Monday, October 11, 2010

GUEST POST: Schindler's List.

[It’s time for a guest post, ladies and germs. Why? Because we just can’t believe it ourselves. I do hope you enjoy this post. If you enjoy it more than the regular Taste My Sad posts written by yours truly, feel free to read HIS social experiment blog. OH WAIT it doesn't exist. (But feel free to catch up on his now-defunct blog, which I believe is comparable to the TV show Freaks and Geeks. Except Freaks and Geeks was, like, canceled. Judd Apatow didn't just one day give up on it because he was too lazy to keep writing it. And plus at least three people liked Freaks and Geeks. But never mind.) Let's get to it. Your guest blogger for today is a fellow GW alum, a proud Pittsburgher, and a left-wing pinko Commie Hollywood type, but most important of all, a friend of the blog: Mr. Joe Kirkwood. Take it away, Joe:]

Schindler’s List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

First, a word:

I’m Joe Kirkwood, and this is a guest post. I will behave as I normally do when I’m a guest: I will fail to notice everyone else taking their shoes off at the door, I will think it smells funny in here but not say anything, and I will not know whether to pantomime prayer to fit in or stand by my beliefs during Grace. But this blog post isn’t about Protestants, Hindus, or Protestants respectively: it’s about Jews.

I'm not Jewish, and I wasn’t best friends with any Jewish people in grade school, believe it or not. That’s why I had to double up on Protestant in the first paragraph. I made up for this fact by NOT MEETING A SINGLE GENTILE IN COLLEGE, owner of this blog included (a scurrilous accusation!) [Editor’s Note: My lawyers are looking into this.] But it’s that kind of Jew-outing that got Germany in trouble back in the day, and I believe this movie will detail that sort of thing.

See, this sort of levity is the way I’ve always approached the Holocaust, not out of disrespect to the victims, their families, or the continuing battle against the legacy of Anti-Semitism, but based on the obviousness I find in the understanding that this atrocity was so beyond the pale of human comprehension, so wrong and sad and indefensible, that the proper, completely straight, appropriate emotional response to the Holocaust will never do justice to the event itself, and if it could, would invite enough sadness into someone’s consciousness to ruin them. For instance, have you ever seen someone get appropriately indignant about the Holocaust? Of course not, it’s impossible. Even if someone got so mad upon learning about it that they started ripping their own skin off their body with their fingernails, no one would say, “Calm down, man, it’s just the Holocaust.”

No, I joke about atrocities on this scale to pay tribute to the capacity for cruelty within the human soul and to cower from and deny its reality. It’s the only way to get through your day, at a certain point. My viewing of this film, in keeping with the core concept of this blog, will be an experiment in human grief and coping. I will meet its ideas and realities on the level, and see what happens to me. I have clipped my fingernails in preparation.

Of course all of this will not be on the same level as viewing the real pictures and footage, but if this blog isn’t kept to narrative films specifically, pretty soon John will be murdering relatives in cold blood just to comment on how horribly his remorse eats at his insides. [Editor’s note: Documentaries to come soon. Relatives have been warned; many have fled the country.] And I’ve met some of them (his relatives, not his insides. Or have I? Eh, John?) [Editor’s note: That’s what I’m sayin’]; they’re good people. The flame that is the potential for the continued production of his mother’s lasagna must not be snuffed out. But on to the post. You’re asking, “Wait, the post hasn’t even started yet?” I know. Don’t think about it any more, you’ll get mad.

Category: Holocaust films. First of all, I know. I’ve never seen Schindler’s List. Boo. I’m not the only one though. It’s the go-to unflinchingly sad movie reference, and no one references it in more detail than that because then you’re comparing your thing to the events of the Holocaust and your joke isn’t funny and you look like an asshole, so I’ve been able to skate by. But now I admit it. Would you please drop it? Besides, this fact allows this saddest of sad films to be entered into the experiment of Taste My Sad despite blogger John Krizel’s glaring lack of cultural ignorance.

My thought on Holocaust films is that “film” is the only term you can use here. “Holocaust Movie” makes it sound like you’re chomping popcorn and giggling. “Holocaust Flick” is worse, and “Holocaust Porn” is first of all a misnomer, second of all off-topic, and third of all what the hell is wrong with me. I feel this observation serves adequately as my comment on the genre.

My familiarity with the issue: Never been there.

“To the Holocaust?” you ask? Why, yes. And I say that flippantly but mean it sincerely.  I wasn’t there. I find it impossible to identify, but attempting to is all I can do and is also the point of this post. I’ve seen Life is Beautiful, been to the Anne Frank House, and my parents names are Anne and Frank. But no, I’ve never been to the Holocaust. Not even a holocaust, let alone The.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Oskar Schindler is a vain, glorious and greedy German businessman who becomes unlikely humanitarian amid the barbaric Nazi reign when he feels compelled to turn his factory into a refuge for Jews. Based on the true story of Oskar Schindler who managed to save about 1100 Jews from being gassed at the Auschwitz concentration camp. A testament for the good in all of us.” As a bonus, “Plot keywords: Jew / Factory / Businessman / Jewish / Death.” Sign me up! (Also, “Jew Factory”? I thought this was set in Europe, not New York City! Oy!) …you know what? I’ll just shut up and go watch the movie now.

What I thought of the film: Wow, that was great. But I expected to be sadder. That sounds bad. What I mean is, this film is about survival and the triumph of the good in humans, and that’s not what the Holocaust was about at all. The Holocaust was human failure at its pinnacle. Because the Nazis were humans. That’s the sadness to be dealt with here, and Schindler’s List doesn’t. So it’s not a sad film. Maybe I even mischaracterized it as a Holocaust film, on a certain level. I was most upset by Schindler’s grief that sacrificing his entire life’s riches was almost miniscule compared to the massive, massive evil perpetrated by other human beings. If I saw a film with more moments like that, it would be more appropriate for this blog. As it is, I am left troublingly uplifted.

I thought the film was beautiful, don’t get me wrong. And the indiscriminate shooting was rough stuff. But I remember pictures of starving bodies and untenably cramped living conditions affecting me deeply as a child. I’m not saying I wanted to see this on the screen. More to the point, I want all of this never to have happened. I didn’t want a snuff film, but I did want the depths of depravity of the human soul to be explored and reckoned with more. Nazis are portrayed as psychopaths, which was probably true of leadership, but does not explain the brainwashing of the rank and file. And that’s the important point of the Holocaust, to recognize this potential within our species and within ourselves, and to be ever vigilant against it. Politically, socially, even internally.  This sort of loud, yelling, angry hate is rising up in our country now, and while I’m not comparing anyone to Hitler, we can’t afford to allow a joke on The Daily Show to be adequate therapy for this sort of thing. It needs to stop before it starts, always. Ever vigilant.

How I, John Krizel, related to the film: Hard to answer that question, as I am Joe Kirkwood, but I’ll try: John thought this movie was good but had, like, a LOT of Jews for one sitting. [Editor’s Note: Oof.]

No but srsly, this movie made me, Joe Kirkwood, feel more about loss and grief and survival than I usually do. And it did allow me to start to think about the Holocaust in a more sophisticated way than “Wow, can you believe those assholes?” Secondly, this isn’t a movie rating blog but I was amazed at the subtlety of Schindler’s transformation. There wasn’t a cliché “Ah-Ha!” moment that would have cheapened the product. I hope to ever be able to pull that sort of thing off as a writer, even 10% as well.

How I felt after the movie ended: Schindler’s List most drove home for me the value of a human life. And strangely, all of the death of the first two hours of it didn't do it for me.  I was still in that shell that I spoke of in my pre(r)amble, thinking, “well of course all these people are getting shot, it’s the Holocaust,” but not considering what it is for a person to have life in them, how that is literally everything there is in this universe. What drove this home for me was the white text at the very end of the film, which says “There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.” I mean, come on. How awesome is that?

So I didn’t feel sad, like I expected. In fact, I can say this with all confidence (and when I say “Schindler’s List” here, I mean Schindler’s List, not The Holocaust, so calm down): Schindler’s List is nowhere near as sad as the 2009 film Where The Wild Things Are. The message of Where The Wild Things Are is this: Nothing is ever going to be OK. With this film, Spielberg begs to differ, for which I suppose I thank him.


  1. I fully support this blog and have two recommendations: "The Sweet Hereafter" and "Diving Bell And The Butterfly". Both are heart-wrenching movies and thus fitting for your endeavor.

  2. Boys,

    Good read, and excellent analysis, Joe.

    As a follow-up on Joe's want for "sadness" with his Holocaust, I recommend a follow-up with Art Spiegelman's "Maus." It's pretty devestating with its portrayal of a Holocaust survivor, and how his past haunts his family many years later.

  3. I suggest Landscape after Battle, by Andrzej Wajda. It's about the aftereffects of WWII and the Holocaust, specifically on a displaced Polish POW.