chapter  20
7 Pages

Opening the Mind to Trauma Through Oscillations of Focus: Learning From the Film Schindler’s List: Nancy R. Goodman


Steven Spielberg’s ƒlm Schindler’s List (1993) attracted large audiences around the world in cities made up mostly of people who had never before seen a Holocaust ƒlm. Dialogue was opened as newspaper articles appeared and as the ƒlm gained popularity and acclaim. In Frankfurt, Germany, where Oskar Schindler had lived for the last 16 years of his life, the ƒlm opened on March 3, 1993, with Steven Spielberg in the audience. The Washington Post reported this with the statement: “The Holocaust returned to Germany today with the opening of the movie Schindler’s List and the reopening of a national debate about guilt, courage and the unresolved mysteries of mass murder” (Atkinson, 1993). In the United States, Schindler’s List won seven academy awards, including Best Director. The degree of attention from the public, media, ƒlm critics, and scholars indicates that Spielberg’s ƒlm invited witnessing in a way that had not occurred previously. Space for an audience was constructed, enabling people to sit in the theater and tolerate the anxiety, fear, anomie, depersonalization, and grief that inevitably accompany acknowledgment of the overwhelming terrible truths of the Holocaust.1 Through his producing skills, Spielberg was able to bring knowledge of dehumanization and death to cinematic screens without repelling the audience. The way the ƒlm was constructed forged a path to realities of the Holocaust, allowing members of the audience to ƒnd and keep some movement in their minds. This type of movement is vitalizing and able to create and maintain what I have called “the living surround” (see Chapter 1) that can develop around trauma through witnessing. There was something to try to understand about the way Spielberg

made Schindler’s List. I wanted to ƒnd what it was and proceeded to look closely at elements of the ƒlm fostering witnessing.