Friday, April 12, 2013

Oskar Schindler and Erin Brockovich

So, I finally got around to watching "Schindler's List" in its entirety. (The last hour got cut-off when I watched it a month or so ago.) I'll add my voice to those who say it is a masterpiece. The reason for this post is that all I really know about either Oskar Schindler or Erin Brockovich comes from the Hollywood films made about them, but I wonder how important the two portrayals are at identifying the heart of what made them remarkable, and what would make other, similar people remarkable.

The characters in the films are both fairly simple people with a high sense of entitlement. Schindler, as the guy who happily takes the stolen property of imprisoned Jews and who then exploits them as super-cheap labour, is obviously the one with the greater sense of entitlement. But you can tell that the Brockovich character really thinks she can do whatever she wants, the way she abrasively confronts anyone who disappoints her.

They're both, in their own way, "people persons." They've got an excellent gift for gab and for schmoozing and for remembering people's names and stories. Schindler butters up the Nazi functionaries he wants contacts from and Brockovich is able to keep the whole Doestoevksy novel of all the families in the poisoned California community straight in her head.

What happens in the films is that these two characters, with their sense of right and wrong clearly delineated, and their self-confidence in the themselves so strongly developed, react with righteous, unshakeable conviction, when confronted with evils far outside what passes for respectable behaviour. And the thing that made them heroes isn't that they called evil "evil." It's that they believed enough in their own convictions and their own "guiding stars" (for want of a better term) to actually do something amazing and heroic in response to this evil.

For Schindler, it was seeing that the Jews he had robbed and exploited were actually being gunned-down in the street, that finally turned him:

For Brockovich, it was stumbling into the ongoing corporate cover-up of poisoning and mass-murder:

Sometimes, things really are black and white. Very often actually.

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