Oskar Schindler could not have been both a good man & a good citizen, Spielberg suggests. He finally chose to be a good man who started by acting for his own advantage. He understood his good differently than did the Nazi regime. Apparently, he judged independently even of the political circumstances. Thus, his work as a profiteer foreshadows his saving the Jews.
He nevertheless had to help the Nazis, defer to & obey them, pretending to be awed, in order to save the Jews. This could not have been done by a moralistic man. Schindler planned & improvised indecently, shamelessly. To say the least, he is a politic man. He was able to do good to those he befriended because he knew how to use both his friends & his enemies to his advantage. His knowledge, the story suggests, was comprehensive: He shows how he thinks people should be arranged when he arranges his factories, keeping in mind harsh necessity. In separating from Nazi Germany, he sets out in search of a better, more reasonable polity. It seems his solution was a kind of monarchy.
Spielberg attempted to portray great virtue & great vice, as well as a man whose life reveals the full extent of the choice between virtue & vice. The difficulty & the risks involved in choosing the good show its nobility, thus adding honor to dispassionate judgment. Thus do we see the difference between mere expedience & the full extent of judgment. Thus Spielberg shows that the Holocaust need not overwhelm us. A man who does not take leave of his senses must confront his own good & that of his fellowmen. His actions must match means to the opinions he sets for his ends: They are therefore meaningless without their political context.
The Jews Schindler saved from the Nazis are in no doubt about their debt of gratitude, which binds them even when they may be said no longer to need his protection. The ring they make him & the memory of his name & his grave both testify to their awareness of his heroism. So also does Spielberg’s film. Schindler is remembered first by the Jews, but he also teaches us about heroes & what the society requires of them that does not bring the political conflict between being a good man & being a good citizen to extermination.
The Jews are not shown as heroes, perhaps because they are not actors. They are moved by others, they do not really move themselves, nor can they move others to act. They are for the most part compelled. Their virtues only show up in the ways made possible by their benefactor’s rules.
Spielberg’s best movie. See it.