In response to:
A Dissent on 'Schindler's List' from the April 21, 1994 issue
To the Editors:
It was with considerable relief that I read Jason Epstein’s thoughtful comments on Schindler’s List. I found it hard to understand the almost universal acclaim that greeted the film when it seemed to me to have several demonstrable flaws.
Despite the black-and-white photography and the well-researched historical details, Schindler’s List remains a Hollywood production. By relying on the traditional entertainment-industry formula of sex, violence, and sentiment, Spielberg undermines the film’s serious message. For instance, the movie indulges in what I call “Holocaust porn.” The juxtaposition of sexually explicit scenes with those depicting the physical degradation of the camps exploits rather than condemns the sadomasochistic fantasies that are an inherent danger of the subject.
When it comes to conveying the sheer random brutality of the Final Solution, Spielberg is unconvincing. On the one hand, an audience already inured to violence in film is subjected to the most graphic images of cruelty and bloodshed. The presentation of the victims, on the other hand, is stylized. The performers—largely good-looking ones at that—hide in spotlighted latrines or, worst of all, comfort one another with balletic grace in the gas chamber. In Schindler, himself, Spielberg had a genuine dramatic foil through whom the grotesque events could have been adumbrated without these awkwardly staged approximations.
Finally, the film is unrelievedly sentimental. Schindler was an enigmatic hero. Although the survivors have attested to his humanity, he was also a cagy individual profiting from his clever manipulation of the machinery of persecution. His gestures toward the Jews should have retained their ambiguous edge up to and including his ironically ignominious exit.
Sentimentality also marred the conclusion of the film with its triumphal march of the survivors. Spielberg has said that he made the film to affirm his pride in being a Jew. As a Jew myself, I seriously question whether surviving the Holocaust serves that purpose.
New York City
June 9, 1994