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NEW YORK (CNS) -- The tortured, troubling -- yet in the end, uplifting -- story of a German risking his life to save some Polish Jews from Nazi death camps is recounted in "Schindler's List" (Universal).
Adapted by Stephen Zaillian from Thomas Keneally's fact-based novel, the movie's unlikely hero, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), is a German businessman who follows the German blitzkrieg into 1939 Poland.
Settling in Krakow, this amoral opportunist sets out to make as much money as he can from the misfortunes of Poland's persecuted Jews by taking over a confiscated non-Aryan business and exploiting unpaid Jewish workers.
To do so, he recruits the services of Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), a Jewish accountant who comes to appreciate Schindler's greed as totally impersonal rather than motivated by anti-Semitic fanaticism.
With Stern running Schindler's booming utensils firm, Schindler devotes himself to getting contracts by manipulating the German authorities, unbothered by the increasing barbarity of Nazi measures against the Jews in Krakow's overcrowded ghetto.
His moral insensitivity, however, is finally cracked by witnessing the gross inhumanity in the ghetto's liquidation and his revulsion at the sadistic actions of the local forced-labor camp commandant (Ralph Fiennes).
Schindler thereafter engages in the dangerous game of seeming to go along with the genocidal Nazi program while endeavoring to protect his Jewish workers by subverting it.
He succeeds amazingly well despite growing Nazi paranoia as the tide of war turns in favor of the Allies. Just before war's end, Schindler evacuates more than 1,100 workers to a new factory in Czechoslovakia, where they are safely liberated as their employer fades into obscurity.
The movie's account of Schindler's heroism avoids grappling with what motivated him to do what few others in similar situations dared doing. It is content to show the humanitarian results of his actions without probing why he did them or, indeed, when he decided he could no longer abide what was happening around him.
The viewer is left to consider the man's latent Christianity as a possible reason for his transformation, or perhaps simply his common sense that killing people was bad for business or, even more likely given his character, the fear of Allied retribution for enriching himself on slave labor.
The question of Schindler's motivation has wider ramifications in trying to understand what happened to the German people under Nazi rule and what they knew about Hitler's decision to exterminate Europe's Jewry.
Though Schindler remains an enigma representing some vague, amorphous appeal to humanitarian good will, the movie succeeds best as a powerful restatement of the ultimate irrationality of anti-Semitism.
Director Steven Spielberg painstakingly restages the appalling history of the Holocaust on an epic scale that gives horrifying dimension to one man's attempt to save some innocent lives.
It is a powerful story enhanced by a sobering treatment that will leave few viewers unmoved.
The Nazis' callous brutality and wanton killing is depicted in graphic images that convey some measure of the shocking reality of the Nazi madness known to history as the Holocaust.
Though the lessons to be drawn from this harrowing experience of the terrors of racism are somewhat woolly, the result is a worthy challenge to those who would like to forget the enormity of that tragic era.
The film contains realistically graphic treatment of an infamous historical period and its crimes against humanity, a few discreet sexual scenes and occasional rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted.
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Herx was the former director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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"Schindler's List" (Universal)
Sobering account of an opportunistic German businessman (Liam Neeson) who comes to occupied Poland to make his fortune by exploiting Jewish capital and labor but, after witnessing the increasing barbarism of Nazi racial policies and the sadistic perversions of the local concentration camp commandant (Ralph Fiennes), he risks his life by using his talents for manipulation to save the Jews in his employ. Director Steven Spielberg painstakingly restages the appalling history of the Holocaust on an epic scale that gives horrifying dimension to one man's attempt to save some innocent lives, but the narrative provides little insight in the German's moral transformation or the individual lives of his slave laborers. Realistically graphic treatment of an infamous historical period and its crimes against humanity, a few discreet sexual scenes, occasional rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted.
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"Schindler's List" (Universal) -- Catholic News Service classification, A-III -- adults. Motion Picture Association of America rating, R -- restricted.