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Schindler's List Essay Feedback

Hi, I was wondering if I could have some feedback on my Schindler’s List essay and an indication of the grade I would get for this. This question is from the 2015 paper. Thanks.

Analyse how a sense of hope or despair was developed for a particular purpose in the visual or oral text(s)

Has there ever been a time in your life where you have felt despondent and like giving up? In Schindler’s List, a 1993 film, director Steven Spielberg poses this question to the audience and suggests we should always remain hopeful. Set in Krakow, Poland during World War Two, Spielberg develops the extreme loss of hope for Jews amidst World War Two, and the eventual revival of their hope through protagonist Oskar Schindler’s actions. Spielberg used many techniques to build a sense of despair and ultimately hope, including colour, symbolism, dialogue, lighting and motifs. Through developing hope, Spielberg emphasises that one individual can make a difference in the lives of others and that hope will always prevail.

In the text’s exposition, Spielberg used colour and transitions to depict the collective despair for Jews as the holocaust approached. In the beginning scene, a Jewish family held hands around a table in a well-lit room and prayed on the sabbath, celebrating their faith and hope. However, the family fades out of the room and the audience is left staring at the Shabbat candles. Several shots zoom in on the candles, with time passing until the wax completely melts and the flame extinguishes. Smoke from this candle morphs into a black and white shot of train exhaust. Trains were harbingers of death during World War Two, while the lack of light and colour created a mood of pathos and showed how illumination and hope were extinguished, physically and metaphorically. Spielberg used the disappearance of the Jewish family and the transition of their faith into the grim War as a reminder of reality. The war had begun and death and despair were encroaching.

Spielberg further developed a major loss of hope for Jews as they were evicted from their homes and into the Krakow Ghetto. Homes were widely regarded as places of comfort and family, but the Jewish people were forced into unfamiliar and confined housing. In the following scene, Spielberg used parallel editing to show the misery of Jews at the time. As the wealthy Nussbaum’s were evicted from their apartment, dirt was thrown at them and a German girl yelled, “Goodbye Jews!” from the sidewalk. This yell was repeated not only to illustrate the belligerence and bigotry towards Jews at the time, but it also acted as an aural bridge for Schindler contently stepping into their lavish former apartment. Inside, he sighed, “It couldn’t possibly be better,” while simultaneously, a close-up shot revealed a disgusted Mr Nussbaum after the couple stepped into the squalid and dark accommodation; he exclaimed, “How could it possibly be worse.” Spielberg used this parallel editing to juxtapose the divide between Jews and Germans and further manifest the collective smothering of Jewish hope. This scene also emphasised the initial character of Schindler, a man willing to benefit from Jewish adversity.

Spielberg’s development of despair is reiterated in the scene showing the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto. In contrast to other scenes, Spielberg uses not only despair in this scene but also established hope to build a turning point in the film and emphasize the textual message of hope and dreams prevailing. During this sequence, mid-shots showed Jews being arbitrarily shot as Nazis stormed buildings, scouring suitcases and threatening Jews. Abrupt cuts switched between the Ghetto and a tranquil Schindler riding a horse with his mistress on a hill above, which emphasised the turmoil. Loud shouts and gunshots could be heard before a closeup showed Schindler’s face, frozen in shock. Down below, a high-shot revealed what he was staring at; a girl in a red jacket wandering through the bloodshed. Diegetic sounds of shouting, disarray and shooting soon transitioned into a children’s lullaby and a panning shot following the child highlighted the innocence and humanity of the Jewish people. Schindler desperately tried to find the girl, but his efforts were to no avail as she absconded and the colour left her coat. She had become yet another name on a list; another Jew without hope. Spielberg used this scene as a turning point for Schindler’s character and the wider film. The innocence and youth of the girl showed the audience that Jews were humans and children. They deserved hope and protection. This scene, in combination with the execution of the one-armed machinist, enlightened Schindler to the reality of the War and the intrinsic value of Jews as human beings. Schindler’s compassion only grew for the Jewish people when he saw the girl in red being wheeled into a cremation pyre in a subsequent scene. She was a child and children ought to be protected by adults, Schindler certainly understood this; a closeup of his face showed his shock and misery as he watched her wheeled to her cremation as if she was worthless. Following this scene, Spielberg used a marked shift in Schindler’s character to emphasize how he could save the lives of others and revive their hope.

As Schindler changed, he began to restore hope to the Jews at a time when it seemed impossible. He initially moved Jews to his factory under an economic guise, and soon after set up a new factory after they were moved to an inhumane Plazow labour camp. Schindler’s factory became a safe haven where he ensured Jews were protected and respected. His just treatment of them contrasted what was happening in wider Europe at the time and allowed them freedom and hope. We additionally saw Schindler’s altruism as Jews were mistakenly sent to Auschwitz rather than his factory. A panning shot showed his car racing to Auschwitz, where he bribed a Nazi official for the release of Jewish women. Upon arriving, he rescued young Danka Dresner from Nazi clutches, protecting the innocence of children as he could not with the girl in red. Schindler’s exchange of diamonds for the return of his Jews made it clear to the audience that he was willing to sacrifice anything to defend the future of Jewish life. He no longer sought money or luxuries, but instead the lives and protection of innocent Jews. In this scene, Spielberg used a close-up of the diamonds to show how Schindler began restoring hope and making a difference in the lives of Jews.

Finally, we began to see an ultimate restoration of hope for Jews in Schindler’s factory, where he allowed them to practice their religion. The practise of Judaism was outlawed by Nazis, and freedom of religion allowed the Schindler Jews to pray in a time where Nazis would not allow them, a time where hope seemed impossible. Through an aural bridge of Jewish scenes, Spielberg morphed the shot from a scene of Schindler walking to one of Shabbat candles being lit. The return of light and colour to the candle to symbolize the return of Jewish hope through the actions of Schindler evoked an emotional response from the discerning viewer, Spielberg shapes this scene to reinforce that Jews were hopeful despite the death and persecution they faced. The candle was also used as a circular plot device, reversing the beginning scenes and foreshadowing the ending of the War and a light at the end of the tunnel for Jews who had experienced tragedy. In appreciation of Schindler, Jews at his factory forged him a golden ring from their jewellery, which was inscribed with a verse from the Jewish Talmud, “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” This epitomised Schindler’s bravery and transformation from a selfish man into one who would do anything to protect others and the values of innocence and hope. In the film’s denouement, Schindler began weeping in beloved associate Itzhak Stern’s arm, regretfully weeping, “I could have got more!” The Schindler Jews understood his selflessness and his sacrifice and begin to hug Schindler for all he had done, and for the return of hope. Spielberg used a wide shot in this scene to amplify a sense of unity and show that Schindler had truly touched the hearts of hundreds of individuals. Finally, shots in colour depicted the real-world Schindler Jews walking on a hill in bright clothes. Their colour had returned just as the war had ended. Hope triumphed.

In honour of his efforts, a commemorative tree was planted by the real Oskar Schindler in Yad Vashem, the memorial to Holocaust survivors in Israel. The tree is still standing today, a steadfast symbol for the recovering Jewish population. Even following World War Two, the world has unfortunately still witnessed widespread hate, adversity and bigotry. In recent times we have seen how black people in many nations have been disrespected, denied their rights, and even murdered because of their race. We have also seen the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic and the death and hardship it has inflicted the world with. Attributed to over 5 million deaths and counting, this virus and its uncertainty may seem overwhelming and frightening. However, Spielberg’s unwavering message in Schindler’s List is a moving and firm reminder to perceptive viewers that as humans, we can always find hope in what may seem the darkest of situations and we will always conquer hate and adversity, because as Steven Spielberg imparts; Hope will always prevail.

Kiā ora
You clearly set up the aspects of the question in the intro. The question is tricky " of hope OR despair" not the two, but you go into despair having set up hope. Perhaps a way of doing this is to speak briefly about the despair moments, pointing out that in order to understand the power of hope we need to understand the despair that generates it.

IN the first paragraph you outline the opening scene - some solid comments. It is a scene that really foreshadows the action. You focus on the eviction and liquidation scenes and use well chosen techniques. Then move to hope and again well chosen examples - perhaps the use of subtitles at the end could be added ( for the commemorative tree) . You add the insight at the end in the concluding comments and they are thoughtful. A thing to work on is the integration of these comments throughout the essay rather than just adding them to the end.
M6 at this point but it won’t be difficult to strengthen further to an E.
Hope that helps
:grinning: