"I knew the people who worked for me... When you know people, you have to behave toward them like human beings".Schindler's List is a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg, produced by Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen, and Branko Lustig (a survivor of Auschwitz), and written by Steven Zaillian. The film features music composed by John Williams, and it was shot almost entirely in black and white.The film is based on the book Schindler's Ark by Australian author Thomas Keneally, which was based on the actions of Oskar Schindler (portrayed by Liam Neeson in the film). Allegedly, Schindler's wife once said that he did nothing remarkable before or after the war—World War II, that is. He was a mediocre businessman in Nazi-era Germany who, while trying to profit from the German annexation of Poland, ended up running a factory that "employed" enslaved Polish Jews as the workforce. As the Nazis began exterminating "Undesirables" 'Unfit' for war-work, Schindler saved as many 'Fit' workers as he could.In sharp contrast to Hugo Boss, Siemens, Ford, and the other employers of "Undesirable" slave labor (i.e. every major company in wartime Germany) Schindler actively endeavoured to keep his workforce alive and even preserve 'unskilled' workers who were not actually useful to him. The film's title comes from the "lists" he kept of skilled workers that he could not afford to lose—those lists eventually grew to include every one of his workers, their families, and the investors who had helped him buy the factory. At great personal risk and financial cost (he bankrupted himself), Schindler saved more than a thousand people from being worked to death as slaves rented from the SS Main Business Directorate by German companies.
—Oskar Schindler (not a line in the movie; attributed to the man himself)
Schindler's List contains the following tropes:
- Aborted Declaration of Love: Amon Goeth to Helen Hirsch in the basement scene. Also counts as Cannot Spit It Out.
- Absurdly Spacious Sewer: The ghetto's sewers are quite spacious; in fact, Poldek tried to escape by using them, but the Nazis caught them and although Poldek avoided execution, others were not so lucky.
- Acceptable Breaks from Reality: The film uses clearly healthy actors to portray malnourished German slave-laborers—though some scenes do feature some pretty skinny people—but take a look at real footage of the prisoners. Making them look anything like the real slaves would have been impossible without starving them nearly to death.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: A nominal example. In spite of Amon Goeth's atrocities shown in the film, compared to what happened in Real Life, his monstrous actions are presented a much more mundane light (while still remaining creepy and unsympathetic). The real Goeth was something of a Card-Carrying Villain in that many of his actions against his prisoners (such as feeding them alive to his dogs) were considered too unrealistic to show on film. He was actually so bad that the Nazis fired him for being too inhumane. It speaks volumes about him as a person that his portrayal as a monster in in the film is a Historical Villain Downgrade from what actually happened.
- Adaptational Villainy: Ironically enough, Oskar Schindler gets a bit of this when compared to what happened in Real Life. The real Schindler was in favor of saving as many Jewish people as he could from the beginning. In the film, he's not immediately concerned with what's happening until he understands the full extent of what the Nazis are doing. Obviously, this is done for the sake of the movie's narrative rather than to disrespect Schindler's legacy.
- All Germans Are Nazis: Subverted. Oskar Schindler was in fact a member of the Nationalist Socialist German Workers Party—but he, like so many other Germans, was in it for the political and economic advantages. By the end of the film, calling him a "Nazi" is both technically correct and fundamentally wrong.
- All Love Is Unrequited: To the limited extent to which he is able to feel an emotion such as love, Amon for Helen, which is understandable, as he was a violent serial killer who made her life miserable.
- Almost Kiss: Goeth almost kisses his Jewish maid Helen on a moment when he was confessing his twisted attraction but ends up beating her senseless instead.
- Anti-Hero: Schindler is not your typical hero, in spite of his accomplishments. He's an unrepentant Mr. Vice Guy and knowing war profiteer who takes advantage of slave labor. However, as he starts to comprehend the full scope of Nazi crimes, he's compelled to fight them by simple decency, ultimately sacrificing his fortune to save lives.
- The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: At the beginning of the film, Schindler is a serial adulterer and war profiteer. But as the death toll and dangers grow, he becomes increasingly concerned with preserving the lives of his workers, going as far as to spend his entire fortune and risk his own life. Schindler himself believes—ironically—in the opposite: that war brings out the worst in people. If the war had not happened, Amon Goeth would have been a really nice guy. The movie itself suggests that war brings out the truth in people, i.e. Goeth is really a monster, while Schindler is a righteous man.
- The Atoner: Schindler is possibly one of the most representative characters of this trope. Once a ruthless businessman, he ends up spending all his money, time and energy to save Jews from a certain death. His last lines from the movie are a perfect illustration of this (see "Samaritan Syndrome" below).
- Ax-Crazy: Amon Goeth vents his day-to-day frustrations by wantonly killing people and, if his guns happen to jam, responds like a boy trying and failing to unhook a girl's bra.
- While Goeth's men are digging up and burning all the corpses buried near the Płaszów camp, one of them starts raving wildly and shooting at the massive pyre.
- Badass Boast: "This storm is different. This is not the Romans. This storm is the SS."
- Batman Gambit: Schindler's overall plot to keep his group of Jewish prisoners from being executed, which actually originated with Stern. Through a complex system of bribery, persuasion, and illusion, Schindler is able to keep nearly all of his prisoners alive in his factory while also resisting the Nazi war effort by producing faulty shells.
- Benevolent Boss: Schindler, even before he starts putting his life on the line to rescue his workers.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: Goeth considers shooting his Jewish maid rather than letting her be sent to Auschwitz. Not suicide, but the mentality is the same.
- Big Bad: Amon Goeth is Schindler's primary opposition and the main antagonist in Płaszów's arc. Arguably, Nazi Germany's elite and Adolf Hitler are the Greater-Scope Villain.
- Bilingual Bonus: Plenty of unsubtitled German, Polish, and occasional Hebrew in the original, due to its inconsistent Translation Convention. In particular, the increasing restrictions on Jewish life blared out from microphones in German. For example, as Poldek walks down a street to the church, a truck behind him relays the message "Attention, attention! It is now forbidden for Jews to perform Kosher slaughter."
- Bittersweet Ending: "I could have got more out..." It goes further in real life. Schindler escaped arrest but his entire life was ruined. His marriage failed (the movie does mention this). His later business' were all failures and by the end of his life, he was living on donations from Jewish charities. This arguably makes his actions even more meaningful. As Cracked put itThis was not a particularly competent or driven or talented man — he had no other successes to his name. But goddamn did the guy step up when the human race needed him to.
- Black and White Morality: It does not get much more blatantly evil than Goeth and his Nazi buddies, and it definitely does not get more genuinely righteous than heroes like Stern and, eventually, Schindler. Played with in that the protagonist himself starts off as a knowing war profiteer and user of slave labor, but Schindler eventually becomes a better person when he truly realizes what is happening around him.
- Blessed with Suck: Helen Hirsch is spared from living in the horrible conditions of Płaszów when she's hired as Goeth's maid but has to live with that violent, psychotic jerk of her master. Even worse, since he took a shine for her Schindler points out that he won't kill her, but since he's forbidden to act on it, he reacts by being even more cruel to the poor girl. There's a reason why Itzhak Stern once mentioned Helen Hirsch being the “most unfortunate of all the inmates of the kids camp.”
- Boom, Headshot: The preferred method of execution by the Nazis.
- Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Schindler's description of the things Goeth likes, though not by his intent.Schindler: He is a wonderful crook. A man who loves good food, good wine, the ladies, making money-Stern: Killing.
- Butt-Monkey: Goldberg has a habit of antagonising the other Jews, particularly Poldek, either through incompetence (ordering shoe polish in glass containers, which shatter in the cold winter when the German army tries to use them) or opportunism (joining the Jewish Police). He still manages to remain a part of the wider group, however, and thus survives by ending up on the list.
- Can't Kill You, Still Need You: Thanks to his business savvyness and managerial skills, Stern ends up being indispensable to Goeth for administrating the work camp. This is even discussed in one scene when Stern bitterly remarks that he must organize the entire dismantling operation of the work camp and then put himself on the last train to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
- Catch-Phrase: Every Schindler Jew was eventually classified as an "essential worker" - even the children, who (according to Schindler) were the only ones with fingers small enough to polish the inside of a shell casing. This status was the group's only protection against reposession by the SS Chief Business Office and euthanasia (if unfit for rental) or rental to an employer who would work them until they were unfit (beause they could be exchanged for fresh slaves for free) or dead.
- Character Development: At the beginning, Schindler only saves people because he needs them for his business. By the end, he has spent his entire fortune on them, and at tremendous risk to his own life.
- The Charmer: Oskar Schindler. He can make total strangers his close friends in next to no time, and uses his charisma to get a foothold in German industry. He later uses every bit of his power of persuasion trying to convince Goeth to become a more merciful person. Amazingly, it seems to work, but Goeth quickly abandons it.
- Chekhov's Lecture: The first part of Schindler's "People will remember my name" speech to his wife. More subtly, Stern's fake lecture to the history and literature teacher about leaving his papers in his drawer, given so Stern can give the man a second chance at being deemed an essential worker. Some time later, Stern himself leaves his card at home and almost dies because of it.
- Chivalrous Pervert: Oskar is quite popular with the ladies.
- Les Collaborateurs: Subverted with one boy who was a member of The Jewish Police. He hides Danka Dresner Nazis, then afterwards takes her and her mother Chaja to "the good line" so they'll be put to work instead of being executed..
- Colonel Kilgore: Goeth is something of a cross between this and Psycho for Hire. He's delighted that there is a war on, because it lets him do what he loves to do most: killing, molesting, and torturing people who are at his mercy.
- Convenient Misfire: A scene in which a Nazi officer attempts to execute a Jew due to failing to fulfill the quota despite the speed of crafting equipment, but his pistol misfires. He calls over another soldier to execute the Jew, but his pistol misfires as well. They give up on the idea, being happy enough to Pistol Whip the prisoner instead. This scene is based on an incident in Keneally's book.
- Covers Always Lie: A minor one: The smaller hand in the movie poster is the little girl in the red coat's one, as if she was one of the people saved by Schindler, in the movie she died during the Ghetto massacre.
- Creator Cameo: Liam Neeson appears As Himself in the final scene to place flowers on Oskar Schindler's grave.
- Defiant to the End: Sadly, even karma catching up with him feels hollow when Amon Goeth somehow looks positively bored when he's finally hanged for his crimes. And he still has time to fix his hair and give one last "Heil Hitler" before the guards kick the chair out from under him.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Excluding the very beginning and end, and a few significant exceptions listed in Splash of Color below.
- Domestic Abuse: Amon Goeth regularly abuses his Jewish maid Helen Hirsch even if he's romantically interested in her.
- Establishing Character Moment: Near the beginning, a waiter offers Schindler his best German wine, which Schindler declines preferring French wine. This establishes him apart from his fanatically nationalists Nazi peers. Moments later, he demonstrates what a womaniser he is with his flirtations with the girls at the party, beating a hopeful bigwig officer to their attention.
- Not long after Amon Goeth is introduced, he faces an issue where a female Jewish engineer (Diana Reitner) argues with German soldiers. She claims that the foundation of a barrack has to be torn down and be repoured. Else, the barrack will collapse. Goeth has her executed, even when his soldiers say they need her, claiming he won't argue with 'these people'. Than he orders to do exactly as she said. This establises him as someone with complete disregard for the lives of Jews, even though he implicitly admits they certainly have knowledge and skills.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Subverted. During the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto, two German soldiers are dragging a teenage boy along, who is suddenly shot by another German soldier. One of the two men then runs up to the shooter, and chews him out about it. It seems like this trope to anyone who can't understand what he's saying in German. In reality he's only pissed off because the shooter almost shot him instead of the Jewish boy.
- Evil Cannot Comprehend Good:
- When Schindler is having German soldiers hose down the Jews that have been stuffed into deathly-hot cattle cars, Göth and the other Nazis initially laugh at what is apparently one of their own tormenting the Jews with a little taste of water, but Schindler keeps hosing the cars and even has drinking water and food brought to the train for the guards to give to the Jews every time they stop. By the end of the scene Göth is staring at the scene with blank incomprehension; he has gone through humor, exasperation and boredom, and has now reached a point where he really cannot figure out what the hell Schindler is doing. The idea that Oskar is trying to help the Jews just does not fit.
- In another scene, Schindler advises Goeth to be more merciful by saying that mercy, not punishment, is a true show of power. Goeth, though incredulous, gives it a try and spares several prisoners he would have otherwise killed. For a while it seems like Goeth has finally gotten it... then he changes his mind and shoots a Jewish boy he just forgave for not being able to clean a stain out of his bathtub.
- Fan Disservice: The film contains male and female full frontal nudity, but this is during the concentration camps entrance process, thus lacking any eroticism. This being despite the actors having normal healthy bodies, visibly clean, trimmed and hairless in the scene with the trainload of women being sent to the showersnote . They did not recreate the scene realistically to avoid distressing viewers.
- The film however includes also sex scenes between Schindler and his mistress and Goeth and his lover than contain erotic nudity.
- Fire Forged Friendship: At the end, this is the relationship between Stern and Schindler. The thing that after making the list they share a drink together when Stern previously refused seals their friendship.
- For the Evulz: Goeth does not have any reason to do the horrible things that he does, other than the fact that he can. Goeth's truly inhuman nature was actually underplayed, because Spielberg thought people would have a hard time believing someone could actually be that pointlessly sadistic.
- Freak-Out: The SS soldier in the scene of mass burning of bodies is quite literally Driven to Madness. This is a case of Reality Is Unrealistic - the image of the typical Nazi is usually one of Punch Clock Villainy, devotedly efficient, remorseless and robotic, and somewhat less frequently taking explicit joy in their victims' suffering, yet survivor tales quickly point out the way SS guardsmen lost their temper and went into bouts of hysteria after a particularly disgusting mass killing and how often this did happen.note
- Friendly Enemy:
- Goeth only once suspects that Schindler is double-crossing him, in spite of overwhelming evidence (and even then he misses the mark: "If I'm making one hundred, you've got to be making three. And if you admit to making three, then it's four, actually. But how?"). When Schindler is arrested at one point for kissing a Jewish woman, Goeth goes out of his way to speak on his behalf and offer a bribe to get him released.
- Stern actually starts as this for Schindler, as at first he uses his position and knowledge to obtain forged documents for his fellow Jews in order to pass them as skilled workers in Schindler's factory. He suggests that Schindler hire Jews in order to take advantage of lower wage rates, and manipulates him into getting elderly and handicapped people hired. Schindler, however, quickly realizes this and calls him out on it on one scene, but later he starts pretending not to notice and then starts collaborating with his scheme!
- From Bad to Worse: Jews several times remark that "The worst is over." This leads to an Ironic Echo Cut:Schindler: (casing his new apartment, which used to be owned by an evicted Jew) It couldn't be better.Cut toMrs. Nussbaum, the evicted Jew, now living in the ghetto: It could be worse.Mr. Nussbaum, losing it: Look around! How could this possibly be any worse?! (cue 12 others sharing their tiny room)
- Gilligan Cut: A couple earlier on in the film by way of comic relief, as events start to get worse:
- Emilie promises Oskar that she will remain with him in Krakow as long as he never hides the fact that she is his wife, no matter how many attractive young secretaries, waitresses, etc he interacts with. Cut to Oskar waving Emilie goodbye as the latter's train out of Krakow departs.
- When Stern is arrested, having forgotten his papers, Oskar demands that the two bureaucrats responsible for organising the train find and release him. He flexes his political muscle to do so when they repeatedly refuse, promising that the pair of them will be in the midst of the meatgrinder campaigns then taking place in the Ukraine by the end of the month. Cut to the pair of them frantically shouting Stern's name in desperate hope of finding him.
- Good Cannot Comprehend Evil:
- For a long time Schindler seems to think that Goeth would be a much better person if there weren't a war going on, which Schindler thinks brings out the worst in people. He's incredulous that Goeth could enjoy killing people until Stern confirms the number of atrocities that the Nazi Captain has already committed.
- Before his Character Development, Schindler's only interest in the Jews is for their potential to make him a profit. The pointless sadism of the other Nazis never occurs to him. When they transgress into realms that defy all logic and morality, he goes against even his own financial interest to rebel against it.
- Gory Discretion Shot: Generally averted. However one example which made the scene even more chilling was when we hear the shots Goeth is taking at his servant we see Stern walking a few paces behind. Stern then winces when we hear one shot, indicating the boy has clearly been hit. Seconds later we in fact see the boy's dead body and workers running to retrieve him.
- Gratuitous German: Some German vocabulary (mostly when referring to people of power) is kept in the English dialogues to make the atmosphere more believable.
- Grave-Marking Scene: The final scene of the film shows the actual Schindler Jews, and the actors who played several of them, visiting the grave of the actual Schindler in Israel. They each leave a stone on the marker to mark their visit, as per Jewish custom. By the time they finish, every bit of space on the marker (except for the inscription) is covered with stones. A lone man then places two red roses on the marker; while his face is not shown, it has since been revealed that this was Liam Neeson.
- Group Hug: Combined with Cooldown Hug. When Schindler breaks down in tears over not having done more, Stern and his workers all hug him to show how much he did.
- Guile Hero: Oskar Schindler uses bribery and convincing lies to stuff his factories with as many jews as possible, and thereby save their lives.
- Both Stern and Poldek Pfefferberg are prone to scheme and lie to get away with saving people or smuggling essential goods.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Amon Goeth is prone to killing people for random infractions.
- Heel–Face Turn:
- At the start of the movie, Oskar Schindler is perfectly willing to bribe Nazi officials and manipulate people in order to make money. He slowly comes to realize that the Nazis, and especially Goeth, are monsters.
- Subverted with Goeth. After Schindler's speech to him on the virtue of "real power", we see Goeth do several uncharacteristic acts of...kindness. So much so that the audience can easily mistake Goeth for being moved/enlightened. How wrong they are...
- The Hero Dies: The film ends with the Schindler Jews putting rocks on Oskar's grave.
- Heroic B.S.O.D.: After finally rescuing his workers, Schindler suddenly becomes overwhelmed with guilt that he did not save any more.
- Hero of Another Story:
- The connection Emilie Schindler has with Jewish workers is underplayed. Spielberg admits her story could be an entirely different movie. Like her husband, she was named a "Righteous Among the Nations" by Yad Vashem.
- Julius Madritsch, the other kindly industrialist who ultimately decides not to collaborate with Schindler, did in fact save many hundreds of his workers and other Jewish prisoners by granting them a haven in his sewing workshop and helping to smuggle them out of the ghetto to freedom. Among other schemes, he had his workers' children smuggled into the workshop in cloth sacks, and had around 100 of their names added to Schindler's list before the liquidation of Płaszów. Like Oskar and Emilie Schindler, he was honoured as a "Righteous Among the Nations".
- Hired for Their Looks: Schindler is looking for a secretary for his new business, but appears clear that he's looking specifically for a Sexy Secretary and ends up surrendered by a bunch of very attractive girls. Since he can't decide which of them keep, he hires them all.
- In a far less humouristic fashion, when Goeth is looking for an housemaid (read: house slave) among the Jewish inmates, he picks the prettiest of the bunch despite she declared of not having experience with housekeeping.
- Historical Beauty Update: Liam Neeson is much more attractive than the real Oskar Schindler, who was balding and overweight.
- Historical Hero Downgrade: In Real Life Schindler knew about the mass murder of Jews from the outset (they began almost immediately in 1939; historical debate concerns asking from what point "mass murder" turned into Kill 'em All) and did not need convincing by Stern or experience to save them. He was also in contact with several Jewish groups in other countries trying to make them aware of what was happening. Schindler was also a member of the Abwehr, German military intelligence, which was run by one Admiral Canaris, who was secretly a member of the anti-Nazi German Resistance. Schindler knew exactly what the Nazis were like before the war even started.
- Historical Villain Downgrade: The real Amon Goeth was actually far worse than his film counterpart. See that page for examples of how bad he was. Crossed with Historical Badass Upgrade when he is displayed proudly wearing the Iron Cross 2nd Class, the Sudetenland Medal and the Silesian Eagle, none of which he won in Real Life, and his importance in the political machinery of the Holocaust is overplayed - he never got above the rank of SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain) and never held any sort of political and military power.
- Honor Before Reason: One of the best examples in history.
- Hope Spot: Several.
- The one-armed old man who personally thanks Schindler for giving him a job-the next day he is shot by SS officers, just because.
- "The worst is over... we are workers now!"
- Schindler's female workers are seen happily boarding a train that will supposedly take them to Schindler's plant. They end up at Auschwitz-Birkenau by mistake, but he gets them out safely with a well-placed bribe.
- Ignored Epiphany: Goeth almost seems to have had an epiphany following Schindler's speech to him about mercy and real power, going as far as pardoning the Jewish boy who's failed to clean his bathtub. Then he changes his mind and shoots the poor kid from his balcony.
- Interrupted Intimacy: Schindler is having sex with his mistress when he's informed that Stern has been mistakenly put on the train that takes Jews to the death camps.
- Ironic Nursery Tune:
- The scene when the little girl with the red coat is introduced.
- This is an interesting case. It is a children's song (a Yiddish song about children learning how to read Hebrew) but the ending of the song makes the tune as a whole fit quite well into the movie (it's about the suffering which Jews have gone through in history).
- Later, when the Nazis use the children's song "Mamatschi" to lure children out of Plazsow onto trucks bound for extermination camps.
- The scene when the little girl with the red coat is introduced.
- Irony: "And he's got the war. Which brings out the worst in people. Never the good, always the bad. Always the bad." - Schindler
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Schindler is an unfaithful husband who drinks too much and has a bad temper. That does not stop him from being a hero.
- Kick Them While They Are Down: Göth does this fairly often.
- Kids Are Cruel: The young girl screaming "Goodbye, Jews!" as they are rounded up and the boy who makes a throat-slitting gesture as their cattle truck passes by him on the railroad to the extermination camp. In the German dub, the girl says "Verschwindet, ihr Juden!" (Disappear, you Jews!), which is even harsher.
- Lack of Empathy: A lot of the Nazis display this. It's really, really creepy.
- Laser-Guided Karma: When Goeth finds a Jew in the factory who is working very slowly he takes him out to execute him, only for the gun to jam. It looks like this is just going to be a brief, agonizing reprieve, but it jams over and over again, as does a borrowed gun. Finally Goeth gives up, pistol whips him savagely, and then storms off in a huff. At the end of the film, we see Goeth's execution by hanging as a war criminal. Apparently it is quite a low-budget affair, as he is just standing on a chair. The executioner takes several attempts to kick it all the way out from under him, and we see him flinching all the way. This was loosely Truth in Television, as it took three attempts to execute Goeth.
- Left the Background Music On: During the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, a bizarrely upbeat piano piece suddenly starts playing as people who hid away from the SS soldiers are being massacred, until it's revealed that one of the Nazis on the scene found a piano and decided to test his skills.
- What makes this scene so gripping is the music itself.. despite the incorrect proclamation of one of the two soldiers listening to him play that it was Mozart, it was Bach. It's the Prelude from the English Suite #2. A fast, staccato piece that lined up very well with the muzzle flashes from the Liquidation of the Ghetto.
- Lima Syndrome: Goeth, to the limited extent to which he is capable of such a thing, falls in love with Helen by the time she is to go to Auschwitz.
- Little Dead Riding Hood: The only color shown in the movie (aside from a candle at the beginning, the Blauschein stamp, and the ending scene) is a girl in a red coat, shown hiding from the Nazis. Later in the film, she is seen in passing again as one of a stack of corpses, only recognizable because the red coat is again the only color shown. Steven Spielberg wanted to use red because of the association with blood, and because Oskar Schindler really did see a toddler dressed in red.
- MacGuffin Title: Referring to the list of Jewish workers Schindler marked as too important to kill.
- Mercy Kill: During the liquidation of the Ghetto the doctors poison all the hospital patients just before the Nazi soldiers arrive and start shooting at them.
- Near the end, when requested by Schindler to give her to him, Goeth was considering mercy-killing his Jewish maid instead of sending her to Auschwitz.
- Messianic Archetype: Oskar Schindler.
- A Million Is a Statistic: Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Hoess (often diagnosed as a sociopath after the war), whose whole industry is mass murder, is extremely casual about the matter when Schindler arrives to bribe him for the female Schindler Jews who were shipped to the death camp instead of Schindler's factory in Moravia by mistake. Hoess refers to the prisoners they're killing as "units", first offers Schindler 300 other arrivals instead of the ones he wants, and is only bothered by the extra paperwork that it will bring.
- Mood Whiplash:
- The physical scene in the camp. After the adults pass, they are seen relaxing, even smiling and laughing. Cue the children of the camp being driven by...
- When the women are lead into the showers, expecting to be gassed only to find out they are in actual showers. They are ecstatic to have survived, but then as they are leaving they see another batch of women going into a different set of "showers", this one beneath a crematorium...
- Morton's Fork: A small one by Goeth. He asks a Jewish worker to make him a hinge and times him. If he makes it too slowly Goeth can shoot him for being inefficient. If he makes it quickly, Goeth can point out that though his work is fast, the number of hinges he has made throughout the day is very small and shoot him for slacking off on the job. Goeth chooses the latter and tries to execute the worker, but settles for beating him unconscious after the pistol misfires.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Oskar Schindler's vices, including his shameless womanizing and hard drinking, are bluntly presented. In fact, it's the very fact that Schindler was such a boozy, glad-handling skirt-chaser as well as a heroic savior that makes him so interesting.
- My God, What Have I Done?: More like My God, Why Didn't I Do More.
- Nazi Protagonist: Oskar Schindler starts out as one of these. He gets better later on. Much better.
- Near-Rape Experience: A variation is used. Nazi Captain Amon Goeth develops a creepy infatuation for his Jewish maid, and makes an abortive attempt to force himself on her while she's standing motionless and frightened in a wet shirt, never saying a word. He stops himself, but not on any moral grounds; he accuses her of "seducing him" because he considers her an inferior, and beats her senseless instead.
- Nice to the Waiter: Schindler, because of this trait he always treated his workers and subordinates with respect, and then saved them.
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: When Stern forgets his papers and is loaded onto a train to a camp, Oskar encounters two low-level SS men with no interest in his excuses. One of them tries to make light of the situation after Stern is released, admitting that he doesn't want to have to deal with the associated paperwork.
- Ominous Latin Chanting: On the scene of the mass exhumation and burning of the massacre victims' corpses.
- Only in It for the Money: Schindler couldn't care less about political ideology, seeking only immense wealth. To begin with, anyway.
- O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Stern never drinks, and is even called out by Schindler for this. When Schindler learns that everyone in the Płaszów camp (including Stern) is to be sent to Auschwitz, he says he was planning to have a drink with Stern after the war. Stern decides to take him up on the offer then and there, not knowing if he will live that long.
- Out-Gambitted: Goeth gets this from a young boy, in the scene where he wants to find out which worker stole a chicken. He says he'll start shooting people if nobody admits who it was. Nobody speaks up, even though the SS guards warn them that he'll make good on the threat. Sure enough, Goeth selects a random worker, shoots him in the head, and once more demands to know who stole the chicken. An orphan boy steps forward and accuses the dead man of the theft, saving the other workers' lives and earning himself a transfer to Schindler's factory once Stern passes the story along.
- Out-of-Character Moment: Amon Goeth when speaking to his Jewish maid, Helen, in the basement, but then subverted when he switches back to his usual awful self.
- Pet the Dog: Played straight in a couple of fleeting moments of humanity from Goeth, like taking the time to thank his servant, Helen, and removing Poldek from the execution line after an inspection, but predominantly subverted.
- Goeth tries this several times, succeeding the first two. He gives up with the third, a Jewish boy who can not clean the stains from his tub; after pardoning the boy, Goeth snipes him down while he is walking back to the barracks.
- And then, of course, there is the scene where he tells Helen his appreciation of her before beating her and smashing a shelf full of wine on top of her.
- While probably either apocryphal or dramatized, Goeth going out of his way to try and get Schindler out of prision (read Friendly Enemy above) definitely counts. The movie does make it vague if this was because of Schindler's money and bribes or if it was because Goeth actually cared and viewed him as a friend.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: Averted with Oscar Schindler. While he does use Jews as cheap labor, he is clearly not antisemitic.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: The Nazis, obviously.
- Pragmatic Villainy: The reason why, at first, Schindler hires Jews for his factory, in essence rescuing them from the likes of Goeth. It's not for any moral reasons, but because Jewish labor is dirt cheap. Later once he actually starts trying to save them, he uses pragmatic excuses to justify his actions, such as near the end when the Factory children are being put on a train to a concentration camp, he tells the officer in charge that he needs to the children's small hands to clean the inside of artillery shells.
- Psychopathic Manchild: Goeth. He has tantrums like a child, does things on a whim, and likes to break his toys. Unfortunately, in this case, his toys are human beings being starved and worked to death, who he kills on the merest whim (e.g., he wants to kill someone). Accent on the "merest" part.Goeth's Mistress: Amon, you're such a damn fucking child!
- Rage Within the Machine
- Rain of Something Unusual: A scene in which Schindler is walking outside to his car there are children running out playing in what looks like snow. But when Shindler wipes it off his car one can see that it is actually ash that has come from a death camp.
- Reality Is Unrealistic:
- When the film was released, some criticized Spielberg for including such a "blatantly evil" villain as Goeth in the film, claiming that he was too pointlessly cruel to be believable. What these people are unaware of is that Spielberg toned down what a monster Goeth was in real life. He regularly tortured people, and had a special dungeon built under his villa for this specific purpose, and is believed to have personally murdered over 500 people (about a fourth of the deaths that occurred in his camp). And yes, there is tons of evidence and documentation and were tons of witnesses for all of it.
- Additionally, some reviewers singled out the scene where the female Schindler Jews are ushered into a shower room at Auschwitz, only to gasp in relief when it turns out to be a real shower room. The Nazis really did this; prisoners who were chosen to work on their arrival at Auschwitz were sent to real showers and delousing. Those who weren't selected for slave labor on arrival were sent to fake showers and gassed. No small part of this was for the sake of keeping some veneer of deniability up - of course people get showered and not gassed, what silly rumors! Although by 1944, most people knew what that "snow" around Auschwitz was.
- Refuge in Audacity:
- Schindler claims to be supporting the Nazi party while deliberately having his Jews work unproductively in his factories, both to simply save the Jews from being gassed and to put a dent in the Nazi war machine. And he gets away with it.
- In the last hour of the movie, he pulls 300 of his female workers out of Auschwitz with little more than a bag of diamonds and a lot of guts.
- See Face Death with Dignity above for a previous case with a minor character.
- Reliably Unreliable Guns: One Jew ends up being pistol whipped rather than shot in the head because Göth cannot get either of his pistols to fire, no matter how much he attempts to clear any jams.
- Rousing Speech: Amon Goeth in front of his troopers just before the liquidation of the Krakow Ghetto.Today is history.
Today will be remembered.
Years from now the young will ask with wonder about this day.
Today is history and you are part of it.
Six hundred years ago when elsewhere they were footing the blame for The Black Death, Casimir the Great - so called - told the Jews they could come to Krakow. They came. They trundled their belongings into the city. They settled. They took hold. They prospered. In business, science, education, the arts. They came here with nothing. With nothing! and they flourished. For six centuries there has been a Jewish Krakow. Think about that. By this evening those six centuries are a rumor. They never happened.
Today is history.
- Sadist: Goeth seems to murder people because he's a hollow-on-the-inside psychopath who enjoys the exhilaration.
- Samaritan Syndrome: Causes a Heroic B.S.O.D. for Schindler towards the end.Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just... I could have got more.
Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them.
Schindler: If I'd made more money... I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I'd just...
Stern: There will be generations because of what you did.
Schindler: I didn't do enough!
Stern: You did so much.
[Schindler looks at his car]
Schindler: This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people.
[removing Nazi pin from lapel]
Schindler: This pin. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more person... and I didn't! [crying] And I... I didn't! [sobs into Stern's chest]
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: This is Oskar Schindler all over at the end.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: With the rules being those of the Nazi party, Schindler has to use his wealth to circumvent them.
- Servile Snarker: Characterises Itzhak Stern's initial demeanor towards Schindler.
- Sexy Secretary: Wiktoria Klonowska, Schindler's mistress definitely is. Schindler purposefully hires pretty girls overlooking the homely (but often more skilled) ones.
- Shout Out: To Shakespeare: Amon Goeth tells Helen Hirsch, "Hath not a Jew eyes?", a quote from Shylock (a Jew himself) from The Merchant of Venice (III.i) before making his Almost Kiss.
- The Sociopath: Goeth and Höss are standout examples. The former murders people on a whim to alleviate boredom, the latter is annoyed by all the paperwork that comes with being a mass-murderer.
- Splash of Color: The little girl in the red coat; the Sabbath candles; the Blauschein stamp.
- Street Urchin: Adam Levy, the brave young kid that is a Guile Hero in his own right as he smuggles Chaja Dresner and her daughter Danka to a safer zone and cheats Amon Goeth blaming a dead mean for a stolen hen in the camp.
- Survivorship Bias: The film and its entire premise runs on this trope; its focus is on a small number (by comparison) of Jews that were spared the Holocaust thanks to Schindler's actions. This example proves Tropes Are Not Bad, because if one wants nothing but depressing news about the Holocaust, you can certainly find it elsewhere.
- Tempting Fate: At every stage of the Jews' predicament, someone comments that things can not get worse, or that they are now in a pretty good position (as workers that is). Justified of course, given this was barbarity on an unimaginable scale.
- Terrible Interviewees Montage: Played with in a comic relief scene. A series of increasingly attractive girls with increasingly poor typing skills appear in Schindler's office, trying to get a job as his secretary. Schindler the incorrigible womanizer is in turn increasingly besotted. The sequence ends with Schindler slumped down in his chair, depressed, as an older, stern-looking woman types away at lightning speed.
- Those Wacky Nazis: Oddly enough, variously played straight (holy shit but Nazis apparently know how to party), and subverted. By the end, no one is being "wacky."
- Translation Convention: Applied haphazardly. Sometimes everyone speaks "English," while other times, it is in unsubtitled German or Polish. The general idea seems to be that we don't hear "English" when the focus characters (for example, the Polish Jews at Auschwitz) can't understand the language being spoken, but it can be really hard to tell sometimes. Yiddish, meanwhile, is seemingly never translated.
- Traumatic Haircut: The Schindler female workers when they arrive at Auschwitz.
- Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: The protagonist wrestles with his conscience for quite a while before making the leap from being an opportunistic entrepreneur to a subversive hero. This is never remarked upon until the closing minutes of the film, not even by Stern. As Roger Ebert observed, there seems to be an unspoken understanding between the two men, as though saying it aloud would mean instant death (which, in this case, it probably would mean instant death).
- Undead Author: Why one character argues the Nazis can not really be killing everyone, because then who would be telling the stories about them killing everyone?
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Emilie is so used to her husband's infidelity that she barely reacts when she arrives in Kraków and finds him in flagrante.
- Villainous Breakdown: The SS guardsman howling in the corpse burning scene as in the Freak-Out example above. Contrast: Goeth, as usual, despite the stench, cries, smoke, rotting bodies around, is unflinching.This incineration of disinterred corpses was such an horrific procedure from the human, aesthetic, and olefactory aspects that it is impossible for people who are now used to living like ordinary citizens to be able to imagine this horror (quoted from the testimonies of Heinrich Gley, former Death Camp Belzec guardsman)
- Villainous Crush: Amon Goeth has one on Helen Hirsch, his Jewish maid. This leaves him conflicted because he believes her to be inferior to him.
- What Are You in For?: When Oskar Schindler is arrested by the German police in occupied Poland for possibly violating the Nazi racial acts by kissing a Jewish girl, his cellmate's first question is "What about you?". Schindler's answer prompts the incarcerated man to counter with a lurid anti-Semitic joke.
- "What Now?" Ending: At the end, the Schindler Jews are approached by a lone Soviet soldier on horseback who yells out a boilerplate announcement of their liberation. He then goes off-script and confides that most people still despise the Jews, but they might have luck finding food in the next town over.
- Wicked Cultured: During the liquidation of the Krakow ghetto, an SS officer is happily playing on a piano amidst all the executions occuring around him. It was Bach, despite what the two obviously less-than-cultured soldiers at the door said (Prelude to the 2nd English Suite). The music fit right in, its rapid-fire percussive staccato nature lining up with the gunfire and muzzle flashes peppering the night.
- Yank the Dog's Chain: At one point, Goeth orders an enslaved rabbi (Lewartow) to make a hinge and times him, with the implication he will be shot if he's not up to snuff. Lewartow does well enough that Goeth actually praises him...and then decides to shoot him anyway, on the basis that he hasn't made enough hinges. Miraculously enough, he survives when Goeth has not one but two guns misfire.
- Your Cheating Heart: Played with. Oskar Schindler has left his German wife Emilie back home and has a Polish mistress in Krakow. When Schindler's wife comes to visit and finds the two together, her response towards Oskar is fairly tame (probably due to the more conservative gender roles of the period), while the one most embarrassed by all this is the mistress, who leaves in a hurry. Emilie does remind Oskar that she doesn't have to tolerate it, and they spend an evening together where he reaffirms that he still loves her.
There are fewer than four thousand Jews left alive in Poland today. There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.
— from the epilogue