Schindler’s List (1993): An Analysis of Color vs. Black & White Filter, Music vs. Silence, and the Overall Political and Moral Themes



Written by: Jenna Moloney

World War Two, which started in 1939 and lasted for six years, resulted in the death of six million Jews. This is not an event of fiction; German soldiers actually murdered innocent men, women, and children during this horrific historical event. Director Steven Spielberg pours every emotion associated with it into the movie entitled Schindler’s List, which follows the life of a member of the Nazi party who realizes the genocide is wrong. Murder without justification is immoral. Hunger for power is dangerous. Schindler’s List explored the journey of Jews in Nazi Germany and the compassion of one German man saving over a thousand Jewish lives. The eerie black and white setting, with an unforgettable glimpse of red, and the morbid classical music throughout the film combine to communicate these themes.

Most people deem black and white movies as boring because of all the black and white films created in the early 20th century. However, limiting the colors of a movie on purpose delivers a statement more powerfully than stating it directly. Although a “black and white” film actually consists of an infinite amount of gray shades, the real purpose of the disuse of colors is to set the depressing mood before the sad events even begin. Shadows are magnified because they are one of the only colors used in the movie. Happiness is difficult to portray without color; the gray shades suggest a depressed individual’s perspective of the world. It also makes use of the audience’s prior knowledge that old movies did not have color to suggest that the events of the movie took place in the past. The terrible reality of these events combines with the extremely glum mood to evoke an overall distraught emotion from the audience. A viewer can grasp all of this from the black and white filter alone.

During the Holocaust, German soldiers burned the bodies of deceased Jewish civilians when they began to pile up as more and more people passed away. This absolutely horrific, inhumane act began by placing the bodies in wheelbarrows and bringing them to incinerators. When Schindler saw the little girl in the red coat’s corpse, he knew he needed to save as many lives as he could. Earlier in the film, the girl in the red coat walked peacefully down the streets of Poland. Her perfectly curled hair, tiny body, and confused style of walking contrasted with the chaos occurring around her. The pop of color catches Schindler’s eye, who is watching from a hill nearby. When he sees her body lying lifeless later on in the film, he is prompted to act. She causes Schindler to realize the extent of the atrocity inflicted on the Jews. He listens to his conscience after this sight and saves as many innocent people as he can. The red coat symbolizes the blood that was shed during the Holocaust, and this color has also been proven by psychologists to cause stress and anxiety. The small child wearing this red coat signifies how innocent the people were and how carelessly they were slaughtered.

“Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don’t.” –Oskar Schindler, played by Liam Neeson

In particularly morbid scenes, there was no music. For example, when the Jewish prisoners are pushed into the shower that they believe is a gas chamber, there is screaming and gasping, but no music. The underlying silence makes the audience feel what the group of prisoners are feeling: pure fear of what is about to happen. During the calm, sad scenes of the movie, classical music plays softly. In some parts, the sound began to gradually crescendo. The music contributes to the depressed mood of the film and intensifies this atmosphere at specifically dreadful scenes. Schindler’s List is not noted for its musical score, but the subtle music blended into certain sections fulfills Spielberg’s intention of emphasizing the tragedies of World War II.

Hitler’s attempt at genocide is the most inconceivable event that occurred during the 20th century, and many pieces of art keep the memory of the deceased alive. The Diary of Anne Frank is a book that most young students read. The fear and confusion in Frank’s writing is the same fear felt by the Jewish people in the films Sophie’s Choice, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and Schindler’s List. The journey of these Jews is traumatic, gruesome, and constantly filled with terror. The compassion of Oskar Schindler had a lasting effect for generations, as the people he saved had children and grandchildren. We will never know the true impact of Schindler’s list, because the future is filled with descendants of people whose names were on it. But it will always be known who had the power to kill and chose not to, because generations remember those with true power.

2 Responses

  1. Robin A Harding at |

    This is brilliant. I am sharing it with my high school students to inspire them to write more expressively and more insightfully.

    thank you from
    Auckland, New Zealand

  2. Daniel Shinn at |

    This is very good writing I used it for my World History Research paper. Thank you!!!


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