Heart of Darkness

Ghosts in their millions haunt Steven Spielberg's powerful Schindler's List

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The result of this relentless passion is not perfect. What enterprise of this scope and intensity possibly could be? In concentrating on the scope of their suffering, the film has lost a certain particularity among the victims. It lacks highly individual characters who would embody and dramatize their suffering. Something of Schindler himself has also been lost in the transition to the screen. Keneally conceived him as a man who admired his own cleverness and may have derived the same sardonic pleasure from taking Jews away from the Nazis as he did from taking money away from them in exchange for flawed products.

This is a point made more tacitly than explicitly in the film. Missing * entirely is Keneally's tantalizing suggestion that this quite untutored man may have somehow imagined before anyone else (including many Nazis) that the drift of their policies could carry them to only one place -- genocide. Added to the movie, unfortunately, is a blatantly sentimental concluding scene in which Schindler breaks down hysterically because he might have saved even more people but did not. Keneally is distressed by that passage. But he also, and correctly, insists the movie "isn't at all untrue to the spirit of Schindler . . . to that ambiguity that attracted me to him in the first place -- the scoundrel savior." More important, the movie arrives when it is very obviously needed. The few survivors of the Holocaust are old now, and dying, and the task of remembering, of testifying, must pass to members of Spielberg's generation and others still younger. It is a hopeful sign, perhaps, that the new Holocaust Museum in Washington is being taxed by more visitors than it can handle. It is a less hopeful sign that this year a public-opinion poll revealed nearly 25% of young Americans either have not heard of the Holocaust or are uncertain of what the term means. Here and elsewhere around the world, pseudo-scholars argue that it never happened at all, and there are people happy to hear this mad denial.

In this climate, Spielberg claims "no high expectations for the box-office potential" of his movie. But these days, acts of conscience (Spielberg will donate any profits, or "blood money" as he calls it, to Holocaust charities) have their curiosity value, not to mention Oscar value. He may yet be surprised by his film's power to create answering acts of conscientiousness on the part of moviegoers. He may be surprised -- happily and deservedly so.

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