such great evil and great courage.
I still don’t.
1From Ann Patchett’s essay To the Doghouse (which is not about Schindler’s List in any way), reprinted in her collection These Precious Days.
This is part of my Movies I’m Grateful For series, running daily through the month of November.
Other films include: Splash | New Moon | The Lucky One | Thelma and Louise | Katy Perry: Part of Me | Crazy Rich Asians | Under the Tuscan Sun | Terminator 2 | Moulin Rouge! | How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days | Practical Magic |
Very powerful film, also worth a look at the book which has several dramatic stories that didn’t make the cut. Used to take schoolkids to see this; while a shocking film, it’s one way to help young people understand the dangers of fascism.
Completely agree that school kids should see it. There are lots of films about the Holocaust, but I imagine this one haunts everyone one who sees it. Which is good, we should be haunted by it.
It’s not a film to be treated casually, and I’m not sure when I’d be ready to watch again. But the first watch is a game-changer. I remember walking back to my car thinking nothing would be the same again after seeing this.
Yes, exactly. It’s not something you’re going to “flip channels” around and think, “oh I’ll finish watching this, nothing else going on.” It transcends mere film. For me, it’s in a box in my mind separate from every other movie.
Would have been interesting to see what Billy Wilder would have done if he’d managed to make it first. I don’t think it’s perfect, and it does have famous detractors, like Mamet, but I’m with you on this; it’s a one off, and one of the most important films every made.
I had to look up Mamet’s critique; I wasn’t familiar with it.
My knee jerk reaction is to push back on it, but instead I’m going to think about it for awhile. I’ve got a distaste for films like “Life is Beautiful” because I feel they don’t take their subject matter seriously enough. If you’re going to make a film about the Holocaust, it should be made with the gravatas of SL. It should crush people emotionally.
If he wants to make the point that films should not be made about the Holocaust at all, well, maybe.
And I have to think about the “white savior” argument.
Such a great movie, Liam Neeson at his best before he became action man. It should be on the school curriculum.
Agree completely. This is a story that we need to never stop telling.