It is extraordinary when viewers are able to feel as though they are actually in a film while they watch it. Through the use of filmic techniques, Steven Spielberg does just this in his film, Schindler’s List. The film follows a man named Oskar Schindler who saves the lives of thousands of Jews by employing them in his factory. One scene, the “liquidation of the ghetto”, captures Spielberg’s unique talent at setting the mood of the scene and establishing important themes of cruelty and sympathy. Spielberg uses camera angles and movements, color and sound effects to achieve the mood of chaos and fear. He does this so well that even the viewers find themselves cringing and at the brink of tears.
The scene begins with a low angle shot of the balconies in the ghetto as belongings and luggage are being thrown down. The sound of people screaming orders in a foreign language mixes with the sound of glass and belongings crashing and breaking. Then, the music stops as the focus turns to one couple attempting to hide. The pandemonium of the German soldiers rounding up Jews is constantly contrasted with the ominous “calm before the storm” that others are experiencing.
The hand-held shaky camera, or dolly shot, is used to follow soldiers through the crowds of people as they inhumanely murder anyone in their way. The camera pans through the crowd and then shows the doctors and nurses in a hospital quickly trying to help patients for what is to come by giving them some sort of poison to drink. The originally contrasting mayhem and quiet uneasiness meet as soldiers enter the hospital and kill the patients. The scene continues to establish a strong atmosphere by displaying the aftermath of the Nazi’s raid, or “the calm after the storm,” as viewers observe the abandoned ghetto with luggage scattered everywhere.
Reaction shots of Schindler at the top of a hill clearly show that he is emotionally affected by what he is seeing. The only artificial sound in the film, children singing, begins playing as parallel shots move from what is going on in the ghetto to how Schindler is reacting. The viewers can tell that Schindler, unlike the previously shown German soldiers, feels compassion and sorrow for the Jews. Schindler’s focus turns to a little girl in a red coat who goes into an abandoned home to hide. The little girl is emphasized not by a conventional close-up shot, but by the fact that the entire film is in black and white. Her red coat is the only thing in color. Again, viewers can tell that Schindler cares because he does not leave the hill until he sees that the girl has safely made it into hiding.
The constant contrast between chaos and quiet and cruelty and compassion overwhelms the viewers and they are flooded with uncontrollable emotions. The scene closes with the dark silhouette of soldiers running. The horrific images of this scene are probably forever ingrained in the viewers’ minds.