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Schindler’s List & Lord of The Flies: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

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Since the beginning of civilization, society has required the rule of a leading power. Humans need some other form of knowledge, whether it be a government or God, to look up to. This progression, in a sense, gives their lives some greater purpose. When someone takes power, usually it is a memorable moment: a leader has now got the responsibility of leading his or her people. But with great power comes great responsibility, and as time passes by, his or her subjects witness a rise in power but a plunge in responsibility. In other words, the leader becomes a corrupt person because of their addiction to power. As 19th-century British politician Lord Acton once said, Power tends to co-corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Steven Spielberg’s film ‘Schindler’s List’ relates to literary criticism: New Historicism. In numerous instances, this film depicts historical accuracies. The movie reflects World War II history, establishing the Nazis’ extraordinary power. Their evil and corrupt leadership and their actions and immorality fail to be rationalized or justified under any power. Schindler’s List portrays the history of a specific World War II place and reflects historic events. The Jews, singled out, abused, and forced into labour camps, establishes the social class conflict, a Marxism criticism. During the film power corrupts and is the driving force for Nazi leadership to commit unspeakable horrors toward the Jews.

William Golding’s Lord of the Flies presents the idea of government and corruption, ranging to the creation of the government to the toppling of their regime. As boys survive a plane crash on a coral island, quickly set up their leadership, over time, even though it was started for the good of the boys, the leadership quickly begins to show signs of corruption. Although initially used for the purpose to benefit society, ultimately power corrupts leaders over time.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” (Abraham Lincoln) –

Throughout history, Power has been greatly desired by many. It releases them from the shackles of social pressure and stereotypes, enabling them to show their true colors. However, this freedom that power can bestow oneself can enable the release of darkness, greed and immorality from within. Thus, it is argued that Possessing and desiring power leads to corruption. The film Schindler’s List (1994), directed by Steven Spielberg, and William Golding’s novella, Lord of the Flies (1954), both explore the corruptive nature of power possessing and desiring power. This is demonstrated through the effect power has on main characters and groups – as absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The opening sequences serve to set the tone for the rest of the film by instilling an understanding of the time and societal circumstances to the viewer. The film opens in color with a Sabbath ceremony. A close-up shot shows a hand lighting a candle. Suddenly the frame dissolves from color and fades to black and white as the candle dies out. Spielberg’s intent was to symbolize the power of the Nazis to suck the color out of the world and into the darkness, particularly for the Jewish community. Accompanying this moment is the diegetic religious singing of the Sabbath coming to a stop in sync as the candle dies out. It further symbolizes the pain, suffering, and torment that will be inflicted by the Jewish community. Therefore it foregrounds the plight of the Jews this film. It was a deliberate cinematic choice to show the movie in black and white to powerfully deliver his message. The purpose of the disuse of colors is to set the depressing tone before the horrible events begin. It also shaped the film more to be more documentary-like and therefore removed some feeling of time and space to make the horrors of Nazi Germany more realistic. Spielberg induced this method to demonstrate the corruption resulting from the Nazi’s power and control without filming anything unethical or immoral. Thus, this confirms for the viewers the power possessed by the Nazis is corrupt and causes them to commit immoral acts against the Jewish community.

Midway through the film, the debauched scene during the liquidation of the ghetto sets the mood for the rest of the film, it reflects the corrupt ideology possessed by Nazi figures through their immoral acts. Long shots depict a girl in a red coat, who ironically walks peacefully down the streets of Poland during the liquidation Her perfectly curled hair, tiny body, and lively style of walking juxtapose against the lack of color and life that surrounds her. During the scene, low-angle shots of Schindler arriving at a top of a hill focus on his expressionless face and his ‘Golden Party Badge’ to symbolize his authority. As he stares down upon the streets, he notices the little girl. Instantly, it cuts to a low-angle close-up shot that cuts off the ‘Golden Party Badge’ and focuses on his expression turning from stern to shocked. This marks the moment where Schindler realizes the innocence of Jewish life and his hand in this monstrosity orchestrated by Nazi Germany. The power of Nazi Germany slowly loses its grip on him, as evident by his facial expressions and that his ‘Golden Party Badge’ is no longer in the frame. He realizes this through the girl symbolizes the “6 million people killed during the holocaust (Dunk,2015), her innocence reflects every other Jew. Spielberg wanted to evoke emotion by making people realize the corrupt power of Nazi Germany is causing the death of 6 million innocent Jews. Accompanying the scene is the non-diegetic classical music, first playing softly and then building to a crescendo as Schindler realizes his mistake. The music contributes to the depressed mood of the film and intensifies this atmosphere at specifically dreadful scenes, purposefully used to emphasize the tragedies caused by Nazi Germany. This all reinforces the negative effects of power held by the Nazis, demonstrating that power leads to corruption as reflected by their immoral acts.

The corruptness of power is heavily established within the sequences of scenes where the free Oscar Schindler attempts to persuade the head of the hegemony (Amon Geoth/protagonist) to end his immoral behavior. Setting the scene, a tracking shot pans across the frame, whilst at the same time cantering on Geoth into focus. There is then a sudden rask focus which brings Schindler into the scene, positioning the audience to focus on Schindler as he portrays how power should be used through dialogue (attempting to persuade Geoth):

That’s power. That’s what the emperors had. A man stole something, he’s brought in before the emperor, he throws himself down on the floor, he begs for mercy, he knows he’s going to die… and the emperor pardons him. This worthless man. He lets him go. That’s power… That is power (Schindler).

Schindler uses this extended metaphor to juxtapose the current actions from Geoth. It demonstrates that Geoth has been taking advantage of the power he has and using it for corrupt purposes. He uses repetition of “that’s power” to fully embed this message into Geoth. A bottom/side shot of Amon illuminates some light on half of his face to demonstrate inner conflict. This is confirmed as he replies, I think you are drunk? (Geoth), In this scene, he neither agrees nor disagrees which identifies his conflict. However later scenes suggest that he has listened to Schindler’s advice by sparring lives, but ultimately, at the end of the film, he could not be free of power’s corruption and repeats his tyrant ways. Thus, it is evident that people will never be free from the corruptive influence of power, as absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The marginalization of the Jews within the film is seen from the aftermath of the downfall of corrupt Nazi power. This is reflected at the end of the film, which is traditionally the aftermath of climatic events. Just before the scene begins there is a long shot of numerous Jews walking towards the camera. The shot dissolves and the black and white changes to bright colors. The change in color not only represents the darkness dissipating out of the lives of the Jews, but it also indirectly references the change in time. This scene signifies the end of Nazi power as it demonstrates that morality has been regained. This confirms that the Nazi rule was corrupt

Spielberg’s Schindler’s List delved into the immoral and corrupt power when it is wielded by man. However, Lord of the Flies demonstrates the desire for power harbored man. Completely due to their desire for power, it also results in only immoral actions of death and destruction.

The desire for power begins at the start of the novel when Ralph and Piggy were pointing into the lagoon and grabbing out a conch. The conch symbolizes democracy, structure, civility, order, respect, and power throughout the novel. Jack’s desire for power causes him to “dodge the boulder … and the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist” (Golding, 184). This moment symbolizes the complete loss of civility and order in society. Ultimately, this corrupt action was executed deliberately by Jack due to his great desire to gain more power. The conch shell was the only thing preventing him from gaining more power and influence in society, as it represented democracy and civility which will limit his power in a plethora of ways. Thus, he sought to destroy it Jack’s actions show that the desire for power leads to corruption, as seen through his immoral acts of destroying the conch for his benefit.

The symbol of the ‘Beast’ in Lord of the flies represents the immoral nature of men when they desire power. The ‘Beast’ is a symbol Golding uses to represent the savage impulses lying deep within every human being. Civilization exists to suppress the ‘Beast’. By keeping man’s desire for power at a minimum, forces people to act responsibly and rationally, like Piggy and Simon. Simon is described as a Jesus-like figure – a symbol of peace. This explains why Simon can easily to recognize metaphorically that the beast is indeed what lurks within them. After the conch is shattered so is the civilization, thus unleashing the ‘Beast’ within the boys, Simon becomes the first victim of the ‘Beast’. The ‘Beast’ within them, unable to be quenched, pounces upon the bait as “the sticks fell, and the mouth of the new circle crunched and screamed.” (Golding 152) The violence involved with the murder of Simon is described as primitive and savage as the hunters “screamed, struck, bit tore. There were no words, and no movements but the tearing of teeth and claws.” Symbolically the death of Simon is also the death of peace (which he is described as being) on the island, causing, the ‘Beast’ within the boys to take full control because of their lust for power and control.

At the end of the novel, it uses the setting and symbolism of the island to show that possessing power leads to corruption and immoral acts. The timeline of the setting throughout the novel symbolizes the progression of the beast coming alive in them. Biblical allusions are purposefully used by Goldridge to demonstrate this. The uninhabited tropical island the boys crash-land on symbolizes the Garden of Eden, which according to the Bible was considered paradise before the “Fall of Man” (Christie,2015). This metaphor for the island accurately foreshadows the end of the novel. The burning fire at the end has turned the island into a literal and figurative hell, symbolizing the fall of man in a society driven by the corruption of power, through the ‘Beast’ coming alive in them. The death of Piggy supports this notion as it results in complete anarchy, signifying the evil within the anonymous devils tearing apart yet another innocent human soul. It is evident that the desire of power within the boys has led them to corruption, as supported by their immoral acts.

This freedom that power can bestow upon oneself enables the release of darkness, greed, and immorality from within. As confirmed through the immoral actions of the main antagonists and critical analysis of both texts Thus, it is argued that Possessing and desiring power leads to corruption. The film Schindler’s List (1994), directed by Steven Spielberg, and William Golding’s novella, Lord of the Flies (1954), confirm that Absolute power corrupts absolutely.  

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Schindler’s List & Lord of the Flies: Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely. (2023, February 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 22, 2023, from
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