Steven Spielberg had a banner year in 1993. He scored one of his biggest commercial hits that summer with the mega-hit Jurassic Park, but it was the artistic and critical triumph of Schindler’s List that Spielberg called “the most satisfying experience of my career.” Adapted from the best-selling book by Thomas Keneally and filmed in Poland with an emphasis on absolute authenticity, Spielberg’s masterpiece ranks among the greatest films ever made about the Holocaust during World War II. It’s a film about heroism with an unlikely hero at its center–Catholic war profiteer Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who risked his life and went bankrupt to save more than 1,000 Jews from certain death in concentration camps.
By employing Jews in his crockery factory manufacturing goods for the German army, Schindler ensures their survival against terrifying odds. At the same time, he must remain solvent with the help of a Jewish accountant (Ben Kingsley) and negotiate business with a vicious, obstinate Nazi commandant (Ralph Fiennes) who enjoys shooting Jews as target practice from the balcony of his villa overlooking a prison camp. Schindler’s List gains much of its power not by trying to explain Schindler’s motivations, but by dramatizing the delicate diplomacy and determination with which he carried out his generous deeds.
As a drinker and womanizer who thought nothing of associating with Nazis, Schindler was hardly a model of decency; the film is largely about his transformation in response to the horror around him. Spielberg doesn’t flinch from that horror, and the result is a film that combines remarkable humanity with abhorrent inhumanity–a film that functions as a powerful history lesson and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit in the context of a living nightmare. –Jeff Shannon