“Comparisons are odorous,”* but I’m going to do it anyway.
Schindler’s List, about a wealthy business man who saves more than a thousand Jewish people from death in the Nazi concentration camps during WWII, is truly a masterwork by Steven Spielberg. It is epic, grand, and spectacular in its ambition. It is designed to be a “great film.” And that may be it’s flaw. You constantly feel, “GREAT FILM.” Spielberg has a way, in everything he directs, of always letting you know that you are watching a film. It has to do with the rhythm at which he cuts, the gravitas with which his actors act, and the fact that he is such a great student of film that most of his cinematic ideas are derivative in some way. None of this lessens the impact of the film, but it may soften it and make it more academic even as it becomes more accessible, if you like that sort of thing.
In Darkness, directed by Agnieszka Holland, is more immediate, more visceral, more real. I had a kinetic response to the action. It is so dark in the sewers that I had to pop my eyes to see faces. On the few occasions when we come to the surface, I squinted as even the gray winter light of Poland is too bright. When a Nazi held a pistol to a man’s head, I flinched and pulled away. I was somehow more than a spectator. I was immediately involved. It isn’t quite as safe.
Of course, it is not as slickly done; there are mistakes made; the darkness is almost too dark for too long. But suffice it to say, I prefer the danger and the involvement.
We may all think we’ve seen enough holocaust movies but it is important to bear witness and to remember. In Darkness is a very immediate reminder of the ease with which men can abandon their humanity and accept cruelty as a way of life. It is also a reminder of the difference one man can make and how true heroism can rise up in the most surprising places.
* Shakespeare’s ironic malapropism in an old English proverb, “Comparisons are odious.” How about that, a footnote in a movie review.