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Comparative Analysis of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Resnais’ Night and Fog

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Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog”, both are a source of light on the horrible event of the Holocaust, but what differentiates one from the other is the fact that they both are portrayed through different styles of film-making, have different contexts, and serve different purposes. Spielberg’s 1993 film is made to look like a documentary, which though has some of the real Holocaust footages and portrays the true story behind the event, is in its true form, a fiction. The whole context of the film is through Oskar Schindler’s perspective, the over-glorification of that one German, who has this sudden realization that instead of trading the poor Jews as workers in his factory, he should save them from the wrath of the Nazis (even though he himself was a part of the Nazi Party). The romanticizing of the entire plot is done so beautifully that the seriousness and sensitivity of the plot engulfs the audience into a sea of emotions on the screen. As a rhetoric to that, Resnais’ 1956 documentary “Nuit et brouillard” simply depict the holocaust in its real form. It features the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek while describing the rise of the Nazi ideology and the lives of prisoners in the camps. The film keeps alternating between the past and the present, with the subtle use of monochrome and colour. As Michel Bouquet narrates through the entire film, comparing between the lives of the Schutzstaffel to the lives of the starving prisoners in the ghettos and concentration camps. Bouquet addresses the sadism inflicted upon the doomed inmates, including torture, scientific and medical ‘experiments’, executions, and rape, whereas the next part of the film depicts images of gas chambers and piles of bodies, portraying how the Jews here inhumanely hacked to death, and finally the last part of the film, which shows how the country of Germany finds its liberation, the revelation of the ‘horror of the camps’, and the probing of who was responsible for them.

Spielberg tries his hand at the 35mm black and white film, shot in Krakow, Poland, with a budget of $22 million, where a few of the scenes were set in the remains of the Krakow ghetto. The use of Oskar Schindler’s original factory and the reconstruction of the Plaszow labour camp in an area outside the city, along with the Auschwitz camp is done so perfectly that there is no flaw to be found in its technical production. Spielberg’s decision of keeping the entire film in monochrome, except of the beginning, end and the little girl in the red dress (the moment when Oskar truly gets it, after seeing the horror caused by the liquidation of the Jews. He then is made to realize about the terror of it all). Spielberg, through the character of the little girl, expects us to see this event as a ‘moral turning point’ in the character of Schindler. The red colour of the little girl’s overcoat proves to be successful in turning Oskar’s attention towards the humanity of the people who were being dealt with no better than animals. Spielberg uses very well, the power of colour to ‘individualize horror’. His desire to shoot the film like a documentary, while leaving out the stylized ornamentalization of the current period film trends and capturing the drama in such a manner as if unfolding in front of the viewer’s eyes, is at its best, authentic, creating the emotional connect to the past in ways that coloured films couldn’t. It helps Spielberg stress on the fundamental point of this movie, that all that is shown in the film, really happened. Resnais’ thirty minutes long film, which accented no popular stars, “is generally acknowledged as one of the great classics of cinema, and its restoration now allows us to appreciate fully this remarkable encounter between film and history”. The idea behind creating a film on the concentration camps of the Holocaust was originally in-sync with the museum exhibitions – ‘Resistance, Liberation, Deportation’, marking the 10th anniversary of the discovery of the camps, the result of years of government-sponsored historical research. Organizers of the exhibition continued to be deeply involved in production of this documentary, along with the drastic changes that came in the future with Anatole Dauman becoming the producer for the film. What was even more important, was the fact that Resnais disregarded many of the documents and extra facts that the historians wanted to include in the film. His use of only two types of images: the coloured exposure of the concentration camps at Auschwitz, Majdanek, and the surrounding country sides in the magnificent hues of autumn of 1955, and contrasting it, the black-and-white, horrid footages of the camps during the war. Hence, a very easy structure was added to the film, where on one hand, the reality of the present is portrayed through ‘buoyant Eastman colours’, with scenes of Auschwitz in its debatable ‘decaying ruins’, captured with no composite beginning or end, deliberately tracking each shot with a steady pace. On the other hand, the camps were in black and white, through the footages captured during the Holocaust, where hundreds were stuffed in together beyond limits, with people suffering and dying at the hands of the Nazis. Night and Fog’s major motif that takes the audience between the two worlds of the normal society and the ‘inferno’ of the concentration camps is Resnais’ meticulous use of monochrome. Upon further research and study, it is found that each coloured shot, which lasted on the screen for about twenty seconds each, almost five monochromatic shots of four and a half seconds each are displayed in the same length of time, implementing on the notion of how the staccato of horrifying images, denies us a chance to contemplate on the matter with ease, as it only leaves behind the haunting question of what connects both the worlds.

“The Holocaust is about six million people who get killed, Schindler’s List was about six hundred people who don’t.” Stanley Kubrick reportedly said to screenwriter Frederic Raphael in the late 1990s. The most prominent fact about Kubrick’s statement is that the event of the Holocaust is produced into a film from a perspective which only takes up one fact and elaborates on it, rather than focusing on the entire event as a whole, in a time way later than the original time period. The economy of narrative and aesthetic pleasure of the film consistently undermines its attempts at representing traumatic events. Without any doubt, Schindler’s List is still very grieving, and it makes people feel terrible and cry, but at least, it does not show the horrible reality that people used to see. On the other hand, Alain Resnais ‘Nuit et brouillard’, focuses on the event as a whole while unfolding the story. Resnais’ low-angle dolly tracking through the sedgy railroad tracks that takes the audience to the Auschwitz crematorium is practically simplified and increased, though Resnais’ use of Eastman colours is completely lucid. But the important point to stress on over here is that both these films are not exactly the same in terms of its representation of the Holocaust. The films have their own unique formal styles of comparing the past to the present. Resnais crosscuts between the post war remains of the ghettos and concentration camps found in the present, is in colour and archival footage from the war period in monochrome. The Holocaust portrayed here not only point at Jews (who are mostly unmentioned in the entirety of the film). One of Resnais’ notes in his offscreen text states that “Nine million dead haunt this countryside.” If today, the discussion of representation for these works was brought up, Night and Fog by Alain Resnais seems to check all the boxes of a Holocaust representation compared to Steven Speilberg’s Schindler’s List. Though many may have the opinion that Resnais’ Night and Fog is too medieval, but as a documentary, its presentation on screen is very natural, neither overstated like the other ‘Holocaust’ films, nor like the happy ending ones, including Schindler’s List. 

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Comparative Analysis Of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List And Resnais’ Night And Fog. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 23, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/comparative-analysis-of-spielbergs-schindlers-list-and-resnais-night-and-fog/
“Comparative Analysis Of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List And Resnais’ Night And Fog.” GradesFixer, 18 Mar. 2021, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/comparative-analysis-of-spielbergs-schindlers-list-and-resnais-night-and-fog/
Comparative Analysis Of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List And Resnais’ Night And Fog. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/comparative-analysis-of-spielbergs-schindlers-list-and-resnais-night-and-fog/> [Accessed 23 May 2022].
Comparative Analysis Of Spielberg’s Schindler’s List And Resnais’ Night And Fog [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Mar 18 [cited 2022 May 23]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/comparative-analysis-of-spielbergs-schindlers-list-and-resnais-night-and-fog/
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