Bruce R. Magee
July 1998


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Voices in the Chorus

"I can't wager Helen in a card game." Amon Goeth (Spielberg)
But that is exactly what Hauptsturmführer Goeth eventually does. In a scene that parallels the book fairly closely, Schindler wants to put Goeth's Jewish maid, Helen Hirsch, on the list. Because he is fond of Helen, Goeth is reluctant to let her go, preferring to shoot her himself when the time comes. Schindler finally convinces Goeth to play a hand of 21, with the winner getting Helen. This vignette symbolizes the status of all the Schindlerjuden in the movie as chips in a card game played by others. More than most modern movies or drama, Schindler's List uses the ancient device of the chorus. The film has two choruses: the Jews and the Germans. Each chorus has a leader, a choragus to represent the other members on an individual basis. Itzhak Stern represents the Jews, Amon Goeth the Germans. The need for one figure to serve as the representative of the chorus led Spielberg to make Stern a composite figure whose adventures span those of several characters in the book, including those of the historical Stern (Fogel). In creating these choruses, Spielberg streamlines and to some degree stereotypes the Germans and Jews he finds in Keneally (Kuspit). Once again, the changes Spielberg makes tend to bring the movie into harmony with the monomythic plot structure identified by Jewett and Lawrence. Spielberg's choruses thus become versions of the harmless townsfolk and evil gunmen familiar to any fan of westerns. This device has attracted a due amount of criticism.

Spielberg's simplistic view of heroes and villains, his unproblematical approach to a topic that reveals a profound horror by seeing its complexity, is at the root of the film's error. The savagery of Nazism isn't to be located in the whims of a deranged brute, but in assumptions nascent within our entire civilization. Nazism was a manifestation of a political, economic, and philosophical world view that still is implicated deeply in our basic institutions. It is precisely the type of phenomenon that Hollywood is ill-equipped and uninterested in representing. (Sharrett 2)
Choruses have traditionally tended toward passivity. This is ironic, given that they preceded and gave rise to drama in ancient Greece. In the Dionysian festivals, choruses probably sang of traditional myths. Eventually a few individuals standing apart from the chorus began to act out the stories. The tendency even in Greece was for the importance of the chorus to diminish and of the actors to increase (Mendell 124-125). In Senecan drama, the chorus does not always play a significant role in the action, nor is it always onstage. He tends to use the chorus to mark the divisions between the acts and to dispense stoic observations (Mendell 129, 134-135). Such a role accentuates the passivity of the chorus. "Seneca's Chorus seems to have been invariably absent during the process of the action" (Cunliffe 35). The same is true for much of Schindler's List. If the trend in which Seneca participated tended to disembody the chorus, Spielberg re-embodies the chorus with a vengeance. When the German and Jewish choruses come together, people suffer and die. We see the Jews beaten, shot, disinterred, cremated, their teeth piled up to have gold fillings removed. We see the Jews herded, forced into cattle cars, stripped of clothing, and paraded for inspection. Yet the action that matters the most takes place elsewhere.

The primary action takes place between Schindler and those he encounters, especially Amon Goeth, his "dark double and dangerous antagonist" (Schickel), his "dark brother" (Keneally 171). Senecan drama is full of larger-than-life figures who take action while others watch. Such characters fit into the stoic philosophy as well. Stoic writings are full of this elementary conviction that men are either actors on a stage or witnesses in the orchestra" (Rosenmeyer 50). Schindler and Goeth play out their drama while the little people watch. In this movie, the term "little people" applies literally. Schindler and Goeth were big men in real life. Neeson and Fiennes, who play them in the movie, tower over others to the point that Sharrett redubs the movie Schindler and the Seven Dwarfs (Sharrett).

In addition to making his Jewish chorus passive, Spielberg simplifies both choruses, playing to stereotypes and removing most of the moral ambiguities that Keneally depicted. Gone are the Germans bureaucrats and industrialists who aided Schindler because they sympathized with his cause. Raimund Titsch, for example, risked his own life to smuggle food into P aszów to feed the prisoners in the factory he managed (Keneally 18). Later he would help Schindler write the list, which included Jews from both men's factories (Keneally 291). Spielberg transfers the job of helping compose the list to the Jewish Stern. In the movie, the Germans who aid Schindler do so because of his willingness to show them "gratitude," that is, to give them bribes. Goeth in particular offers to help Schindler keep a factory apart from the P asz˘w work camp because, "You know the meaning of the word 'gratitude'" (Spielberg).

Spielberg streamlines the Jewish chorus also. We do see the Jews frequently outwitting the Nazis, but primarily in passive terms. Thus the movie preserves Poldek Pfefferberg's escape the wrath of Goeth, his men, and his dogs, which he accomplished by stacking luggage and pretending he had been ordered to do so. Goeth was amused because Pfefferberg, a former member of the Polish army, had come to attention and clicked his heels to give his report. "Of all today's doomed, not one other had tried heel- clicking" (Keneally 187). Goeth dismissed this "little Polish clicking soldier" (Keneally 188). What we do NOT see in the movie is this "little Polish clicking solder" become part of a squad of fifteen commandos in Brinnlitz training with weapons supplied be Schindler (Keneally 347). Spielberg reduces the moral ambiguities of the Jewish experience. The Jewish police are corrupt in the movie, but that corruption generally works in favor of the other Jews, as the corrupt policeman takes bribes to release Jews into Schindler's care. Omitted are the officers who turned in other Jews, who extorted money, who helped clear the ghetto, and who beat other Jews (Keneally 96, 99). So too at the end of the movie, the Schindlerjuden mark their liberation by walking abreast over a hill to the sound of music, in what seems almost a grim parody of scenes from The Sound of Music. In Keneally's account, they mark the departure of Schindler and the SS by lynching an unpopular German Kapo, a prisoner who had been given authority over other prisoners (Keneally 376). Spielberg focuses moral ambiguity in his hero, Oskar Schindler.

Heroes, Villains, and the Senecan Self

"This storm is different. This storm is not the Romans. This storm is the SS." German officer (Spielberg)

Under the aegis of sumpatheia, a Senecan character is largely a bundle of drives found elsewhere in the world. (Rosenmeyer 177)

Why would a philosopher concerned with dismissing the passions of the heart and being ruled by reason (Seneca, De Ira 1. 17. 1-7) write plays so full of "revenge, tyranny, and furor" (Miola 175)? Braden tries to go beyond the reductionistic answer that they serve simply as negative exempla of what we should avoid. Instead, he sees the same drive producing both the stoic hero and the madman the will to power (30). The stoic is inspired by the hope of being more than "a bundle of drives found elsewhere in the world" (Rosenmeyer 177). Stoic calm and aloofness is a strategy for establishing the self and declaring independence from circumstances which one cannot control (Braden 219). The goal was to rule over oneself as a king ruled a kingdom, to establish in oneself the "kingdom of the soul" (Arnold 239), which Walker Percy has called "the wintry kingdom of self" (Percy 85). The individual would thus be immune to the injuries inflicted by the outside world (Seneca, De Ira 3. 5. 8).

The madman is other side of the coin, directing the same drives toward the outside world. Such a villain tries to impose his or her will on the outside world, to right the wrongs he or she had suffered. Passion fuels this drive to conquer the world, but the same passion also conquers the one who indulges it. Especially dangerous is the passion of anger. Seneca follows the Aristotelian definition of anger that it is a reaction to a perceived injury (Seneca, De Ira 1. 3. 1-5; Aristotle, De Anima 403. a. 30).

In the movie, Oskar argues that wrath and clemency are two sides of the same coin, just as the movie presents him and Goeth as mirror images, the reverse of each other. At one point, it does so literally; each man is alternately shown shaving, dressed alike in t-shirts. Later as Goeth draws near to Helen Hirsch to kiss her, a woman draws near to Schindler to kiss him. Keneally portrays the Goeth-Schindler relationship in much more negative terms than does Spielberg. "There had in fact never been a time when to sit and drink with Amon had not been a repellent business" (Keneally 15). He uses terms like "loathing," "revulsion," and "abomination" to describe Schindler's attitude toward Goeth (15). Keneally's Schindler is thus a far cry from the Schindler of the movie who defends his friend Goeth to his other friend Stern. Yet even Keneally calls Goeth Schindler's "dark brother" (Keneally 171). If there is a brotherhood, it is the brotherhood of the power of life and death. At one point, Schindler tempts Goeth to exercise his power for to spare rather than to kill, explaining that what makes their power frightening is its arbitrary nature. The implication is that sparing others can be more fearsome than killing them, and more powerful.

Schindler: Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don't.
Goeth: You think that's power?
Schindler: That's what the emperors had. A man stole something. He's brought in before the emperor; he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for mercy. He knows he's going to die. And the emperor pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.
Goeth: I think you are drunk.
Schindler: That's power, Amon. That is power. Amon the good.
Goeth: I pardon you. [laughing] (Spielberg)

Seneca held up a similar example to his pupil Nero. Augustus found that Lucius [actually Gnaeus] Cinna, a "dull-witted man," (stolidi ingenii virum) was plotting against him. Having put down several such plots only to have other such plots arise, he decided to try a new approach. He pardoned Cinna, who responded to this action by becoming Augustus' loyal subject. Furthermore, the other plots against Augustus stopped (Seneca, De Clementia 1. 9. 1-12).

Ignovit abavus tuus victis; nam si non ignovisset, quibus imperasset? (Seneca, De Clementia 1. 10. 1)

"Your great-great-grandfather pardoned the defeated; for if he had not pardoned, over whom would he have ruled?"

Rather than exercise such pardon, the Nazis preferred to make a desert and call it Judenfrei. In the movie, Goeth's pardoning mood lasted until the next morning, when his sadism re- asserted itself and he killed a boy for not removing the ring from Goeth's bathtub. His furor is raging out of control.

According to Seneca, even if it could be controlled, anger would still not be beneficial. But once started, anger by its nature is beyond control (Seneca, De Ira 1. 7. 1-4). Therefore the person is out of control.

Optimum est primum irritamentum irae protinus spernere ipsisque repugnare seminibus et dare operam, ne incidamus in iram.

It is best to spurn immediately the first incitement of anger and to fight against its very seeds, and to commit ourselves lest we fall into anger. (Seneca, De Ira 1. 8. 1)

Seneca agrees with those philosophers who have called anger a temporary insanity (brevem insaniam; De Ira 1. 1. 2). He further warns that because there is no end of wrongs in the world, the wise person who once begins to be angry will never stop (Seneca, De Ira 2. 9. 1). Such is the spirit of Senecan characters Atreus and Medea, such too the spirit of Amon Goeth.

Amon Goeth

Goeth is marked in the film, as well as in history, as one who finds causes for anger everywhere he looks. When he first arrives in the P asz˘w work camp, it is under construction. A Jewish woman is the engineer, and she advises Goeth that he needs to re-pour a foundation. For this act, Goeth has her summarily executed (figure 5). When Goeth is displeased with the number of hinges that Rabbi Levartov has made in a morning, he tries to shoot the Rabbi, only to have two guns jam, increasing his anger even more (figure 6). He shoots a woman for stopping to tie her shoe, a man for refusing to report who had tried to smuggle a chicken into camp. Ralph Fiennes plays a chilling Amon Goeth in the movie, and plays him to the point that some people have had trouble distinguishing him from the real thing.

Execution of the woman engineer.
Figure 5. Execution of the woman engineer (Schickel).

Trying to shoot the Rabbi.
Figure 6. Trying to shoot the Rabbi (Schickel).

During last winter's grueling shoot in Poland, Fiennes vacuumed up nuggets of Goethiana from every source: newsreels, Thomas Keneally's Schindler novel, testimony by the Schindler Jews. But he needed no research to feel the chill of hatred in his bones; simply by appearing in his Nazi uniform he enlisted volunteers of bigotry. "The Germans were charming people," a sweet-faced woman told him. "They didn't kill anybody who didn't deserve it."

When Fiennes, in full Hauptsturmführer regalia, was introduced by Spielberg to Mila Pfefferberg, a Schindler survivor depicted in the film, the old lady trembled. "Her knees began to give out from under her," Spielberg recalls. "I held her while Ralph enthused about how important it was for him to meet her -- and she vibrated with terror. She didn't see an actor. She saw Amon Goeth." (Corliss)

As evil as Fiennes makes Goeth in his portrait, the real Goeth was more evil still. "The real Amon Goeth . . . was an artist of evil grandly deranged, creatively sadistic. He would set his dogs on children and watch them be devoured" (Corliss). In the words of Poldek Pfefferberg, "When you saw Goeth, you saw death" (Keneally 360; figures 7 and 8).

Fiennes' Goeth running with soldiers & dogs.
Figure 7. "When you saw Goeth, you saw death."--Poldek Pfferberg (Internet Movie Database).

The real Amon Goeth on horseback.
Figure 8. Amon Goeth on horseback. (Holocaust Museum).

THAT Goeth is as "grandly deranged" and "creatively sadistic" as any character from Seneca seems indisputable. But WHY he is so needs clarification. Goeth has not received the harm from Jews that would seem to be necessary for a Senecan understanding of his anger in Senecan terms. However, the traditional explanation of the causes of anger leaves room for the perception of harm. Nazi propaganda used mass media effectively to enhance traditional European anti-Semitism and to the Jews in terms of evil, treachery, disease, and vermin. Propagandists used radio, posters, pamphlets, and even movies such as Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew; figure 9 ewigejud.gif). Keneally describes the posters and banners that the Germans posted in Poland and elsewhere. "Jews Lice Typhus," the billboard depicting a virginal Polish girl handing food to a hook-nosed Jew whose shadow was the shadow of the Devil. "Whoever helps a Jew helps Satan." Outside groceries hung pictures of Jews mincing rats into pies, watering milk, pouring lice into pastry, kneading dough with filthy feet. (Keneally 97)

One common thread of these images is the fear of pollution. Jews pollute the food supply, they pollute others through disease, rats, and lice, and most of all, they pollute through miscegenation. Seduction of the Aryan leads to racial impurity, preventing the hoped for apotheosis of the German race. This, along with the Jewish Marxist plot, would deny "the aristocratic principle of nature" (aristokratische Prinzip der Natur; Hitler 69) to the German people, preventing them from taking their rightful place in the pantheon. So like Hercules, they rage at those who thwart their apotheosis.

en ultro vocat

omnis deorum coetus et laxat fores,

una vetante. recipis et reseras polum?

an contumacis ianuam mundi traho? (Seneca, Hercules Furens 962-964)

Beyond this, the whole

assemblage of the gods calls me and opens the doors,

with one forbidding. Will you unbolt the heavens and receive me? Or shall I drag down the gate of that obstinate world?

Goeth himself sees the Jews as a danger. He explains their seductive power to an official who is holding Schindler in prison because he kissed a Jewish woman. In the scene, he is subconsciously talking about himself and the feelings he has toward Helen Hirsch, his Jewish maid. Jews are dangerous because they seem so much like people.

I would like so much to reach out and touch you in your loneliness. What would that be like, I wonder? What would be wrong with that? I realize that you're not a person in the strictest sense of the word, but, um, maybe you're right about that too. Maybe what's wrong, it's not us, it's this. I mean, when they compare you to vermin, to rodents, and to lice. I just, uh, you make a good point. You make a very good point. Is this the face of a rat? Are these the eyes of a rat? "Hath not a Jew eyes?" I feel for you, Helen. [leaning to kiss her] No, I don't think so. You Jewish bitch, you nearly talked me into it, didn't you? (Spielberg)

Unable to touch Helen in love, Goeth's only acceptable outlet is to beat her violently. In his monologue, Goeth quotes Shakespeare's Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. Shylock's speech is Senecan in Braden's sense that it marks the convergence of rhetoric and selfhood. Shylock reveals a Thyestian sense of injury and lust for blood as he explains what he will do with his pound of flesh and why he wants it. To bait fish withal if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgrac'd me, and hind'red me half a million, laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorn'd my nation, thwarted my bargains, cool'd my friends, heated mine enemies; and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal'd by the same means, warm'd and cool'd by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. (Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice III. i. 53-67, 71-73)

Shylock's is thus "the voice of affronted selfhood staking its claim" (Braden 136). Spielberg's Goeth momentarily pauses in his rampage and listens to the voice of his victims.

For a crucial moment, on the face of actor Ralph Fiennes, evil pauses to consider itself. Could I have a decent feeling? Could I love this base creature, this beautiful thing, this Jewess? Just as quickly, and subtly, Fiennes' face tells us no. Goeth's fists flail out, not so much at Hirsch as at the recognition that he is doomed to solitude by his wickedness. (Corliss)

We, like Corliss, agree that Fiennes' Goeth is evil. Like many Hollywood villains, he seems to relish evil for its own sake. But within the world he inhabits, he is narrowly avoiding Hirsch's plot to tempt and pollute him. He returns to being the scourge of God exacting revenge against Jewish crimes. Hitler saw himself and his movement in these terms.

So glaube ich heute im Sinne des allmächtigen Schöpfers zu handeln: Indem ich mich des Juden erwehre, kämpfe ich für das Werk des herrn. (Hitler 70)

So I believe today that I act in the sense of the Almighty Creator: in that I myself guard against the Jews, I fight for the work of the Lord.

The desire to "better the instruction" (Shakespeare, Merchant III. i. 73) is part of the Senecan heritage. Senecan characters compete to outdo one another's crimes in seeking to avenge them. "You do not avenge crimes unless you surpass them" (Scelera non ulcisceris, / nisi vincis; Seneca, Thyestes 195-196). Later dramatists would compete with Seneca to outdo the crimes of his Thyestes (Braden 117), just as the Germans compete to outdo their predecessors. Thus in the party at the beginning of the film, one of the German officers boasts, "This storm is different. This storm is not the Romans. This storm is the SS." As Goeth prepares to liquidate the ghetto on March 13, 1943, he gives a chilling speech to his troops that shows the apocalyptic dimensions of his plans. In a speech that resonates as much with Orwell as with Seneca, he boasts that they will change not only the present and the future; but also the past.

Today is history. Today will be remembered. Years from now, the young will ask with wonder about this day. Today is history, and you are part of it. Six hundred years ago, when elsewhere they were footing the blame for the Black Plague, Kasmierz the Great, so called, told the Jews they could come to Krakow. They came. They trundled their belongings into the city. They settled; they took hold; they prospered in business, science, education, the arts. They came here with nothing. Nothing. And they flourished. For six centuries, there has been a Jewish Krakow. Think about that. By this evening, those six centuries are a rumor. They never happened. Today is history. (Spielberg)

Hitler's scourge has come to Krakow.

The scourge is part of the English dramatic tradition, going back to the Herod's ranting on the medieval stage. This tradition merged with the Senecan tradition on the Renaissance stage with characters like Marlowe's Tamburlaine (Braden 195). Such figures developed on the stages of other European countries, such as Spain and France, with one important distinction. In France or Spain, these characters might or might not die in the pursuit of their revenge. On the English stage, however, the scourge almost always must die (Braden 201-202). The work of inflicting God's wrath on others also draws it to oneself.

The office of scourge, of course, entails in most accounts a further burden; even for a good cause, what the scourge does is still sinful, and he will himself be destroyed when his work is done. (Braden 194)

American cinema, especially when following the monomythic plot structure, has generally followed the tradition that the villains must fail in the end, usually either going to jail or dying. The historical Goeth could conceivably have died quietly in Argentina or one of the other refuges Nazis sought out. Instead, he met an end fitting for cinematic conventions when he was executed in Krakow after the war, giving an unrepentant "Heil Hitler" before being hanged (Keneally 389-391).

Oskar Schindler

And so we come to Oskar Schindler. Why did he do it? Why did he rescue the Schindlerjuden? As in the case of Goeth, what he did is clearer than why. Keneally recounts that even those who knew him "will blink and shake their heads and begin the almost mathematical business of finding the sum of his motives. For one of the commonest sentiments of Schindler Jews is still 'I don't know why he did it'" (281). He speculates that his motives may have something to do with his love of gambling, his outrage at inhumanity, and his sentimentality, but he admits that all these do not add up to an answer (281).

For the movie, unlike real life or the novel, the answer is simpler. In a German interview, Spielberg explained why Schindler did it: he was "ein guter Mensch" (Niven). In translation, he did it because he was "a good man," but the translation into Hollywood parlance could be that he did it because "a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." This answer is not as flippant as it first sounds. Once he became a character in a Hollywood film, Schindler became the product of the interaction of Hollywood conventions with his own accomplishments. Reviewer Richard Schickel has recognized Spielberg's Schindler as a familiar kind of hero: "he was finally that classically empathetic, inspirational figure, the lone individual doing good in a desperately dangerous context" (Schickel). Other reviewers compare him to the Scarlet Pimpernal, to Rick Blain from Casablanca (Thomson), and to Rhett Butler (Sharret). Thus he joins a particular group of our culture's heroes: trickster figures and loveable scoundrels. These characters establish their heroic status by achieving their individual tasks. So the old Hollywood cliche amounts to saying that to be a hero (a "man"), one must behave heroically. Schindler acts as he does because he is the hero of the story.

Schindler acts. Drama has a traditional fondness for portraying actors. Seneca's Atreus is an actor of the first magnitude. Upon seeing his brother Thyestes for the first time in the play, Atreus' anger springs up. He compares it to a dog straining at its leash and concludes:

cum sperat ira sanguinem, nescit tegi;

tamen tegatur. (Seneca, Thyestes 504-505)

when fury hopes for blood, it does not know how to be concealed; nevertheless, let it be concealed.

Atreus has descendants in Richard III and Iago, Shakespeare's villains who use their acting ability to accomplish their evil schemes (Henry and Henry 66). The acting of evil men is not a problem for the discipline of ethics; their dissimulation is just another part of their overall evil character. But can a good man act, yet remain good? Schindler's acting is only one element of the moral ambiguity of his character.

[H]e was an (occasionally unscrupulous) opportunist, profiteer and black-marketeer, he enjoyed luxury, was a near-alcoholic and a rampant womanizer who disregarded his wife's feelings and welfare. Schindler seemed inherently ambivalent. (Niven)

Regarding the acting at least, Senecan ethics makes it not only acceptable but almost mandatory. The hero greets the world with a stoic mask. The wise leader will not allow anger to cloud his judgement. Even though he may at times have to spur the masses to anger, he will do so better by "playing the angry man well" (iratum bene agentes) than by truly becoming angry (Seneca, De Ira 2. 17. 1). Seneca frequently talks about the need for controlling the effects of anger on one's behavior; one then can control the anger itself (Seneca, De Ira 3. 13. 1). He demonstrates the possibility of controlling anger be citing examples of people who have done so. Socrates, considered a model by stoics, struggled to conceal his anger (3. 13. 3-7). Seneca recounts the story of Caligula and Pastor, a Roman equestrian. Caligula killed Pastor's son one day and invited Pastor to dine with him that night. Worried lest Caligula kill his other son, Pastor went and masked his emotion, even though when he drank the wine was "no different than if he were drinking his son's blood" (non aliter quam si fili sanguinem biberet; De Ira 2. 32. 2-6). Seneca relates that the king of Persia killed Harpagus' children and fed them to him in a banquet. After being informed of what had happened and asked what he thought of such a meal, Harpagus responded, "With the king, every meal is delightful" (Apud regem . . . omnis cena iucunda est. Seneca, De Ira 3. 15. 1-3). Seneca also tells of another father, Praexaspes, who advised his friend the king, Cambyses, to cut down on his drinking. Cambyses demonstrated his tolerance for alcohol by getting drunk and shooting the Praexaspes' son through the heart. Cambyses asked Praexaspes what he thought of the his marksmanship; Praexaspes replied that "Apollo himself would have been unable to shoot more accurately" (At ille negavit Apollinem potuisse certius mittere; De Ira 3. 14. 1-4). Even Seneca finally loses grows angry (or at least acts angry) with such a toady ("May the gods damn him!" Dii illum . . . perdant; 3. 14. 3), not because he was playing a role, but because he was playing the wrong one. He asserts the fathers should have taken the honorable way out and committed suicide (3. 15. 3-4). For the stoic, suicide was the role of a lifetime, a chance to reenact the death of Socrates and become a martyr for a good cause (Rosenmeyer 47). Thus the issue is not that one plays a part, but what part one plays, and Schindler plays the part of the hero.

The mode of Schindler's heroism in the movie is intriguing. Fogel has noted that the kinds of changes that Spielberg made to Keneally's book on Schindler follow a pattern. Spielberg removes some of Schindler's heroic activities that occur early in the book; he also removes some of the blemishes that occur later (Fogel). These changes are to some degree dictated by the narrative expectations of the mass audience. The changes bring Schindler's character into alignment with the monomythic hero as defined by Jewett and Lawrence: "a selfless superhero emerges to renounce temptations and carry out the redemptive task" (xx). The film becomes a tale of two salvations: that of the Schindlerjuden and that of Schindler himself.

A stranger arrives in town. Spielberg employs this familiar motif just after showing the harmonious community coming under the Nazi threat. Spielberg shows Schindler attending a glitzy night club and wooing the Nazi officers there. By the time the highest- ranking officer arrives and asks who the stranger is, the maŚtre d' responds with a tone usually reserved for celebrities, "Why, that's Oskar Schindler." The historical Schindler apparently had a similar charismatic quality and attended his share of such parties (figure 10 schind2.bmp). Keneally opens his book with a different scene, following the tradition of beginning in medias res. As in the movie, Schindler is going to a party in his fancy suit. Both sources draw attention to the Nazi pin on his lapel. But Keneally sends Schindler off to a different party, one at Amon Goeth's villa at the P asz˘w work camp. He removes Schindler's mask in the midst of this opening scene, first by describing the loathing Schindler felt toward Goeth and then by following Schindler as he descends to the cellar to comfort Helen Hirsch and promise a deliverance that seems impossible for him to supply (Keneally 13-30). Some of his movie star mystique endures even in Helen's dark underworld, in an exchange that ironically serves as the source of the maître d's exclamation: "Don't you know me? he asked, just like a man a football star or a violinist whose sense of his own celebrity has been hurt by a stranger's failure to recognize him. "I'm Schindler." (Keneally 27)

This scene coming in the opening pages of the book establishes that Schindler is a Gabriel working undercover in Pandemonium. Spielberg keeps the scene but moves it to its proper place in the chronology. His Schindler is much more enigmatic, keeping his mask on through most of the movie.

Neeson has hollow panache, a flat sexy look, a connoisseur's calm, untidy emotionalism with no core, and that spacious face waiting for our guess at what he is thinking. He's all seduction. Spielberg loves the mystery in Neeson's Schindler. (Thomson)

Spielberg filters out other indications of Spielberg's heroic character that emerge in the opening pages of the book. For example, the movie has Schindler callowly move into an "aryanized" apartment, that is, an apartment stolen from Jews to be given to Germans. In the book, Keneally reports that he seems to have paid that family for the apartment (51). He definitely warned Jews about an upcoming pogrom early in the occupation (56). In the movie, he at first takes Jewish laborers because they are cheaper than Polish labor; in the book, he takes Jewish laborers as a favor to Stern (72). He also risked his life to pass information of the systematic oppression of Jews to the outside world (148- 150).

The book presents Schindler as a man of consistent inconsistencies; his virtues and vices interact throughout his life. Spielberg's editing of events creates a man who changes much more through the course of events. Schindler's observation of the liquidation of the ghetto is in the book; even the girl in the red outfit is in the book (127-133). For Schindler, this moment is one of metanoia, of a change of heart and mind, even in the book. "I was now resolved to do everything in my power to defeat the system" (133). But by eliminating other such moments, the movie enhances this as the moment of metanoia for Schindler.

After this point in the movie, the salvation of Schindler and the Schindlerjuden follow parallel courses. A notorious womanizer, Schindler and his wife lived separately while he was in Poland. When she comes to visit early in the movie, she soon leaves because he will not promise that no maŚtre d' will mistake her for one of his mistresses again. When he finally gets the Schindlerjuden safely moved to his home town of Brinnlitz, Czechoslovakia, he approaches is wife to reconcile with her. He now makes the promise he could not make earlier. Spielberg leaves nothing to chance in letting the audience know of Schindler's conversion, that he has "renounce[d] temptations" so he can "carry out the redemptive task" (Jewett and Lawrence xx). Schindler accordingly finds his devout wife in church and makes his dramatic promise just as the congregation has intoned, "Et dimitte nobis debita nostra sicut et nos demittimus debitoribus nostris" ("And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors").

This reconciliation is pure Spielberg; the Schindlers did reunite in Brinnlitz, but that did not stop Schindler's womanizing, such as his skinny dipping with an SS Fraulein in the camp's water tank (Keneally 335). Spielberg omits this scene for obvious reasons. In Casablanca, for instance, Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart) sleeps with Ilsa Lund Laszlo (Ingrid Bergman), the wife of anti- Nazi hero Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid). The audience accepts this because in the end, Blaine is willing to sacrifice himself to see that the Laszlo's escape safely, redeeming himself in the process of saving them. Spielberg also presents a redeemed hero. He gives us a contrite and broken Schindler at the end of the war, his salvation as well as that of the Jews complete. He prepares to leave the camp and to "recede into obscurity" (Jewett and Lawrence xx), that is, to "ride off into the sunset." He breaks down and cries when the Schindlerjuden give him a ring made from a volunteer's filling, in what I have come to think of as the bathos scene. In a outburst that is a dramatic failure but a narrative necessity (the mask must come off at last so we can know what lies underneath), Neeson weeps over those he could have saved had he not been so prodigal.

In the end, this Schindler sacrifices his all to be

good, even to the point of a breakdown scene that is beyond Neeson and which is the most pointed failure in the picture.

How much truer it might have been if this Schindler had stayed matter-of-fact and jovial to the end, laughing off the chance of friendship with Stern (for, really, Stern isn't his type) and recollecting - as a rough joke - that the getaway car might have meant another handful of lives. But Spielberg won't permit that brusqueness with his big finish in bight. So Schindler becomes, simply, a ruined but saved man, a character such as Capra might have liked. He is driven away a wreck as much as a hero. (Thomson)

This scene too is pure Spielberg: the real Schindler left with bags full of diamonds and a squad of eight Schindlerjuden who travelled with him to vouch for him with the Allies (Keneally 375). He eventually sold the ring so he could buy some schnapps (Robinson 1). Even at the graveside service in the final scene, the Spielberg touch is at work. He flies Emilie Schindler to the service, where she lays a rock on his grave in a manner befitting the great man's widow. In interviews she gave in earlier years and when the movie came out, she was openly bitter about his abandonment of her and their estrangement (Robinson). So the acting continued, even in Schindler's death.


The Senecan heritage is by no means the only influence on Schindler's List, nor is it even the main influence; Spielberg samples many traditions in the movie. Nevertheless, Senecan drama and philosophy do shed light on the film. The Senecan apocalypse, brought on by outrageous crimes, comes together with the Judeo-Christian apocalypse that provides an escape for the selected remnant. The chorus in Seneca's day had declined from its earlier importance in Greek drama, becoming rather passive and ancillary to the action. Most movies do not have choruses at all. Spielberg brings back the chorus in his two choruses of Germans and Jews, making the Jews central to the action but leaving them rather passive in the process. Much of the dramatic tension takes place between Oskar Schindler and Amon Goeth. Goeth is a villain of classic proportions, in the tradition of characters like Seneca's Atreus. Yet Schindler is another type of descendent of Atreus, one who inherits Atreus' acting ability. Schindler maintains his self-control in situations of incredible danger and suffering and frees the Schindlerjuden as much through his ability to beguile the Germans with his charm as through his willingness to bribe them with his money. Spielberg uses a standard plot structure to redefine Schindler as a man who finds salvation himself in the process of giving it to others. Spielberg thus turns the story of Oskar Schindler into a powerful suitable for a mass audience. Of course, turning the story into a "fable" (Fogel) is a costly process, turning the Jews into often passive chips in a high-stakes card game played by Germans. The movie oversimplifies the moral ambiguities of almost all the parties: Schindler, the Jews, and even the Germans, some of whom helped Schindler as much as they could. The film is a powerful reminder of the evils of the Holocaust and of the good one person can do in the worse of circumstances. We should remember, however, that what we are seeing is not the reality itself.


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