Spielberg's Nazis

Authored By: Joseph Sobran



I regret to say that I found Steven Spielberg's acclaimed "Schindler's List," the story of the Nazi industrialist who saved the lives of a thousand Jews who worked for him, disappointing. First, the obtrusive obscenity. Not much, but enough to stain the movie. Second, the Nazis are just standard movie Nazis. The chief Nazi officer, Amon Goeth (brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes), is given a few kinky quirks, and even the hint of a soft side, but this only underlines the sense that the movie's view is just as polemical as Hollywood movies produced during World War II. The moral seems to be that Nazis were cruel men with cruel dogs, and that part of the reason they were cruel (the men, that is) is that they couldn't get in touch with their feelings.

A really original movie might have shown how ordinary people could be drawn into a fanatical movement and induced to cooperate in horrible, systematic atrocities. It might have shown Nazis when they weren't just being Nazis.

Spielberg has tried to move outside the adventure movie, the genre in which he has no rival. But the result is just another kind of adventure movie. To be sure, there are many wonderful touches; the action scenes banish any suspicion that Spielberg's real genius has deserted him. All the same, it's a somber escape flick, a Holocaust epic for the silver screen. In the end it's simply inert. It says nothing in three hours that couldn't be said in two, and the last hour is punishing to sit through.

But having said all that, I want to stress something else. The film is pro-Christian. Schindler is twice, and pointedly, shown in church. He isn't made out to be a devout Catholic, but we are left in no doubt that his religion is ultimately part of what makes him behave heroically in the crisis of his life. Even more stunningly, at the end of the war we see him leading his Jewish workers in prayer, and he crosses himself. As he makes the Sign of the Cross, his hand passes over his Nazi Party button, which he then removes. The good cross triumphs over the bad one.

In this respect "Schindler's List" is almost the opposite of "Shadowlands," the story of C.S. Lewis' marriage to Joy Davidman. Though Lewis was probably the greatest Christian apologist of his generation, the movie, directed by Richard Attenborough, plays down his religion, treating it as a kind of private hobby, and barely mentions that Joy was a Christian too.

Both movies are beautifully filmed. But both are too long, and both seem to push us into feeling emotions for the sake of feeling emotions. Spielberg wants to horrify us, and then to make us feel good together, like earthlings and Martians at the end of some of his children's movies. Attenborough wants us to have a good cry. But though deep feeling is a fine thing, it has to be earned by some serious way of addressing the human estate. Neither film, alas, tells us anything we haven't heard many times before.

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